evidence based librarianship

I had heard of “evidence-based medicine” and now I really like the idea behind a journal I just discovered: Evidence Based Library and Information Practice.

Articles are brief reviews of research from other journals, that really summarize and distill what the take-away is from the research for your practice.  Actually, it looks like recent issues may have moved to publishing original articles? But still with a one page executive summary of take-aways at the start. I actually like the commentary/review approach better than original articles, but either way could be useful.

And of course, to make it’s promise realistic, it’s open access online. From now on, when I’m starting a new project, or wondering about the best way to solve some problem, I’m going to try and remember to go and search EBLIP to see if there’s any relevant research. We don’t always (in fact, hardly ever) have the time to conduct good research at our own institutions on every project or question we have; contrary to popular belief, I don’t think every institution’s patrons are unique snowflakes, I think we can often be usefully guided by studies at comparable institutions (even with a very liberal understanding of ‘comparable’).

Incorporating research into your practice

You can browse or search from the Journal’s site, or browse at DOAJ, or search at DOAJ, but you’d need to manually enter the restriction for the ISSN. Or just search all of DOAJ confident you’ll get EBLIP in your results. But honestly I don’t have time to read typical overly-verbose research articles that may or may not of value–I appreciate the idea of executive summaries along with a review  of how trustworthy the methodology is by someone else.  (“Peer review” isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be — I like having an actual concise peer review of an article in front of me.)

Sadly, they don’t seem to have an RSS feed. (OJS doesn’t do RSS feeds out of the box? For shame!) Wonder if I can get one from DOAJ instead? Sadly, they don’t seem to either. (Shame on them too! This is an easy and valuable value-added service DOAJ could provide, RSS results from their metadata search).  Get with the program people! I’d love an RSS feed of this journal’s content I could include in my aggregator.

I also wish they had followed the lead of EBM publications I’ve seen, making the titles of the articles (in ToCs and search results) the conclusions not the research questions.  Sometimes they do this (eg High School Students Struggle to Find School-related Information on the Web), but sometimes they don’t (The Information Seeking Behavior of Undergraduate Education Majors: Does Library Instruction Play a Role?an article that, based on the summary, should have been called One-Shot Library Instruction Has No Effect On Student Information Seeking Behavior).

Give me the conclusion up front, that’s what I want!   May be the difference between the journal’s “articles” and it’s “evidence summaries”–the “evidence summaries” are what I really want.

I also wish articles were available in HTML, not just PDF, for quicker access.  Speed of access to applicable conclusions is the whole point of this endeavor for me.  Maybe OJS doesn’t do HTML, which may be related to it’s lack of RSS feeds too. Gee, I hope the search function is over full text and not just metadata — or at least abstracts — or that they have really really good keywords in the metadata. Again, the point of this is quick on-demand access to the research conclusions I need.

(As an aside, over at the Code4Lib Journal, we’re relatively happy with our decision to go with WordPress as a platform rather than OJS. But the trade off is that for the moment we only have HTML, not PDF. We’re working on it. Slowly. And it should be mentioned that our success with WP is due to Jonathan Brinley’s excellent admining and hacking, customizing templates and plug-ins to meet our needs. )

We need more of this

It’s a good idea, an open access archive of very short executive summaries of research, that can be looked up and consumed quickly, to guide library practice. Haven’t spent enough time with it yet to be sure how useful this particular publication will end up in practice. Some of the articles have hypotheses that seem rather irrelevant to any actual decision making, which would kind of defeat the purpose, but maybe I’m just not in the right position to make the decisions relevant to those particular articles!

8 thoughts on “evidence based librarianship

  1. You make several good points. I’ve been following EBLIP since the beginning – but there are still many improvements to be made in how people find and share evidence. Providing HTML pages rather than pdf would be great — and, ironically, would demonstrate a commitment to evidence-based publishing and marketing practice, which tells us that a) search engines don’t do a good job of indexing articles published as pdf, and b) some readers prefer a quick web page summary.

    And I agree with your statement: Give me the conclusion up front, that’s what I want! May be the difference between the journal’s “articles” and it’s “evidence summaries”–the “evidence summaries” are what I really want.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    You can register as a reader for the journal, and receive an email update when each issue is published (quarterly). It’s not RSS, but it’s the best thing we’ve got.

    As for the titles of the Evidence Summaries, we strive to make them as informative as possible, but sometimes the author of the summary is resistant. I agree that all titles should convey the bottom line of the original research.

    Also, please note that the journal publishes both original research reports, AND evidence summaries of original research published in other journals. Both of these types of publications are peer reviewed.

  3. Hi Jonathan,
    Thanks for featuring EBLIP on your blog. I’m really glad that you appreciate the Evidence Summaries; they are a core part of our journal. I hope other journals in our profession may also incorporate this type of critical appraisal of research into what they publish – the more the better! And hopefully in an open access forum.

    As for HTML — we definitely have this on our agenda for future improvement. We are currently just trying to juggle workload of our volunteer team, but know it is important, so we will deal with it soon.

    Thanks for your constructive criticism of our journal. Since we are relatively new, we are always looking for ways to improve and better meet the needs of our readers.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Lorie and Denise.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that your journal wasn’t peer reviewed, but that I find your summaries of articles published elsewhere to be especially useful — those summaries are a different kind of ‘peer review’ than the phrase usually means, but they are an especially useful kind. I find that in general, across our field’s publishing output (not meaning to imply anything about your journal in particular), ‘peer review’ isn’t always a guarantor of quality, let alone usefulness.

    Which is what makes your project especially useful, and I’m glad you are undertaking it.

    I like using the model of EBM stuff like the Cochrane reviews or ACP Journal Club. Part of the mission of that stuff is to let doctors look up targetted research in literally seconds or minutes relevant to patient in front of them. Of course, our tasks are not nearly so urgent or the consequences of failure so dire as for health practicioners– but we’ve got a lot less funding and resources too, so it all works out. :)

    I’d encourage you to establish some clear guidelines and really stick to them — like perhaps that an article title needs to be a statement of finding, not a question. And if authors don’t like it, they can publish elsewhere. No doubt you already have such and are working at continual improvement, like all of us.

    One of the trickiest things to do with the Code4Lib Journal has been to try to enforce as high standard of usefulness to our audience as we can, as we try to always prioritize being fair to our readers over being ‘fair’ to our authors. I actually don’t think we’ve always been successful, but hopefully we’re getting better. It is, of course, especially tricky to accomplish this all with an all-volunteer group of busy library workers composing both our editors and our authors!

    So, anyway, I hope your journals continues to enjoy ever greater success.

  5. I’m a huge believer in evidence-based library practice (and put my money where my mouth is by doing an evidence summary of a classic article in an earlier issue). Something like a meta-analysis or Cochrane review would be awesome, but a huge effort! Those things are massively expensive to produce. Oops, almost volunteered myself for something – my advisor says that’s a no-no until I defend (in 4 years?)

  6. We probably don’t have ENOUGH research available for a true meta-analysis type thing to be valueable anyway. For now, I think evidence summaries of the sort EBLIP are doing are sufficient, better to focus on making them higher quality and more useful, and more of them.

    I haven’t actually seen a Cochrane review, I didn’t realize that’s what they were, I admit. I have seen ACP Journal Club, which is more like what EBLIP is doing (but without the original articles).

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