Category Archives: Librarianship

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:

On Validating Search Strategies


This question came up because of this:

Varela-Lema L, Punal-Riobóo J, Acción BC, Ruano-Ravina A, García ML. Making processes reliable: a validated pubmed search strategy for identifying new or emerging technologies. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2012 Oct;28(4):452-9.

What did they mean when they said “a validated PubMed search strategy”? Our MLA systematic review team that is working on search strategies for emerging technologies identification was, shall we say, curious. For this article, it meant that they tested the search results against the next best method previously used (handsearching). The topic was emerging technologies, and what they did was select influential journals and scanned the TOCs manually (which actually means by using their own eyeballs). The journals they scanned were: Science, JAMA, Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, BMJ, Annals of Surgery, Am J Transplantation, Endoscopy, J Neurology Neurosurgery Psych, Archives of Surgery, Annals of Surgical Oncology, British Journal of Surgery, and Am J Surg Path. Of the 35 articles that qualified from these journals, the search strategy accounted for 29. The ‘missing’ articles lacked appropriate title words relating to the novelty of the concept, OR used text words that had been removed from the search strategy to improve specificity (reduce total numbers retrieved).

Is that an appropriate way to validate a search strategy? Probably a pretty fair approach for this one, IMHO, especially since they did such a good job of reporting the specific calculations and details of the actual findings of the searches. Is that how most search strategies are validated? Well, perhaps not.

What I’ve been doing to validate search strategies for systematic reviews is to test and compare the search results to a defined set of sentinel articles. The sentinel articles are selected by the team’s subject experts as being good examples of articles that should be retrieved by a search on the defined question. The requirements beyond topic are that each of the sentinel articles should be older than two years, newer than 1990 (this can be flexible, depending on the topic), and must meet all of the defined inclusion criteria for the review. I usually recommend that the pool of selected sentinel articles include no fewer than 3 and no more than 10 citations. This is to make it possible to achieve complete success, as with each added citation, inclusion of all of them becomes more difficult. I also emphasize that the articles do not need to be excellent or required articles on the topic (ie. “gold standard” articles), but that it is, in my opinion, actually more effective for testing if the articles are a selection of relevant, but not necessarily the best ever written on the topic.

Draft versions of the search are tested against this set of articles, and if any “drop out” (are not included) we need to then figure out why, and determine whether to revise the search to include them, or justify the exclusion, or request NLM to correct the coding error in that article’s record. In these last two cases, the exclusion must be reported in the methods. Ideally, one would also describe the strengths, weaknesses, and/or limitations of the search strategy.

Here are some citations to other ways in which searches are validated.

Hausner E, Waffenschmidt S, Kaiser T, Simon M. Routine development of objectively derived search strategies. Systematic Reviews 2012 1:19.
NOTE: This is basically the same “sentinel articles” approach described above.

Hausner E, Guddat C, Hermanns T, Lampert U, Waffenschmidt S. Development of search strategies for systematic reviews: validation showed the noninferiority of the objective approach. J Clin Epid Feb 2015 68(2):191-199.
NOTE: Interesting article tests the reproducibility of Cochrane reviews and their reported search strategies. The emphasis is on the need for objective and reproducible search strategies in systematic review publications.

Van Walraven C, Bennett C, Forster AJ. Derivation and validation of a MEDLINE search strategy for research studies that use administrative data. Health Serv Res. 2010 Dec;45(6 Pt 1):1836-45.
NOTE: Compared to handsearching.

Walsh ES, Peterson JJ, Judkins DZ. Searching for disability in electronic databases of published literature. Disability and Health Journal Jan 2014 7(1):114-118.
NOTE: Very interesting two part test to manage the quality control of the search strategy. First, they used the method described above (compared to sentinel articles), then, because the search excluded specific topic terms in favor of broad keyword searching, they validated by comparing retrieval to the results of a known topic search.

Hempel S, Rubenstein LV, Shanman RM, Foy R, Golder S, Danz M, Shekelle PG. Identifying quality improvement intervention publications–a comparison of electronic search strategies. Implement Sci. 2011 Aug 1;6:85. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-6-85.
NOTE: Compared relevance and quality of search strategies by results being reviewed for relevance by independent experts. My personal misgivings about this method for validating a search is that it cannot test for what is missed that you don’t know about.

Tanon AA, Champagne F, Contandriopoulos AP, Pomey MP, Vadeboncoeur A, Nguyen H. Patient safety and systematic reviews: finding papers indexed in MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL. Qual Saf Health Care. 2010 Oct;19(5):452-61.
NOTE: Compared sensitivity & specificity for new search strategies in comparison to previously published search strategies on the same topic. Validated by comparing to a large selection of sentinel articles. Very difficult to achieve, and am ambitious strategy!

Brown L, Carne A, Bywood P, McIntyre E, Damarell R, Lawrence M, Tieman J. Facilitating access to evidence: Primary Health Care Search Filter. Health Info Libr J. 2014 Dec;31(4):293-302.
NOTE: Interesting strategy that first created and validated a search strategy in OVID for quality control over the search development process, and then converted the strategy to PUBMED and validated it again. The validation was again through the selection of a set of sentinel citations, but they explicitly selected for the best quality articles in the topic and referred to the set as the “gold standard.”

Damarell RA, Tieman JJ, Sladek RM. OvidSP Medline-to-PubMed search filter translation: a methodology for extending search filter range to include PubMed’s unique content. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2013 Jul 2;13:86.
NOTE: Same strategy as the article by Brown, Carne…Tieman above, but a different topic.

You can find more articles on this topic by exploring the following search results:

(validated OR validation OR “quality control” OR “quality assessment”) search strategy review