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Systematic Reviews Caucus

Members: 502     Discussions: 711     Files: 3


The Systematic Reviews Caucus of the Medical Library Association has been approved. Below are the justifications used for establishing the group.

This is a proposal to establish a Systematic Reviews Caucus for the Medical Library Association. The proposal asserts that:

  1. Systematic reviews are recognized as an important method in healthcare research
  2. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies standards require that a librarian be part of the process/team
  3. The standards, methods, and products are still evolving.

Assertion 1: Systematic reviews are recognized as an important method in healthcare research.

Dr. Ben Goldcare, in his forward to the book Testing Treatments, wrote: “the notion of systematic review – looking at the totality of evidence – is quietly one of the most important innovations in medicine over the past 30 years.” (Evans et al 2011). The research method of systematic reviews, which “uses explicit and rigorous methods to identify, critically appraise, and synthesize relevant studies,” has moved to the forefront of medical research and is positioned at the top of most hierarchies of the quality of evidence (Mulrow & Cook, 1998).

Assertion 2: There has been a sharp increase in utilization of the systematic review method by researchers and clinicians.

In 2004, Clarke estimated “that approximately 10,000 Cochrane reviews are needed to cover all health care interventions that have already been investigated in controlled trials, and these reviews will need to be updated at the rate of 5000 per year” (Clarke, 2004). This number has only increased since Clarke projected this number nearly 10 years ago as reflected by the 30,000 systematic reviews available in PubMed Health which includes reviews published starting in January 2003. Systematic reviews have guided changes in practices, guidelines, and policies for clinicians, healthcare professionals, and the law (Brownson, Chriqui, and Stamatakis, 2009).

Assertion 3: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies standards for reviews require that a librarian be part of the process/team.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2011) has two standards referring to librarians:

3.1.1   Work with a librarian or other information specialist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy

3.1.3    Use an independent librarian or other information specialist to peer review the search strategy

Assertion 4: Systematic review methods are complex and take years to fully learn.

Conducting searches for systematic reviews goes beyond expert searching and requires an understanding of the entire process of the systematic review. Just as expert searching is not fully mastered by the end of a library degree, mastering the systematic review process takes a great deal of time and practice. Attending workshops and webinars can introduce the topic, but application of the knowledge through practice is required. Courses on systematic reviews are starting to be included in library school curriculums.

Assertion 5: The standards, methods, and products designed for systematic reviews change often.

Once the method of systematic reviews is mastered, it takes constant effort to keep up with the ever changing standards, improvements to methods, new types of reviews, and new products. This is one of the most studied types of research methods, with dozens of articles published articles each year about the various aspects of the method.


Brownson RC, Chriqui JF, and Stamatakis KA. (2009) Understanding evidence-based public health policy. Am J Public Health, 99(9): 1576-83.

Clarke M. (2004) “Systematic reviews and the Cochrane Collaboration”

Evans I, Thornton H, Chalmers I, & Glasziou P. (2011). Testing treatments two: Better research for better healthcare. London: Pinter & Martin Ltd.

Institute of Medicine (U.S.). & Eden J. (2011). Finding what works in health care: Standards for systematic reviews. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press. Link:

Lavis J, Davies H, Oxman A, Denis J, Golden-Biddle K, & Ferlie E. (2005). Towards systematic reviews that inform health care management and policy-making. Journal of health services research & policy, 10 Suppl 1, 35-48.

Mulrow CD, & Cook D. (1998). Systematic reviews: Synthesis of best evidence for health care decisions. Philadelphia, Pa: American College of Physicians.

Public Resources

The SR caucus would like to collect a set of resources that are useful for all librarians supporting or conducting systematic reviews. Below is the beginning of that list.

Organizations which support, collect, or conduct systematic reviews:

  • Campbell Collaboration: international research network that produces and supports systematic reviews of effects of social interventions in Crime & Justice, Education, International Development, and Social Welfare.
  • Cochrane Collaboration: international network that conducts and supports systematic reviews of effects of clinical interventions
  • EPPI-Centre: Evidencefor Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre collects, produces, and supports systematic reviews through databases, software, and courses
  • Joanna Briggs Institute: international research center which supports and conducts systematic reviews

Other links:

  • SR toolbox: database of potential tools for conducting reviews

Standards for reviews

Databases of reviews

Journals about methods of reviews

Systematic Reviews Leaders

Margaret Jane Foster, AHIP
Texas A&M University
Chair; Community Council Representative
Catherine R. Hogan Smith, AHIP
Alissa Link
Northeastern University
Delegate, Education Domain Hub