Koffel Publishes Systematic Review Research in PLoS ONE

by Erinn Aspinall

Jonathan Koffel
Jonathan Koffel

Jonathan Koffel, Clinical Information Librarian at the Bio-Medical Library, has been busy completing research on the benefits of librarian involvement in the development of systematic reviews.  

His research findings have been published in the latest issue of PLoS ONE.  

As Koffel explains, “Systematic review articles are thought to provide some of the best answers to healthcare questions.” “They do this by gathering together and carefully critiquing and summarizing all of the available research on a topic,” he adds.

The foundation of a systematic review is a comprehensive and high-quality literature search that can take tens of hours to design and test. For this reason, many guidelines recommend involving a librarian or information specialist in the search.

“Despite these recommendations, research has found that many systematic reviews have poor quality searches and that librarians are involved with less than a quarter of them,” said Koffel. 

Koffel wanted to take the existing research one step further. “I wanted to know whether the searches were actually being conducted poorly, or if they were just reported poorly,” he said. “I also wondered if librarians were involved in many systematic reviews, but just not credited,” he added.

To answer this question, Koffel sent a survey to over 6,500 systematic review authors from 80 countries and asked about how they designed their literature search and whether a librarian was involved. Responses were received from over 1,500 authors.  

“The results show that the use of most recommended search strategies is higher than previously reported,” said Koffel. “However, several strategies — such as searching non-journal sources, searching non-English sources, and including reproducible search strategies in the article — need to be used more consistently,” he found.

In addition, Koffel’s study found that 51 percent of systematic review authors reported working with librarians on their review, though only 60 percent of those reported librarian involvement in the article. His study also found that articles where a librarian was involved were more likely to use many of the core recommended search strategies.

Koffel’s research bolsters the idea that more attention needs to be paid to constructing high quality searches for systematic reviews and that librarians can be important partners in the process.

His research is will play an important role in supporting health sciences librarians and the field of health sciences librarianship.  

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