Systematically Speaking

May 31, 2016 at 9:42 am | Posted in Meetings, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Beth Dyer, Reference & Instruction Librarian at University of New England in Portland, ME writes our second blog post sharing her experiences at MLA. Beth won a financial award from NAHSL to attend MLA this year in Toronto.  This was Beth’s first MLA conference. Congratulations, Beth!

Systematically Speaking

Attending MLA for the first time was a whirlwind of ideas, people, and products. Choosing which sessions to attend among simultaneous offerings was hard. On Sunday I chose an afternoon session called “Systematic Review Services” which gave me some good ideas and inspiration.

I’ve had systematic reviews in mind lately because I just finished working on one – which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society just days before the conference! It took a year and a half of teamwork, and almost a year to be published following initial acceptance. I gained firsthand experience in the challenges and time commitment of SRs, and anticipate more requests for help, especially having shown the value of librarian involvement through successful publication.

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are hot and it seems like everyone wants to do one. Kate Krause (Texas Medical Center Library) presented “Systematic Reviews: the Evolution of a New Library Service.” She pointed to researcher misconceptions and librarian misconceptions, both of which involve the time required to get these done, among other issues. Solutions they’ve implemented include an Online Request Form for researchers to initiate requests and for librarians to gather good information, and a Memorandum of Understanding that the researchers and librarians both sign, which lays out a timeline, duties, and expectations. They offer two layers of services for faculty – basic and full – along with limited services for students. Full faculty service requires five face to face meetings and co-authorship. She mentioned a study that shows the more face to face time spent with researchers, the more likely they are to complete and publish the SR.  To educate researchers on conducting SRs, they developed an information packet and a LibGuide, and offer supporting classes such as literature searching and EndNote.  Two tools that are new to me were suggested: Covidence and DistillerSR. They recommend using the IOM Standards for Systematic Reviews; stating although most SRs only adhere to a small percentage of the standards, they help researchers appreciate what constitutes a high-quality SR.

Lynn Kysh’s (Norris Medical Library) presentation “Blinded Ambition: Misperceptions and Misconceptions about Systematic Reviews from Teachers to Learners” reiterated the misconceptions around systematic reviews and drove home the need to educate our communities on process and quality. She described her role on an SR team as part co-investigator and part educator, striving to direct the team towards high standards and realistic expectations for best results. She described a few instances of asking that her name be removed from co-authorship because the end product did not satisfy her quality criteria.

We teach our users to look for the best evidence, which includes systematic reviews and meta-analyses. With more and more researchers producing these types of articles in more and more sources, we need to remind users to critically appraise them, and to help researchers diligently create them.  Many of us have read systematic reviews with deficient search strategies. The morning after I returned from the conference, a student came to see me about his group research project which he described as a meta-analysis. He wanted to make sure they had not missed anything after having done a keyword phrase search in PubMed. There was no clear question and no stated inclusion or exclusion criteria. We had twenty minutes. In a follow-up email, I suggested some search strategies and links to resources.

Inspired by these MLA presentations and my recent experiences, a new goal is to create some educational materials around systematic reviews on the library website. I don’t know if my library will ever set up a service, or have the capacity to do so, but at the least we can help educate our users on keeping the “systematic” in systematic reviews. Otherwise we may see increasing amounts of faulty evidence, which then contributes to faulty health care.

Keynote speaker Dr. Ben Goldacre (author of Bad Science) stated that we are entering the “second phase of evidence-based medicine” – one in which the focus should lie on improving methods, transparency, reporting, and thus the overall quality of the evidence itself. We librarians can position ourselves to help.

Thank you to the NAHSL Professional Development Committee for making it possible to attend MLA!

 Elizabeth (Beth) Dyer, MLIS, AHIP

Reference & Instruction Librarian

University of New England

Portland, ME



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