Systematic Review: How Librarians Can Help

Consultant or Co-Author

As you embark on your evidence synthesis project, librarians can help at either the consultant or co-author level.

Collaborating with a librarian as a:

Consultant

As a consultant, a librarian can step in at different points of your systematic review and:

  • Provide background information and resources on the systematic review process
  • Recommend databases, protocol registration platforms, and citation management software
  • Suggest edits for your search strategy. As a consultant, your librarian can provide up to 15 hours of support throughout the project. (These hours may vary depending on the project).

Co-Author

Co-authoring is a more substantial commitment, and a librarian will typically devote more than a year to partner with you on your systematic review. As a co-author, the librarian will be more hands-on and can:

  • Select databases and gray literature resources
  • Write the search strategy
  • Translate searches to syntax of all databases
  • Perform searches and export them to citation management software
  • Comment on the protocol
  • Perform de-duplication, or train your team on the process
  • Advise on the use of article screening software
  • Write a portion of the methods section specific to searching

A systematic review will typically require a year or more to complete, and librarians’ availability may vary, so please plan ahead and reach out to us as early as you can.

Below is a detailed chart that breaks down the steps of a traditional systematic review and the librarian co-author’s potential contributions. (Please note that these time estimates may vary depending on the project, and some steps may happen concurrently.)

Tasks and Timelines

Timeline and details of the systematic review process
Steps in a Traditional Systematic Review Estimated Time Investment Potential Contribution of Librarian Co-Author
1. Assemble systematic review team and select project manager Varies Provide guidance
2. Identify appropriate review methodology 2 weeks Provide guidance
3. Define research question 2 weeks Provide information on appropriate question frameworks (e.g. PICO)
4. Define inclusion/exclusion criteria 1 week Provide guidance
5. Select databases 1 week Suggest appropriate databases
6. Select gray literature resources 1 week Suggest gray literature resources
7. Write search strategy for “master” database 1 week Lead writing of the search strategy
8. Write and register protocol (written compilation of previous steps) Varies Provide comments on protocol and guide protocol registration process
9. Translate search strategy to syntax 2 of all databases (including gray literature) 2 weeks Translate search strategy
10. Search and export results into citation management software 2 weeks Perform searches and export results
11. De-duplicate results 2-4 weeks Perform de-duplication, or train your team on the process
12. Title and abstract screening 2–3 months* Recommend article screening software and advise on use of software
13. Retrieve full-text articles 1 month* Train team on full-text article retrieval
14. Full-text screening 2–3 months* Provide guidance
15. Risk-of-bias assessment 2–3 months Provide guidance
16. Data extraction 2–3 months Provide guidance
17. Meta-analysis or synthesis of results 2–3 months Provide guidance
18. Write the manuscript 2–3 months Write information retrieval portion of the methods section

* Timeframe can vary significantly depending on number of citations identified for screening.

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