MLA joins the following international health library associations urging the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) to seek information specialists as peer reviewers for knowledge synthesis publications:
Canadian Health Libraries Association (CHLA/ABSC)
European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL)
Australian Library and Information Association/Health Libraries Australia (ALIA-HLA)
US Medical Library Association (MLA)
10 June 2020
To the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)
We are writing to you to encourage journal editors to actively seek information specialists as peer reviewers for knowledge synthesis publications and to advocate for the recognition of their methodological expertise.
Evidence indicates that few systematic review and other knowledge synthesis publications reflect the participation of information specialists(1-4) despite the recommendations of international knowledge synthesis organizations such as the Campbell Collaboration, Cochrane and the Joanna Briggs Institute.(5-7) There is also a growing body of research suggesting that there is a crisis in the reproducibility of methods reported in these types of publications.(2, 8-10) This is the case despite reporting guidelines like PRISMA having been widely known for a decade (11) and the benefits of information specialists’ involvement in the conduct of systematic and scoping reviews having been well documented.(1, 3, 12)
Based on our extensive collective international experience and the published evidence, it is our view that journal editors should more actively recruit information specialists as peer reviewers for knowledge synthesis publications. Information specialists bring to the table a unique set of skills, including considerable methodological expertise that can help address issues of rigour and research waste.(13) In the same way that inappropriate data collection methods for primary research undermine the integrity of research results and conclusions, the quality of the search - the data collection method for reviews - can undermine the integrity of a systematic review. Without robust and thoroughly critiqued methods for identifying studies for inclusion, knowledge syntheses are subject to potential error and systematic bias. To this end, information specialists are encouraged to ensure that the search strategies for systematic reviews and other knowledge synthesis publications are reviewed by a second expert searcher prior to finalizing the study identification process.(14) This is supplemental to the other aspects of the peer reviewing process which occur immediately prior to publication.
The membership of the associations contributing to this letter represent the most skilled, qualified and experienced expert searchers in the fields of medicine and health care in the world. They are deeply invested in improving the quality of knowledge synthesis publications.
These health library associations encourage their members to register as potential peer reviewers for journals in their specialty areas. A recent survey of librarians and information specialists, however, suggests that these professionals are rarely approached to participate in the peer review of systematic reviews or their search strategies at the publication stage.(15) We note that the selection of peer reviewers prior to publication is the responsibility of journal editors, as described in the ICMJE recommendations section II.C.2.c(16) and peer review plays a crucial role in maintaining the quality and trustworthiness of research publications. To this end, journal editors can solicit information specialists to peer review knowledge synthesis search strategies by contacting association leadership for recommendations, by reaching out through professional networks, and via social media.
We ask, therefore, that the ICMJE should recommend to their journal editors that information specialists be approached for methodological peer review. To assist with this, you may find the Librarian Peer Reviewer Database (https://sites.google.com/view/mlprdatabase/home) of assistance. This database was created by a group of professional librarians to connect experts in systematic searching with journal editors seeking their input in the peer review process.
Sandy Iverson, President: the Canadian Health Libraries Association (CHLA/ABSC)
Maurella Della Seta, President: the European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL); Carol Lefebvre, MLA Representative to EAHIL
Ann Ritchie, National Manager: the Australian Library and Information Association/Health Libraries Australia (ALIA-HLA)
Lisa Traditi, President: US Medical Library Association (MLA); Kevin Baliozian, Executive Director, MLA
We acknowledge original drafts by: Robin Parker (CHLA/ABSC Knowledge Synthesis Interest Group Co-Convenor) and Sarah Visintini (CHLA/ABSC KSIG member), with comments and feedback from Ana Patricia Ayala, Lindsey Sikora, and Kelly Farrah (CHLA/ABSC KSIG members) and Carol Lefebvre (MLA Representative to EAHIL)
1. Koffel JB. Use of recommended search strategies in systematic reviews and the impact of librarian involvement: A cross-sectional survey of recent authors. PLoS One. 2015;10(5):e0125931-e.
2. Koffel JB, Rethlefsen ML. Reproducibility of search strategies is poor in systematic reviews published in high-impact pediatrics, cardiology and surgery journals: a cross-sectional study. PLoS One. 2016;11(9):e0163309-e.
3. Meert D, Torabi N, Costella J. Impact of librarians on reporting of the literature searching component of pediatric systematic reviews. J Med Libr Assoc. 2016;104(4):267-77.
4. Ross-White A. Librarian involvement in systematic reviews at Queen’s University: an environmental scan. J Can Health Libr Assoc [Internet]. 2016;37(2). Available from: https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/jchla/index.php/jchla/article/view/26149
5. Kugley S, Wade A, Thomas J, Mahood Q, Jørgensen AMK, Hammerstrøm K, Sathe N. Searching for studies: a guide to information retrieval for Campbell systematic reviews. Oslo: The Campbell Collaboration. Version 1.1 Feb 2017. DOI: 10.4073/cmg.2016.1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/cmg.2016.1
6. Lefebvre C, Glanville J, Briscoe S, Littlewood A, Marshall C, Metzendorf MI, et al. Searching for and selecting studies. In: Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, et al., editors. Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.0 [Internet]. Cochrane; 2019. Available from: www.training.cochrane.org/handbook
7. Aromataris E, Munn Z (editors). Chapter 3 Systematic reviews of effectiveness; section 3.2.5 Search strategy. In: Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewer's Manual. The Joanna Briggs Institute, 2017. Available from https://wiki.joannabriggs.org/display/MANUAL/3.2.5+Search+strategy
8. Ioannidis JPA. The mass production of redundant, misleading, and conflicted systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Milbank Q. 2016;94(3):485-514.
9. Faggion CM, Huivin R, Aranda L, Pandis N, Alarcon M. The search and selection for primary studies in systematic reviews published in dental journals indexed in MEDLINE was not fully reproducible. J Clin Epidemiol. 2018;98:53-61.
10. Page MJ, Shamseer L, Altman DG, Tetzlaff J, Sampson M, Tricco AC, et al. Epidemiology and reporting characteristics of systematic reviews of biomedical research: a cross-sectional study. PLoS Med. 2016;13(5):1-30.
11. Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med. 2009;6(7):e1000097.
12. Rethlefsen ML, Farrell AM, Osterhaus Trzasko LC, Brigham TJ. Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. J Clin Epidemiol. 2015;68(6):617-26.
13. Kirtley S. Increasing value and reducing waste in biomedical research: librarians are listening and are part of the answer. Lancet. 2016;387(10028):1601.
14. McGowan J, Sampson M, Salzwedel DM, Cogo E, Foerster V, Lefebvre C. PRESS Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 guideline statement. J Clin Epidemiol. 2016;75:40-6.
15. Grossetta Nardini HK, Batten J, Funaro MC, Garcia-Milian R, Nyhan K, Spak JM, Wang L, Glover JG. Librarians as methodological peer reviewers for systematic reviews: results of an online survey. Res Integr Peer Rev. 2019 Nov 27;4:23. doi: 10.1186/s41073-019-0083-PMID: 31798974; PMCID: PMC6882225.
16. Recommendations for the conduct, reporting, editing, and publication of scholarly work in medical journals [Internet]. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors; 2019:1-19. Available from: http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/