Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Collaboration Challenges in Systematic Reviews: A Survey of Health Sciences Librarians

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Collaboration Challenges in Systematic Reviews: A Survey of Health Sciences Librarians

Article excerpt


Systematic reviews are an increasingly common research method used to compile and analyze large sets of existing study data from different sources. While thoughts about evidence synthesis date back to the late 1800s [1], the current focus on systematic reviews began mainly with Archie Cochrane, who used the phrase in the foreword to a 1989 book compiling evidence for pregnancy and childbirth interventions [2]. Shortly thereafter in 1992, the Cochrane Centre was formed, and one of its aims was to make it easier to conduct systematic reviews of trials [3]. Initially, systematic reviews were used to answer questions of effectiveness related to treatment or diagnosis of conditions. However, this methodology has now been expanded and used for an ever-increasing range of topics both within and outside of health care [1, 4], such as feasibility or appropriateness of care [5], crime and justice [6], and software engineering [7].

Since 1989, there has been ever-increasing use of systematic reviews as a research method. One estimate correctly predicted that at least 4,000 reviews would be published annually by 2010 and that this number would continue to increase [8]. With the increase in systematic reviews, there has also been an increase in recommended approaches to conducting this kind of research. The Cochrane Collaboration, the National Academy of Medicine (formerly, Institute of Medicine), and the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, among others, have put out guidelines for researchers to follow when embarking on a systematic review. All of these guidelines either require or recommend collaborating with an experienced librarian to create a proper search strategy and help manage the methods [4, 9, 10].

There is a robust body of literature examining librarian involvement in the systematic review process, including articles focusing on emerging roles of librarians [11-13] and how librarian involvement improves review quality [14-17], improves search accuracy [14, 16, 18, 19], and increases retrieval of grey literature [16, 18, 20]. However, there has been little research on the challenges that librarians face in completing these projects and how to solve the challenges, specifically around methods other than the search itself and interpersonal issues.

While many librarians have been asked to participate in systematic reviews with local researchers, often these researchers are not familiar with the systematic review process or the appropriate role for librarians. The purpose of this study is to identify the challenges and barriers that librarians face when collaborating on systematic reviews. Because there is already a body of literature on librarian involvement in the search part of the process [14-20], the authors have deliberately focused on interpersonal and methods issues that span the rest of the systematic review process. The research questions are: (1) what challenges and barriers do health sciences librarians face when collaborating with researchers on systematic reviews?; (2) what are the most common and difficult challenges health sciences librarians faced when collaborating on systematic reviews?; and (3) what strategies do health sciences librarians employ to overcome these challenges?


Instrument and study design

To measure and characterize the biggest challenges that librarians face while collaborating on systematic review projects, we used a web-based survey designed in Qualtrics survey software (Qualtrics, Provo, UT). The thirteen-item survey consisted of screening questions and questions related to demographics, training, and challenges associated with systematic reviews, as well as strategies used to overcome those challenges. An online survey was selected as the best method for describing the characteristics of this population since it allowed us to gather more results from a wider range of participants.

We identified seventeen challenges based on our own experiences in working on systematic reviews and then grouped these challenges into two categories: methodological and interpersonal. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.