Up-selling the library service offer: Supporting health care staff undertaking systematic reviews

1 11 2013

Recently  I was approached by a doctor asking for helping searching The Cochrane Library.  It emerged during our discussions that he was undertaking a systematic review and was constructing a search strategy.  Having attended an excellent training session delivered by Michelle Maden, exploring how health libraries can support those health care staff undertaking systematic reviews, I was able to recognise this as an opportunity to ‘up-sell’ the services that the library can offer.

I offered to advise on his search strategy, and to also signpost him to additional databases that he could include.  He seemed enthused by these suggestions, and we arranged a two hour appointment for later in the week.

On delving back into the handouts and notes that I’d taken during Michelle’s session, I was able to pull together an information pack for the doctor ahead of our meeting.  In this I included copies of the South Central Literature Search Protocol to provide support for the search strategy, PRISMA statement to provide guidance on writing up the systematic review, and an example search protocol and strategy.

Having attended Michelle’s session, I was able to recognise that the library can offer support for staff undertaking systematic reviews in many ways, including:

  • Offering literature searching support, undertaking assisted searches and ‘checking’ searches
  • Help with defining the topic, search considerations, e.g. inclusion of English language studies
  • Advice on basic methodology, good/bad practice, advice on sources
  • Support with navigating resources, exporting results from HDAS and other databases
  • Help with developing a search protocol
  • Quality assessment (critical appraisal) of included studies
  • Help with searching for grey literature
  • Explaining what is a systematic review, what it involves, helping people understand the process
  • Help with managing references (using software such as Refworks, EndNote, Reference Manager, or FREE Mendeley, Zotero)
  • Support with managing documentation (wikis, e.g. PBWorks, online document storage, e.g. DropBox)
  • Help researchers to register the systematic review protocol on a national database (Prospero)

During my one-to-one session with the doctor, we revisited his search strategy and I was able to make some suggestions about how it might be tightened up.  We also visited The Cochrane Library, which he had been told about but had never really searched, and we tried out his search strategy in Embase.

This was a really good opportunity for me to put into practise some of the skills and knowledge I’d gained from attending Michelle’s training session.  A lot of the ‘hints and tips’ that I picked up were invaluable – I was able to offer advice on how to prepare a search protocol, make suggestions for sources of grey literature and advise on registering on the PROSPERO database.  Having undertaken a systematic review myself a couple of years ago, and following Michelle’s training, I felt much more confident to make these suggestions authoritatively.

It is a different experience to have first contact with a new library customer coming at it from a research point of view.  I found I was able to promote a lot of our services to him, but with a slightly different slant.  For example, he joined the library after I told him that membership would allow him 24 hour access to the library facilities, including IT, printing and photocopying (handy for those research all-nighters and weekend work!).  He was also particularly interested in the functionality of NHS databases to export references as an RIS file, which would allow him to import his results into his reference management software.  The main thing that was of interest to him was the wide range of sources available to him.  I was able to highlight how many different sources a systematic review should cover, and I was able to suggest several that were new to him.

I found the whole session really enjoyable and it was a much different ‘user education’ experience to those standard literature searches that we deal with every day.  It challenged me to promote the library with a different slant and hopefully I was able to tailor the service provided to the unique requirements of a researcher.  It left me with even more of an appreciation that when I’m approached to help someone with a search, it’s always worth finding out more about the purpose of their search.  Knowing that your requester is undertaking a systematic review allows you to ‘up-sell’ the services that the library can offer, and provide a more valuable customer experience.