Sunday, September 21, 2008

PL 45/08: Evidence based librarianship 101

Filed under: research — plinius @ 6:26 am

Knowledge increases productivity.

Evidence of global warning …

The increase in industrial productivity since the 18th century depended on research and development in the STM fields: science, technology and medicine. Now, in the early 21st century, public and commercial organizations are trying to replicate the process in the social field, where we interact with people rather than with nature.

Medicine is the bridge. Occupations like teaching, social work and librarianship are now asked to investigate, evaluate and – if necessary – change their practices. The “social evidence movement” was inspired by evidence-based medicine. But the link between systematic R&D, on the one hand, and professional practice, on the other, is much less developed in the social than in the science-based occupations.

The whole idea of evidence-based practice is controversial, since it changes the identity, the internal understanding, the social construction and the routinized forms of action (habitus) of the professional field in question.

For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. ~Ecclesiastes 1:18

But the pressure is on – and the debate will continue – for instance in the Canadian journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice:

EBLIP is an open access, peer reviewed journal published quarterly by the University of Alberta Learning Services and supported by an international team of editorial advisors. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for librarians and other information professionals to discover research that may contribute to decision making in professional practice.

EBLIP publishes original research and commentary on the topic of evidence based library and information practice, as well as reviews of previously published research (evidence summaries) on a wide number of topics.

Below I republish, for easy reference, an article from the journal, which allows – I am happy to see – such reproduction.

And by the way – Plinius is also published under a Creative Commons license.


Evidence Based Librarianship Backgrounder

Su Cleyle, Associate University Librarian,  Memorial University of Newfoundland,, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada; Julie McKenna, Deputy Library Director, Regina Public Library, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Evidence Based Librarianship (EBL) is a means to improve the profession of librarianship by asking questions, finding, critically appraising and incorporating research evidence from library science (and other disciplines) into daily practice. It also involves encouraging librarians to conduct research.

(Koufogiannakis and Crumley, 112)

Welcome to EBL 101!

This new column is designed to offer guidance into the workings of evidence based practice and answer that question: “How can I implement EBL in my library?” The intent is to offer short, simple columns on a variety of EBL topics allowing any librarian, regardless of library type or size, to practice evidence based librarianship.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

Evidence based practice (EBP) is a term that we have all heard. Usually it is associated with the health professions and originated the area of clinical medicine. The medical profession forged the way for many professions to embrace evidence based practice (EBM.) Back in the 1990’s, Canadian doctors sought to create an environment of  lifelong learning and clinical practice that utilitized research to answer clinical questions.

There are 5 steps to evidence based medicine: Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 2008, 3:3, 92

  • 1. Formulate an answerable question.
  • 2. Track down the best evidence
  • 3. Critically appraise the evidence (i.e. find out how good it is).
  • 4. Apply the evidence (integrate the results with clinical expertise and patient values).
  • 5. Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the process (to improve next time) (Glasziou 23).

As you can see the concept of EBM is a simple one – gather evidence to help with answering questions and helping patients.

For the discipline of medicine, the body of evidence is rich in these areas and it is
conceivable that most questions can be answered through use of existing research
evidence. But even though the steps seem simple enough, a variety of skills are needed to ensure each step is completed properly.

For example, asking the right question is crucial to finding the best evidence;
evaluating the evidence is pivotal to determining the best course of action, and so

Evidence Based Librarianship (EBL)

Evidence based practice is a practical approach to finding answers to questions and for professionals to stay abreast of current trends and research. It is also a useful model for contributing to the body of evidence. But will this model work in a discipline that is not grounded in the research practices associated with the collection and use of empirical data? The social sciences research base is very different

from that in the sciences. It is possible to apply the evidence based practice model to social science disciplines, including librarianship? EBP, quite simply, can encompass original research and the evaluation and use of  xisting research. Koufogiannakis, Crumley, and Slater reviewed several content analysis reports and note the “the variation in the interpretation of what constitutes a ‘research’ article…” (Koufogiannakis, Crumley, and Slater 228).

Of the 2664 articles reviewed from the 2001 publishing year, 30.3% were identified as research articles. This is a rate similar to previous content reviews for librarianship, although there are variations in scope and definition of what “constitutes a ‘research’ article”. Clearly, the higher percentage of articles appearing in our professional literature is not research oriented. Librarianship is not primarily comprised of scholars or researchers. It is comprised of practitioners and administrators. Thus, research has not necessarily made its way into our professional literature and our decision making processes. Many of us in the profession now recognize the need to formalize our research and our decisio making processes to ensure that we base our decisions on the best possible evidence.

Based on the EBM model, the steps for EBL are similar:

  • 1. Define problem
  • 2. Find evidence
  • 3. Appraise evidence
  • 4. Apply results of appraisal
  • 5. Evaluate change
  • 6. Redefine problem

(Booth and Brice, 2003)

The definition of the problem, or “the question”, is pivotal to the entire process. The next EBL 101 column will focus on asking the right question.


Evidence Based Librarianship Backgrounder

Su Cleyle, Associate University Librarian,  Memorial University of Newfoundland,, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada; Julie McKenna, Deputy Library Director, Regina Public Library, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative  Commons Attribution Licence, which permits unrestricted use,distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2008 Cleyle and McKenna.


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