Category Archives: Librarianship

Visual Abstracts — Thoughts from a Medical Librarian

Visual Abstracts (Screenshot)

You might be interested in this initiative arising out of surgery, and primarily developed by Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc of the University of Michigan. Dr. Ibrahim is a Clinical Lecturer in Surgery here and a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. His idea of a visual abstract is kind of a blend of visual literacies, infographics, posters, and science abstracts.

In surgery, this is being adopted as a new strategy for creating journal article abstracts. It is being mentioned by the Annals of Surgery, Cochrane Collaboration, Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS), and the World Journal of Surgery, among others.

It lends itself to plain language explanations of concepts, clarity for funding agencies and policy makers, and as a tool for public outreach and education. The visual abstract may be more accessible to folk with cognitive or learning disabilities, while being less accessible to those with visual disabilities. There are powerful benefits, especially in this era of publicly contested science findings, as well as some significant drawbacks if we were to depend on the visual abstract to replace written abstracts. Another challenge is that it isn’t actually searchable in databases, and the issue of how to include and discover visual abstracts in MEDLINE remains to be addressed by the National Library of Medicine. Personally, I’m not sure that it replaces the full functionality of the traditional abstract, but rather supplements it, which I suspect is the intent. Offering both strongly empowers science communicators and educators, especially if the images are licensed to promote use and dissemination. It would be ideal if the standard of practice for visual abstracts would be to make them Creative Commons licensed.

Medical librarians must be aware of this, and should develop the competencies and skills necessary to make them so that they can help support their institutions as well as creating these for their own articles and research. One of the most common questions about this is how to locate or create icons to use. Just a few quick suggestions. If you have a significant budget, hire a graphic designer. If you have a smaller budget, consider licensing icons from the Noun Project. If you have more time than money, consider using Open Clip Art, where the images are free, but it may take more digging or editing for images you can use.

Cool Toys Pic of the day - Noun Project

So, how do you make these? Dr. Ibrahim has examples, videos, and guidelines available at his site.

Here is the direct link to the primer, including guidelines and best practices for the creation of visual abstracts, but I have not been able to get the direct link to work consistently.

Increasing numbers of journals are requesting visual abstracts as part of article submissions or are creating them as part of promotional content for highlighted articles. You can find many examples on the website, and more in the Twitter stream for the hashtag #VisualAbstract. Here are some examples from the past couple weeks.

Standards and Services and PRISMA, Oh My! Systematic Reviews at MLAnet16, Day One

First posted at the MLAnet16 blog:,-oh-my!-systematic-reviews-at-mlanet16,-day-one

Toronto Scenery

Wow, wow, wow! What an AMAZING day! I’m at the Medical Library Association Annual Meeting, and trying to get to as many of the systematic review events as I can. Today is the first full day of the conference, and it was a jackpot — PRISMA for searches, a session on EBM/EBHC training, and a session on systematic review services. Lots of posters, too, but I haven’t had a chance to go look at those yet.

I tweeted a screenshot of the special session on systematic reviews this afternoon.

Dean Giustini asked me what’s new, so let me get right to that.


I saw an event in the program, something about PRISMA standards, so I thought I’d poke my head in. When I poked my head back out later, I could not stop talking about it. The gist of it is that PRISMA, whom most medical librarians and journal editors know of as providing standards and guidelines for how systematic review data should be reported, are branching out. Me, I’ve been watching with excitement the various PRISMA extensions that have been being added recently. Thsee include standards for reporting protocols, meta-analyses, patient data, abstracts, and more. Well, it turns out there is a pretty substantial team working on developing PRISMA guidelines for reporting search strategies. This is pretty exciting for me! And somehow, I had missed it until today. The group today was opening the results from the original team to a broader audience and asking for reactions. They had come up with 123 guidelines, which they narrowed down to 53, and then we broke into four subgroups (search strategy, grey literature, documenting results, database characteristics) brainstorming about how to narrow down even further, into truly actionable points. I tell you, this is a group to watch.

Some of my favorite lines:

“I did this review according to PRISMA standards.” “You can’t. PRISMA is a ‘reporting’ standard, not a ‘doing.'” (Margaret Foster)

“The faculty are asking individual students to do something that is essentially a team sport.” (Ana Patricia Ayala)

“Cochrane says, ‘You will not limit by language.’ PRISMA says, ‘You will report any limits.'” (Margaret Sampson)

Here is just one of the flip boards from the conversation to whet the appetite of the systematic review methods nerds.

