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Systematic & Evidence Synthesis Reviews: Librarian Involvement

Basic information on types of "knowledge syntheses"/systematic reviews to help users plan the best review type, team, methods and have a clear sense of the expectations/responsibilities of performing these comprehensive literature review projects.

Librarian Roles

1. In general:

  1. Provide feedback and guidance on your research question 
  2. Suggest pertinent databases
  3. Suggest some search terms
  4. Teach you how to look for and enter search terms
  5. Teach you about stringing terms together
  6. Perhaps edit search strategies you have devised             

2. If guaranteed CO-authorship

  1. Find search terms
  2. Determine databases and grey literature sources to be searched
  3. Formulate search strategy
  4. Translate the search strategy among databases and grey lit sources
  5. Collect, de-duplicate and track #s of results
  6. Snowball (track forward and backward citations)
  7. Provide PRISMA diagram
  8. Write search segment of Methods section

Why librarians as co-authors?

1. The gold standard of systematic reviews, the Cochrane Group, recommends librarians serve as co-authors so that SRs are based on comprehensive searching and the resulting findings are therefore as objective as possible, being based on the widest possible collection of studies. The type of searching required for systematic reviews is deeper than usual and librarians are more familiar with sources on UNpublished studies that will prevent reviewers from suspecting publication bias in the final project.

2. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommends authorship credit based on these 4 criteria*:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. 

Librarians meet the 1st criterion when they help you shape your research question and certainly in “the acquisition….of data for the work”

If they have performed the searches upon which the review is based,  they meet the 2nd criterion in writing the segment of the Methods section in which they describe terms and combining strategies they used in searching for the literature and in supplying the numbers for or drafting the PRISMA diagram.

Again, if they have performed the searches upon which the review is based, they should be involved in drafting, editing and final approval of the version of the study to be published, the 3rd criterion for authorship.

If they have performed the search and not been involved in writing the Methods section or approving the final version, no other author should feel comfortable agreeing to be accountable for ALL aspects of the work without the librarian’s agreement to also be accountable as an author, the 4th criterion for authorship.   


*International Committee of Medical Journal Editors – Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors- Who is an Author?

CTSI Systematic Review Core

FYI--The Systematic Review service is no longer part of the CTSI and there is no longer a voucher system.  For questions on conducting a systematic review please contact your HSC Liaison Librarian or your Smathers Libraries Liaison Librarian 

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