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So Much More than “Nuts and Bolts”: Report on the Systematic Review Workshop at the University of Pittsburgh

Posted by on April 11th, 2017 Posted in: Advocacy, Funding, Training

By Angela Murrell, Senior Librarian
Bastyr University California
San Diego, CA

This spring I had the honor of receiving a professional development award from NNLM PSR to attend the Systematic Review Workshop: Nuts and Bolts for Librarians, managed by some of the amazing staff at the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) of the University of Pittsburgh on April 3-5, 2017. The workshop runs for 2.5 days, and is offered 3 times per year. Having worked in a biomedical research library for 10 years, and now going on two years in a medical school library, I thought I knew a fair bit about systematic reviews, even though I had never worked on one directly. Still, this workshop seemed like the logical next step in my professional development. As I strolled past the Carnegie Museum of Natural History the Sunday before the workshop, I thought, what a lovely city to host a refresher course. Over the next 2 and a half days, I learned that I had a lot more to learn!

And boy did I learn! The librarians who teach the workshop pack a lot of information into those 2 and a half days, but the time seems to fly by. The workshop is organized generally like the flow of the systematic review process, from receiving a request for assistance, to the initial meeting, arranging the terms of co-authorship, identifying databases, harvesting and testing search terms, getting feedback from the researchers, collecting the records, searching grey literature, writing the methods, and of course documenting as you go. The materials are packed with information and links to all the content you need to find the relevant standards and guidelines for systematic reviews, such as PRISMA, Cochrane, and IOM guidelines, as well as references on best practices for systematic review teams, determining keywords, developing search strategies, and so much more. Some hands-on sessions had us working on a real systematic review that the instructors had completed. This was very helpful for testing some of the recommendations and techniques from the workshop.

A truly rewarding aspect of the workshop was interacting with the instructors. They have years of experience working on systematic reviews, working with all levels of researchers and topics. The instructors have some wonderful insights into working with difficult topics, trial and error with documentation styles, and dealing with demanding researchers. What’s more, they were not shy about sharing their successes and challenges, and even their mistakes. The 24 participants also added value to the experience. There were librarians from a range of subject areas and all levels of expertise. Some came from public health and medical school libraries, others from education and science libraries. Questions and discussions helped dig deeper into the material, and prompted the instructors to share candid stories of their experiences over the past several years of teaching the workshop and collaborating on systematic reviews. Everyone learned something about the process, even if they had already participated in more than one systematic review prior to the workshop.

Now that I am back at my library, I know that I have learned more in those 2 and a half days than I could have just trying to read through the guidelines on my own. I feel more confident that I can be a resource for my librarian colleagues and my research and clinical faculty. I would encourage anyone who consults on or is considering taking on systematic review duties to attend this workshop. And if you have never done a systematic review, there is a lot more to it than you might think! The wait list is long, but the HSLS librarians offer the workshop three times a year, so get on the wait list now for the July course! Just contact Charles Wessel at cbw@pitt.edu for more information.

Image of the author ABOUT Alan Carr
Alan Carr is the Associate Director, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region, based at UCLA.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM012341 with the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library.

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