Priorities for Systematic Review Search Strategy Reporting


Later in the day, there was a complete session devoted to systematic review services in medical libraries. Yes, this is the same one from the tweet earlier in this post. I was dashing in late from the poster session, so I missed the beginning of the presentation on training needs by Catherine Boden and Hellsten. I was disappointed, because they were citing many wonderful articles I wanted to look into later. I’m sure glad the slides are in the online MLA system, because I’ll have to go find them! Being late also means I didn’t get any photos from their talk. The most provocative concept I pulled from their talk was the idea that systematic reviews are actually “a constellation of related methods rather than a single methodology.” So elegantly put, and so true. It’s a helpful way to reframe how we think about what we do, and is supported by the same drive that is motivating the various PRISMA extensions mentioned above.

MLAnet16 Systematic Review Services

Sarah Vistinini presented for her team on scoping reviews, their similarities to and differences from systematic reviews, and the value of being included in the ENTIRE process (which she cleverly described as giving a “better appreciation of all the moving parts.”). Sarah showed some very cool evidence mapping (see pic above), dot prioritization, and more. There were glowing recommendations of the 2005 Arksey and O’Malley article on scoping review methodologies and a wonderful link to all the references:

Kate Krause presented for a team primarily from the Texas Medical Center Library about their efforts to launch a new systematic review service, and the resulting “opportunities” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we all know what THAT means). The moderator described their presentation as a “collective therapy session,” which generated considerable amusement among the audience. The most important parts of her talk were, of course, the solutions! They require systematic review requests to come through an online request form, which gives them solid statistics and allows them to manage workflow better. They are using a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with faculty to facilitate a discussion of the duties, timeline, and expectations. They are providing different levels of service, with some interesting requirements for the highest level of service (like, if I understood correctly, mandatory five face-to-face meetings with the project lead). One curious nugget for which they are seeking the citation was heard at a prior MLA meeting — the more face-to-face meetings you have with a systematic review researcher, the more likely they are to actually publish on the project. They have a wonderful-sounding information packet given to new SR researchers, but I didn’t catch everything in it. I did catch bits (Cochrane timeline? list of other review types?) that make me want to know more!

MLAnet16 Systematic Review Services

Lynn Kysh and Robert E. Johnson presented a talk with the awesome title: “Blinded Ambition, misperceptions & misconceptions of systematic reviews.” They discussed some of the challenges to co-authorship and publication being assumed as an automatic good for librarians working on systematic review teams. Lynn described constraints to completing publication, and described times when librarians there removed their name from articles being submitted for publication because of methodological concerns. Very very interesting content. Well, and then there were the forest plot kittenz.

Last but not least, Maylene Kefeng Qiu represented a team that did the bulk of the work for a rapid review in … three weeks. Intense! Much of the challenge centered around timing, expertise available, staffing, workflow, and management coordination. The librarians on this team actually did the critical appraisal of the articles before giving the final dataset to the faculty member writing the review. My favorite line from her talk was, “Stick to your inclusion/exclusion criteria.” Their slide deck had so many wonderful images illustrating parallels and differences between systematic reviews and rapid reviews. I hope it’s ok if I share just one.

MLAnet16 Systematic Review Services

Health Professions Education Day & Taubman Library Grand Opening

I just wanted to say how button-busting proud I am of last week’s Health Professions Education Day and the Grand (re)-Opening of our library. There was an enormous amount of content related to both, so I made them into two separate Storify. The #HPEDay collection includes a rich overview of the innovative and collaborative approach to health education across all seven of the University of Michigan schools and colleges (dentistry, kinesiology, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, and social work), with rich visionary insights into professional ethics and leadership. Profound, and worth a slow deep exploration. The Taubman Health Sciences Library re-opening collection includes many images from tours of the new building which was designed to support these visions. Enjoy!

If you have specific questions, feel free to post them below, and perhaps they can trigger additional blogposts that go into more detail about specifics.

[Updated Sept22 to correct list of participating schools & colleges.]

Since Katrina, Part One: #SinceKatrina, #Katrina10, #Katrina10Years

Katrina Memorial

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina changed my life, in many ways. I want to talk about health information challenges then and now, how the information landscape has changed, but that will come in Part Two. For today’s post, I want to honor many of the other voices and conversations around this anniversary. The hashtags collecting these are:


People are telling the stories of what happened then, remembering, grieving, sharing anger and hurt that has barely faded. Others are analyzing again what went wrong. A few are celebrating survival and growth. Many are looking to the lessons learned and what must happen to prevent this happening again. There are many worthy stories, opinions, ideas, and ideals here. I’ve selected just a few.







