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. Although the focus of this project was positioned towards health researchers, the key themes also have value and are widely applicable to 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, Alvira reflects on the key outputs of the program and outline 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 rising publication pressures and the rapid rate of dissemination through both authoritative and social channels, it is becoming more challenging for readers to judge the credibility, methodological rigor, and trustworthiness of research. For authors, the challenge now lies in ensuring that published evidence meets rigorous science standards.
The recent Confidence in Research Economist Impact report, developed in partnership with Elsevier, analyzed the effect of the pandemic on research, 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.
Today’s librarians should empower themselves to become subject matter experts within their communities through certification, training, and librarian-led user engagement. To ensure research integrity, Elsevier has collated best practices and resources for librarians to enhance their understanding of the environment. This provides them with tools to become better equipped to help researchers conduct and present research in a way that allows others to have trust and confidence in the published results. Such collaboration drives forward the future of evidence-based practice within the library context.
2. Supporting good health research practices
Studies have shown that 62% of published papers are rejected at least once.[i] Based on my experience, this is usually because the study has not been articulated into a well-written manuscript. Understanding the editor’s perspective is critical to avoid frustrating and unnecessary desk rejections. Some key questions librarians can pose to researchers to ensure the submission meets the standards and requirements of biomedical journals include:
- Did the authors conduct a systematic search to ensure the study is unique and novel?
- Is it clear who the target audience is that the authors wish to address?
- Are the references in the manuscript complete and updated?
- Have the authors referenced in the subject the key people included in the research?
- Is the target journal valid, ethical, credible, and reputable?
- Is the manuscript completely void of any form of scientific misconduct?
- Have the authors read and followed the author guidelines of the target journal?
Librarians have the opportunity to play more active roles in the manuscript publication process to establish closer, more collaborative relationships with patrons and faculty. This can be achieved by ensuring that they are provided with training and education to understand the different means of scientific publishing, the key stages of the publishing process, and the role of the people involved such as the editor-in-chief, the editorial board, and peer reviewers. Through such training, librarians can also understand how to stay away from the dangers of scientific misconduct and predatory publishing.
[i] Hall SA, Wilcox AJ. The fate of epidemiologic manuscripts: a study of papers submitted to epidemiology. Epidemiology. 2007;18:262–5.
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. 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 knowledge.
Global Reach and Program Attendance:
- 150+ research-related events*
- 15000 People/Healthcare Providers/event attendees reached
- 270 institutions participated
- 150 countries included
* Including research-related masterclasses, formal presentations, and workshops, delivered by Ximena Alvira, Clinical Research Manager at Elsevier, in the last 4 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 research’.
3. Building a research culture
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 which 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 redundancy and duplication.
Fostering a research culture that facilitates and promotes open discussions, career counselling, and best practice sharing at academic and healthcare institutions is crucial to the dissemination and implementation of high-quality, transparent, and ethical research.
To help drive forward the development of high-quality research, librarians can also become involved in research activities and identify where they can contribute. Promoting themselves within their institution be a part of 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).[ii]
Librarians are central to driving a culture of evidence
As with many other roles in the healthcare industry, what it means to be a librarian is evolving alongside advances in medicine. They are increasingly important in providing information to clinicians as well as to patients and, looking forward, librarians must continue to engage the research community, keep up to date with publishing practices and policies, 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 health sciences, please access my article ‘Enabling a culture of evidence through high-quality research’.
[ii] Naughton, J., Booth, K., Elliott, P., Evans, M., Simões, M., & Wilson, S. (2021). Health literacy: The role of NHS library and knowledge services. Health information and libraries journal, 38(2), 150–154. https://doi.org/10.1111/hir.12371