Bridging the Research-Practice Gap? The Role of Evidence Based Librarianship

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The UC Irvine Libraries]On: 17 December 2014, At: 23:55Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    New Review of Information andLibrary ResearchPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rilr20

    Bridging the Research-PracticeGap? The Role of Evidence BasedLibrarianshipAndrew Bootha Senior Lecturer in Evidence Based HealthcareInformation, School of Health and Related Research ,University of Sheffield , Regent Court, 30 RegentStreet, S1 4DA, Sheffield E-mail:Published online: 12 Jul 2010.

    To cite this article: Andrew Booth (2003) Bridging the Research-Practice Gap? The Roleof Evidence Based Librarianship, New Review of Information and Library Research, 9:1,3-23, DOI: 10.1080/13614550410001687909

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13614550410001687909

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Bridging the Research-Practice Gap? TheRole of Evidence Based LibrarianshipAndrew Booth

    Senior Lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare Information, School of Health

    and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Regent Court, 30 Regent

    Street, Sheffield, S1 4DA, UK

    e-mail: A.Booth@sheffield.ac.uk

    Librarianship has had a long preoccupation with the research-practice gap. Practitioner-ledresearch is criticised for its lack of rigour, academic research for its lack of relevance. Evidencebased practice is a pragmatic approach to bridging this gap. This review starts by charting thedevelopment of evidence based practice from its origins in medicine through healthcare toother disciplines. It then examines the context for the development of evidence basedlibrarianship, focusing on examples from the wider library literature and on the healthinformation literature from 2002 onwards.

    The review examines each stage of the evidence based practice process, examining the legacyfrom the wider paradigm as it specifically relates to information practice. Tools and methodsdeveloped within evidence based information practice are briefly summarised. The reviewconcludes by outlining the challenges that remain if evidence based information practice is tobe adopted within the profession at large.

    1. INTRODUCTION

    Librarianship shares with social work (1) and education (2), among

    other professions, a longstanding preoccupation with the research-

    practice gap (3, 4). Published research typically originates from

    academic institutions and is criticised for a perceived lack of relevance to

    day-to-day practice (5). Turner (6) examined information professionals

    perceptions concerning their use of research, why they consult research,

    how often they do so and personal factors affecting usage. She found that

    applied research (addressing operational concerns and consistently com-

    prising about 50% of published output (7, 8)) is most widely used. She

    observes that most research is not consulted because it seems divorced from

    the real concerns of practice or is presented in ways that impair

    understanding and application (6). Practitioners, on the other hand, are

    frequently accused of failing to engage with the findings from research that

    might shape their future practice (9). Cullen describes practitioners innate

    suspicion of research concluding that we do not make enough use of

    research to improve services or practice (10).

    The New Review of Information and Library Research 2003 3

    # 2003 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080/13614550410001687909

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  • Straddling this divide, with an uncertain foot in both camps, are the

    practitioner-researchers. Practitioner-researchers tend to use such designs

    as survey research, action research and secondary data analysis (11) which

    are more likely to struggle for acceptance by bona fide academic

    researchers. Time spent in acquiring research skills and conducting the

    research itself may be at the expense of their continuing to be viewed by

    colleagues as real practitioners.

    Over the years proposed solutions to bridge the research-practice gap have

    included mentors, secondments and collaborative research networks (12).

    Such measures seek to address the organisational and structural barriers

    while doing little to challenge the prevailing culture of librarianship.

    Achieving a real difference requires a paradigm shift. Over recent years

    many have claimed that that paradigm is evidence based practice:

    Evidence-based librarianship represents something different: a deliberate approach to change.(13)

    This review is believed to be the first in the general library literature to

    survey developments and outputs from that specific branch of evidence

    based practice labelled, not uncontroversially, as evidence based librarian-

    ship (14). It focuses primarily on literature produced since a health-

    specific review appeared in Medical Reference Services Quarterly in 2002

    (15), augmented by a wider survey of materials targeted at audiences

    outside the health domain.

    2. EVIDENCE BASED PRACTICE

    Evidence based practice advocates the collection, interpretation, and

    integration of valid, important and applicable evidence (16). Such evidence

    may be reported by a user/patient/client/parent, observed by a librarian/

    clinician/social worker/teacher, or derived from rigorously conducted

    research. Irrespective of its origin, the best available evidence, moderated

    by sensitivity to a user/client/patients values and preferences, is harnessed

    to improve the quality of day-to-day decision-making (17, 18).

    This model of knowledge management promotes the use of research in

    making decisions that benefit individuals or whole populations. In doing

    so, evidence based practice seeks to address information overload (19),

    information delay (20) and information entropy (21). These particular

    problems are particularly manifest in, and indeed critical to, the field of

    medicine from within which evidence based practice first appeared as

    evidence based medicine.

    4 The New Review of Information and Library Research 2003

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  • Evidence based medicine emerged from McMaster University, Canada, inthe early 1990s (22). Having previously enjoyed a modest incarnation as

    clinical epidemiology (23) (literally the application of results gained from

    the study of populations to the care of an individual patient) evidence

    based medicine demonstrated both a greater relevance and increasing

    sophistication in applying research at the bedside. It is no accident that its

    growth coincided with revolutionary developments in information and

    communications technologies (24). The paradigm soon encompassed

    specific branches of medicine such as psychiatry (25) and dentistry (26)and related domains such as nursing (27), pathology (28) and pharma-

    cotherapy (29). By the mid-1990s a broader term, evidence based

    healthcare (30), was a portmanteau for wide ranging activities promoted

    within and outside medicine.