Aaron, Lost, and Found Again

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

It’s been a couple years since Aaron died. Aaron who? Aaron Swartz. I’ve talked about him here a few times (Jan. 14, 2013; Jan. 15, 2013; Feb 2013; Jan 2014). Aaron was one of those bright and shining young stars, who did amazing things at early ages (helped code RSS at age 14?). reimagined ways to access information (see his fantastic Image Atlas collaboration with Taryn Simon), made very clear challenges with the status quo, and promised a future with much to contribute. That didn’t happen quite the way people hoped. In case you haven’t heard of him, there are a few links at the end of this post. Here is a quote from his dad at his memorial.

“We can’t bring Aaron back, he can no longer be the tireless worker for good… What we can do is change things for the better. We can work to change MIT so that it . . . once again becomes a place where risk and coloring outside the lines is encouraged, a space where the cruelties of the world are pushed back and our most creative flourish rather than being crushed.”

The University of Michigan is planning a really fantastic event this month looking at the circumstances of Aaron’s death, the factors that led up to it, the changes that have come after it, and how this has and is changing the information landscape and legal context in which libraries operate. Even better, you get to see the movie for FREE! Here is the event information.

Panel: Open Access Activism
Wednesday, June 17 at 4:00pm
Library Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library, University of Michigan

Melissa Levine, U-M Library’s Lead Copyright Officer
Jack Bernard, U-M Associate General Counsel
Brian Knappenberger, Director, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger’s film chronicles the story of Aaron Swartz, information-access activist and Internet prodigy, who was targeted by the FBI in a high-profile criminal case involving JSTOR and MIT at the time of his death. Join Knappenberger, along with Lead Copyright Officer Melissa Levine, and Associate General Counsel Jack Bernard in a panel discussion about the issues of the case and how they relate to libraries and information both more generally and at the University of Michigan.

Film Screening: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Tuesday, June 16 at 7:00pm
Join us for this free screening with the filmmaker at Michigan Theater the evening prior to the panel.


AaronSw (his site):

Wikipedia: Aaron Swartz:

The inside story of MIT and Aaron Swartz: More than a year after Swartz killed himself rather than face prosecution, questions about MIT’s handling of the hacking case persist:

Remember Aaron Swartz:

Naughton, John. Aaron Swartz stood up for freedom and fairness – and was hounded to his death: The internet activist who paid the ultimate price for his combination of genius and conscience. The Guardian 7 February 2015 18.00 EST.

The Life of Aaron Swartz (a collection from the Internet Archive of the rich activity surrounding his loss):

BBC Four: Storyville: The Internet’s Own Boy [IMDB: ] [Review: ]

Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide

What’s New, What’s Hot: My Favorite Posters from #MLAnet15

Part 3 of a series of blogposts I wrote for the recent Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.

I had a particular slant, where I was looking for new technology posters, emerging and emergent innovations, but then I was so delighted with the richness of systematic review research being presented, that there is a lot of that, too. The chosen few ran from A to Z, with apps, bioinformatics, data visualization, games, Google Glass in surgery, new tech to save money with ILL operations, social media, Youtube, zombies, and even PEOPLE. What is it with medical librarians and zombies? Hunh. Surely there are other gory engaging popular medical monsters? Anyway, here are some of my favorite posters from MLA’s Annual Meeting. There were so many more which I loved and tweeted, but I just can’t share them all here today. I’ll try to put them in a Storify when I get back home. Meanwhile, look these up online or in the app for more details. By the way, they started to get the audio up, so you can use the app to listen to many of the presenters talk about their poster.

Poster 14:

Poster 28:

Poster 30:

Poster 38:

Poster 40 (and that should read “Twitter”, not “Titter”):

Poster 43:

Poster 54:

Poster 65:

Poster 83:

Poster 100:

Poster 121:

Poster 125:

Poster 130:

Poster 157:

Poster 202:

Poster 224:

Poster 225:

Poster 228:

Poster 238:

Poster 243:

Systematic Reviews 101


This morning in the Emergent Research Series, my colleagues Whitney Townsend and Mark MacEachern presented to a mix of mostly faculty and other librarians about how medical librarians use the systematic review methodology. They did a brilliant job! Very nicely structured, great sources and examples, excellent Q&A session afterwards. They had planned for some activities, but it ended up there wasn’t time. I’d like to know more about what they had planned!

I was one of the folk livetweeting. According to my Twitter metrics, this was a popular topic. I assembled a Storify from the Tweets and related content. I thought it would be of interest to people here.

Storify: PF Anderson: Systematic Reviews 101: