SYSTEMATIC REVIEWERS: another role for librarians?

September 16, 2013, 4:16 pm

I was talking with Rebecca Miller last week and she mentioned that she was working on a handful of systematic reviews. I was curious about this since I had not heard the phrase before (I’m more engineering than sci-med) and as she described the process it seemed very labor-intensive.

It wasn’t the methodology that fascinated me, but rather, the fact that this seems to be another attribute of the changing role of librarians. I asked Rebecca to write a blurb that I could share:

Over the past year or so, researchers in HNFE, Public Health, and Engineering Education have become increasingly involved in conducting systematic reviews in order to meet grant requirements and promote more rigorous research among their graduate students. Systematic reviews are scaled-up literature reviews that provide a strong foundation for evidence-based medicine and policy decisions. There are standards and guidelines to creating such reviews, and the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) standards recommend including a librarian on any team of researchers undertaking systematic reviews in order to help the team develop search strategies, identify resources for searching, and assessing study quality.

Currently, I am assisting four teams in Public Health and two teams in HNFE. Since my level of involvement in many of these reviews is beyond normal research consultation help, I am being added as a co-author to one of the studies.

This isn’t exactly a new role for librarians but it is one that appears to be growing on my campus and probably on yours too. There are some great articles that outline this concept:


What really interests me is how systematic reviews appear to be morphing outside of the clinical domain. I find it intriguing that this type of research could become required and standard for grants, RFPs, or Funding Opportunity Announcements.

We’ve seen other federal mandates pushed forward related to data management planning and public (open) access policies resulting in new roles and services in libraries—could systematic reviews follow that trajectory? If I’m awarding million dollar grants I’d want to see good background evidence and it makes sense to involve librarians, statisticians, and others who can make meaningful contributions.

And perhaps we’ll see systematic review requirements jump to other sciences and into engineering— fields with lots of complex data—and then to the social sciences, public policy, and so forth.

The ability (and time) to perform this type of research greatly adds competitive advantage to any grant/funding seeker. It also adds to the conversation on what libraries (and librarians) can offer. We talk a lot about the changing roles of librarians and the seemingly ever-expanding needs across campus. This is just another example of what faculty will soon (if not already) expect from us.

Thanks Rebecca!

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