Updating Searches for Evidence Synthesis: The good, the bad and the ugly
As the health research landscape changes and evolves, specifically the proliferation of evidence syntheses, the tools and skills needed by this research community also continue to evolve. Librarians and information professionals who support the knowledge synthesis research output require specialized skills and praxis in order to engage in methodologically sound reviews. One specific skill is that of updating complex searches in support of evidence syntheses. Decisions about whether and when to update a review are judgments made for individual reviews at a particular time. These decisions can be made by a variety of entities, including agencies responsible for review collections, journal editors with review update services, and author teams embarking on an update of a review.
Objectives: The variety of methods employed to update structured searches for evidence syntheses vary and include using date fields in databases, querying results using unique object identifiers (UIDs), and relying on data extraction tools like Covidence. This inquiry will map the ways librarians and information professionals in the health sciences who support evidence syntheses update searches in order to ensure reproducibility and transparency. An analysis of how to validate such methods and the philosophical implications of doing so will also be discussed.
Methods: A survey of health sciences librarians and information professionals was conducted in order to ascertain the most highly utilized and trusted method for updating searches. The survey included a list of known methods as well as space for librarians to state novel methods.
Results: The methods commonly utilized are wide-ranging and include restricting records to those entered into a database on or after the date a search was last run. Other methods included using unique identifiers of papers retrieved, merging records in tools like EndNote, and deduplicating records found in the initial search as well as utilizing the Application Programming Interface (API) of certain databases to ensure search update accuracy.
Conclusions: A formal guideline for when and how to update searches should be implemented and endorsed by organisations like the Cochrane Collaboration.