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Fostering a culture of evidence: How librarians can drive change

December 21, 2022

By Ximena Alvira, MD, PhD

Two people working on laptop in an office

Development of a Library Connect article extracting all the relevant information from Ximena Alvira’s Health Research Development Program webinars that is relevant to librarians.

Dr Ximena Alvira, Clinical Research Manager at Elsevier, has recently concluded the Health Research Development Program, a comprehensive initiative helping healthcare organizations globally to adopt best research practices and establish a research culture amongst healthcare professionals. While the focus of this project was positioned towards health researchers, the key themes also have value, and are widely applicable, librarians, particularly medical and health librarians.

My findings from the Health Research Development Program, outline the importance of providing today’s librarians with research skills ensuring that the industry remains relevant in a rapidly changing environment.

While the role of librarians differs globally, they are central to delivering trustworthy information to researchers and assisting both students and faculty at any stage of the research process. Below, I reflect on the key outputs of the program and outlines three important ways your role can support, and provide valuable contributions, to researchers throughout the research life cycle.

1. Combatting misinformation

The past two years have created a deep-rooted change in the way people perceive, consume and practice medical research. Beyond the disruption to health systems worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many significant and beneficial changes to the way the clinical research enterprise operates. The acceleration of the biomedical research processes, scientific and technological knowledge, and the facilitation of large-scale collaborations, helped to better understand the spread of the virus and supported the development of new COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible.

As the volume of clinical data continues to increase, in addition to the rapid rate of dissemination, it is becoming more challenging for researchers to judge the credibility and trustworthiness of studies and evaluate their options for sharing their work. The challenge now lies in ensuring that published evidence meets the standards of medical science.

The recent Confidence in Researchopens in new tab/window Economist Impact report, developed in partnership with Elsevier, analyzed the impact of the pandemic on research and its effect on inequality and misinformation. The report highlighted that ‘public attention and concerns about misinformation may be leading researchers to adopt more careful research practices and rethink what topics they focus on.As stewards of scientific knowledge, it is important that librarians play a more active role in helping researchers navigate the evolving clinical landscape. 

Health publishing process

Health publishing process

2. Supporting good health research practices

Studies have shown that 62% of published papers are rejected at least once.1 This is usually because the study has not been articulated into a well-written paper. Understanding the editor’s perspective is critical to avoiding publication rejections. Some key questions librarians can pose to researchers to ensure the submission meets the standards and requirements of the target journal include:

  • Does the research fall within the aims and scope of the target journal? 

  • Is the research question clear?  

  • Is the study design appropriate and valid?  

  • Does it show an unexpected result? 

  • Is it an answer to a long-standing question?  

  • Does it encourage new questions in research?

Librarians have the opportunity to play more active roles in the editorial process to establish closer, more collaborative relationships with patrons. This can be achieved by ensuring librarians are provided with training and user programs, to understand the role of the editors and the key stages associated with publication.

Academic librarians’ support performing information discovery, and retrieval analysis is vital to partnering with faculty, therefore educational training and webinars related to the discipline are key. Additionally, by leaning into the patron’s expertise librarians can discuss, not only best practice techniques to adhere to when searching a specific database but also guidance on how to identify an appropriate database or non-predatory journal.

Health research development program

Delivered by Dr Ximena Alvira, the Clinical and Research Manager at Elsevier, and a member of Elsevier’s Clinical Best Practice Council, the Health Research Development Program was designed to support healthcare organizations working towards research objectives, by understanding their challenges and working together to address their pain points. 

Elsevier Health understands the challenges involved in health research publishing, and, given the experience Dr Ximena Alvira has on this topic, she is in a unique position to provide useful and practical insights to health researchers with different levels of experience.

Global Reach and Program Attendance:

  • 120+ research-related events*

  • 12,000 People/Healthcare Providers/event attendees reached 

  • 200 institutions participated 

  • 100 countries included 

  • Over 9,000 individuals have attended Elsevier’s Health Research Writing Masterclass, with one recent virtual edition attracting 750 participants from over 50 countries 

*Including research-related masterclasses, formal presentations, and workshops, delivered by Ximena Alvira, Clinical Research Manager at Elsevier, in the last 3 years.

Over the past decade, we have experienced a rapid expansion of medical knowledge, a scenario exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the Health Research Development Program, Dr Ximena Alvira has explored how we can guarantee the integrity of the research process, and ensure that published evidence meets the standards of medical science in a recent whitepaper ‘Enabling a culture of evidence through high-quality researchopens in new tab/window’. 

3. Contributing to research development

The current research reward system produces a tremendous amount of pressure on the research community to generate as many publications as possible. The trend is a result of focusing on quantity over quality and does not always contribute to new knowledge. In some cases, the most serious negative consequences of the present system, aside from fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, are the problems of duplicate publication and other forms of redundancy.

It is important to note that promoting a research culture doesn’t necessarily require major effort and resource. Some changes that can be implemented include:

  • Open discussions 

  • Career counselling 

  • Best practice sharing  

  • Engaging staff across the organization by hosting a research culture and integrity day

To help drive this forward, librarians can also become involved in research activities and identify where they can contribute to its development. Promoting themselves within their institution to get involved in those conversations will drive change and demonstrate how they can contribute to the research process. Their expertise and abilities are aligned to contribute to collaborations and networks, such as online discussion forums to actively encourage and support engagement with research activities.

In fact, librarians are already actively engaged in a wide variety of health literacy initiatives in collaboration with other professionals and organizations. For example, Health Education England (HEE) worked with the Community Health and Learning Foundation (CHLF) to develop and deliver a program of health literacy training based on a national Health Literacy Toolkit (Health Education England, 2018) initially targeted at health library and knowledge specialists as part of implementing the Knowledge for Healthcare strategy (Health Education England).2

Librarians are central to driving a culture of evidence

As with many other roles in the healthcare industry, what is means to be a librarian is evolving alongside advances in medicine. Health librarians are increasingly important in providing information to clinicians as well as to patients and, looking forward, librarians must continue to engage the researcher community, keep up to date and be ready to adapt to provide new services to their ever-evolving needs.

It is important to note that training is invaluable and is strategically important in leading and managing library services, improving health literacy and progressing the industry to further promote a culture of evidence.

To find out more and further explore how researchers can guarantee the integrity of the research process, and ensure that published evidence meets the standards of medical science read please access Dr Ximena Alvira’s article ‘Enabling a culture of evidence through high-quality research’opens in new tab/window


black and white headshot of Dr Ximena Alvira


Ximena Alvira, MD, PhD

Senior Clinical and Research Specialist

Read more about Ximena Alvira, MD, PhD