    The late 1990s saw evidence based healthcare spread to contiguous fields

    such as education (31), social work (32, 33), human resource management

    (34) and criminology (35). An even broader term evidence based practice

    captures the commonality of approaches across a broad spectrum of

    professional endeavour (36).

    Ford and colleagues (37) have proposed a number of characteristics thatidentify a discipline as suited to an evidence based practice model. These

    include a substantive knowledge base and a requirement for informed

    decision-making. Library and information science seems to possess all

    these purported characteristics.

    3. THE POLICY CONTEXT

    While evidence based practice has a fundamental appeal for any practi-

    tioner who wishes to develop skills for lifelong learning in pursuit of

    professional excellence, it is the political imperative that has added

    significant weight to adoption of the paradigm. This growing interest in

    using research evidence to inform policy and practice is reflected in

    documents from such sources as the Cabinet Office (38, 39), with anemphasis on the identification, synthesis and application of rigorous

    evidence to problem-solving (40). The main tool for such evidence

    synthesis is the systematic review (41). Unlike traditional reviews,

    systematic reviews of the literature include a detailed appraisal of the

    research studies identified (42). In healthcare, an emphasis on evaluating

    evidence of effectiveness for inclusion in systematic reviews has led to the

    emergence of distinct critical appraisal criteria, embodied in checklists.

    Booth and Haines (43) were among the first to highlight the value of thesystematic review for the general library practitioner.

    The New Review of Information and Library Research 2003 5

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  • 4. EVIDENCE BASED LIBRARIANSHIP

    With their increased participation within multidisciplinary teams involved

    in critical appraisal and methodological assessment of clinical articles (44),

    librarians and information specialists have become increasingly adept at

    recognising and critiquing experimental studies of drugs, operations and

    similar interventions. From here it is a natural progression to applying suchtechniques to their own professional literature in seeking to uncover

    enduring, generic truths that form the foundations of evidence-based

    librarianship (45). Respondents to the CILIP-funded study The LIS

    research landscape: a review and prognosis (46) have observed, with regard

    to evidence based librarianship, that

    as this practice was being adopted by an increasing number of professions, LIS should take asimilar approach to improve its image and professional standing. (47)

    The immaturity of the paradigm is reflected in the absence of a consensual

    definition of evidence based librarianship (EBL). At least four published

    attempts at defining EBL currently exist. Three of these originate from the

    diverse health librarianship communities of the US, the UK and Canada

    while the fourth derives from the school librarianship sector. Each

    definition has characteristics by which to recommend itself.

    Eldredge emphasises the pragmatic context for EBL, emphasising the

    multiplicity of important research designs:

    Evidence-Based Librarianship (EBL) seeks to improve library practice by utilising the bestavailable evidence in conjunction with a pragmatic perspective developed from workingexperiences in librarianship. The best available evidence might be produced from quantitativeor qualitative research designs, although EBL encourages more rigorous forms over lessrigorous forms of evidence when making decisions. (48)

    Booth adapts a pre-existing definition of Evidence Based Healthcare,

    coined by Anne McKibbon from McMaster University (17):

    Evidence-based librarianship (EBL) is an approach to information science that promotes thecollection, interpretation and integration of valid, important and applicable user-reported,librarian observed, and research-derived evidence. The best available evidence, moderated byuser needs and preferences, is applied to improve the quality of professional judgements. (49)

    A recent online poll on the competing health sector definitions of EBL,

    part of an international EBL continuing education course, assigned this

    definition an overwhelming majority of votes, primarily because of its focus

    on the user (seen in user-reported evidence and the requirement for

    evidence to be moderated by user needs and preferences).

    Crumley and Koufogiannakis populate their definition by itemising thestages of the evidence based practice process:

    6 The New Review of Information and Library Research 2003

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  • Evidence-based librarianship (EBL) is a means to improve the profession of librarianship byasking questions, finding, critically appraising and incorporating research evidence fromlibrary science (and other disciplines) into daily practice. It also involves encouraginglibrarians to conduct research. (50, 51)

    Within the context of research utilisation the emphasis on the librarian as

    practitioner-researcher is perhaps the most noteworthy contribution of this

    definition.

    Todd (52), a US academic working within school librarianship, identifies

    two dimensions to evidence based librarianship:

    First . . . it focuses on the conscientious, explicit and carefully chosen use of current bestresearch evidence in making decisions about the performance of the day-by-day role. Second,evidence-based practice is where day-by-day professional work is directed towards demon-strating the tangible impact and outcomes of sound decision making and implementation oforganizational goals and objectives.

    Todds second dimension (53), wherein the local librarian gathers mean-ingful and systematic evidence of the impact of the librarians instructional

    initiatives on student learning outcomes echoes, albeit in connection with

    evaluation rather than research, Crumley and Koufogiannakis emphasis

    on the practitioner researcher.

    Recently Booth and Brice (54) have attempted, hitherto unsuccessfully, to

    hasten the adoption of the term evidence based information practice in

    preference to evidence based librarianshi...