Systematic Review as a Research Method in Library and Information Science

Systematic Review as a Research Method in Library and Information Science

Mercy Mlay Komba (Mzumbe University, Tanzania) and Edda Tandi Lwoga (College of Business Education, Tanzania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1471-9.ch005


The aim of this chapter is to assess the current state of application of systematic reviews (SRs) in library and information science (LIS) field and determine how information scientists can advance the SRs as a methodology. The literature shows that there is an increasing number of SRs in LIS although there are still knowledge gaps about the use of SRs as a methodology. The quality of reporting in primary studies in LIS is still poor, and hence, it becomes difficult to appraise the value of the study undertaken. In order to advance the use of SRs in LIS domain, it is important to introduce SRs in LIS education curricular, integrate SRs as part of the continuing scientist development programmes (CPD), use automated SR software to minimize workload, introduce SRs a formal role and service in the libraries, collaborate with research teams as co-authors to conduct SRs not only in the topics defined by research teams, but also in LIS topics, and create SR databases and tools in LIS.
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The rapid advancements of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have resulted in an exponential increase in the amount of available information and forced librarians to change their practices. The increasing popularity of ICTs, new ways of communicating research and the transformation in scientific publishing have also posed new challenges for librarians. Information scientists need to rethink and redefine their role in terms of addressing users’ needs and thus use advanced technological skills (Vassilakaki & Moniarou-Papaconstantinou, 2014). Systematic reviews (SRs) are increasingly being produced and published (Chasin & Scholta, 2015). There has been a sharp rise in the publication of SRs due to the increased call for evidence-based research; high publication rate of primary studies, growing number of scientist organizations promoting SRs, and high number of tools available to conduct review (Foster & Foster, 2015). The upsurge in reviews has led to more researchers seeking the assistance of librarians (Foster & Foster, 2015). According to Xu, Kang and Song, (2015), all primary research must be preceded by a SR. SR is defined as a systematic way of collecting, critically evaluating, integrating, and presenting findings from across multiple research studies on a research question or topic of interest (Pati et al., 2018).

SRs help information scientists to keep up-to-date with scientific information since they combine information from several existing publications on a given topic (Don, Cnor & Faan, 2016). As information scientists, library staff could act in a more entrepreneurial style and seek out ways to add value to their roles and show the impact of their work and to do so they must go beyond the traditional parameters of the library. They need to respond more acutely to their users’ needs, and develop capabilities to build better profiles of their users, for example through continual needs analysis (Delaney & Bates, 2015). Therefore, SRs provides several opportunities to librarians such as potential income, increased use of library services, research output, and alignment with the new roles of academic libraries (Gore & Jones, 2015).

Information scientists are more and more appealed to participate in the production of SRs (Gore & Jones, 2015). The information scientist are urged to participate in SRs due to the ever-increasing volume of digital information and the constant development of tools to generate and access information require information scientists to operate as information consultants and facilitators (Vassilakaki & Moniarou-Papaconstantinou, 2014). Furthermore, Information scientists need to reconsider their role in the learning process at higher levels due to increased competition among universities for developing successful graduates, hiring prominent academics and finding research funds, skills development, and the adoption of changes in the learning and research organizations (Vassilakaki & Moniarou-Papaconstantinou, 2014).

SRs have often been mainly associated with the field of health science (Don et al., 2016). Health sciences librarians have been involved with SRs since this genre of publication emerged during the 1990s. Since then, librarians have been most widely known for their prowess in searching for the evidence needed to create SRs. Even during the early years, however, librarians and other information scientists were involved in other aspects of the SR process (Spencer & Eldredge, 2018). Further, the first books on the reviews were published by researchers in the field of education, social sciences, and political science (Xu, Kang and Song, 2015; Trudel et al., 2015; Petticrew, 2001). However, SRs are gaining their prominence in other fields as well, including astronomy to zoology, library and information studies and information systems.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Protocol: A systematic review protocol describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. It should be prepared before a review is started and used as a guide to carry out the review. Detailed protocols should be developed a priori, made publicly available, and registered in a registry such as PROSPERO.

Systematic Review: Is a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and reproducible methods to identify, select and critically appraise all relevant research, and to collect and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. A systematic review can be either quantitative or qualitative.

Search Strategies: Is an organized structure of key terms used to search a database. The search strategy combines the key concepts of your search question in order to retrieve accurate results. Your search strategy will account for all possible search terms, keywords and phrases.

Meta-Analysis: Involves using statistical techniques to synthesize the data from several studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size.

Critical Appraisal: Is the process of carefully and systematically examining research to judge its trustworthiness, its value and relevance in a particular context.

Information Science: Information science is that discipline that investigates the properties and behavior of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability. It is concerned with the body of knowledge relating to the origination, collection, organization, storage, retrieval, interpretation, transmission, and utilization of information.

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