Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Literature reviews in LIS research

I am a peer reviewer for the open-access journal, Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, because I believe in the tenets of evidence-based whatever.  This started in my years at the medical library at UT Southwestern – evidence-based medicine was starting to take hold in the American medical community.  Learning how to search MEDLINE for the best evidence laid the foundation of this concept.  My education in public health provided me with more tools for evaluating evidence and even discovering the best evidence possible on my own.  Librarianship, despite its reputation for being slow to change and paying only lip-service to the scientific method, has a long history of using data to help with making decisions.  After all, we librarians have been dutifully collecting data (aka “statistics”) for over a century and a half and using this information to change our services and our collections.

One problem I think librarianship has that impedes its acceptance as a true social science is that the field has been slow to provide the tools for synthesizing the evidence that is collected.  True, we librarians publish in journals, we read these articles, we present at conferences.  But we lack what in the medical community is quite common – review journals.  Of course, there journals that publish reviews of books & other resources, but in the medical community, there are many journals aimed at the clinician which publish reviews of the clinical & biomedical literature.  These reviews synthesize the clinical trials and laboratory experiments and provide the clinician with information to change how they diagnose & treat problems.  Indeed, reviews have become integrated into the medical literature, with well-defined document type descriptors that are (for the most part) accurately applied in MEDLINE.

Many journals in librarianship publish research articles, but there appear to be relatively few review articles.  I say “appear” because it is quite difficult to search the literature database.  The two key databases, ProQuest’s LISA and EBSCO’s LIS Source, do provide document type filter of “literature review” and “review”.  But these are not defined in their respective “help” sites, and when I applied the filters on a very broad search (“library” in keyword), there were fewer than 25 results in either database.  I have noticed the term, “meta-synthesis”, lately, so I tried that in the databases.  This was a little more successful, in that the articles were, indeed, syntheses of literature.  However, none were assigned the document type of “review”.  Finally, I tried “meta-analysis”, which is actually a statistical method that combines the data from multiple similar studies and treats it as a single data source.  This was more fruitful, with 142 results in LIS Source and 168 in LISA.  While most of these articles were either meta-analyses of medical studies or about conducting meta-analyses, a few gems popped out:

  • Saxton, M. L. (2006). Meta-Analysis in Library and Information Science: Method, History, and Recommendations for Reporting Research. Library Trends, 55(1), 158-170.
  • Saxton, M. L. (1997). Reference service evaluation and meta-analysis: findings and methodological issues. Library Quarterly, 67267-289.
  • Jamain, A., & Hand, D. (2008). Mining Supervised Classification Performance Studies: A Meta-Analytic Investigation. Journal Of Classification, 25(1), 87-112.
  • Ziemke, J. (2012). Crisis Mapping: The Construction of a New Interdisciplinary Field? Journal Of Map & Geography Libraries, 8(2), 101-117. (NOTE: This is actually more of a literature review than a meta-analysis)
  • Phelps, S., & Campbell, N. (2012). Commitment and Trust in Librarian–Faculty Relationships: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal Of Academic Librarianship, 38(1), 13-19.

Ah-hah!  “Systematic Review” – but, of course.  This was actually the key to the cache of review articles in the two major LIS databases: 296 in LIS Source & 142 in LISA.  So, which journals published the most systematic reviews?

  • Health Information & Libraries Journal (HILJ)
  • Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR)
  • Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA)
  • Evidence Based Library & Information Practice (EBLIP)
  • Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA)
  • Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association (JCHLA)

Get the picture?  So, it appears that systematic literature reviews have become relevant in the subspecialty of medical librarianship, but not much further.

I think I have found myself a new area of research.



4 comments on “Literature reviews in LIS research

  1. Karen R. Harker, MLS, MPH
    January 3, 2014

    Thank you! I’ll keep up with this and hopefully you’ll be able to add one from me in the near future.

  2. Pingback: Interesting items from EBLIP | Libraries are for Use

  3. Pingback: Reconstructing our medical evidence base by algorithmic trust assignment across the medical literature | Follow Me Here...

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This entry was posted on January 3, 2014 by in LIS Research, Scholarly Communication.

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