Top Tips to Setting up a literature searching service by Tracey Pratchett

After working in the FE sector; providing a literature searching service was a new skillset. Finding and packaging information to help users get on with the day job was not something which I did regularly. I had a lot of help from colleagues in the early days and if you get stuck contact one of the many networks e.g. LIS-MEDICAL@JISCMAIL.AC.UK or CLIN-LIB@JISCMAIL.AC.UK or arrange a visit as people are happy to help.


Receiving the Question: Search requests may be received via printed forms, online forms (Wufoo or SurveyMonkey), email requests and in person via the library or meetings. I use a combination of these to make the service accessible to all staff. As a bare minimum I ask for:

  • Name / Department / Organisation /Contact details
  • A detailed description of the question and alternative key words (some people use PICO)
  • What the information will inform (Direct patient care, Cost saving, Audit, Guidelines, Service redesign/development etc.)
  • The date that the information is needed

If you need clarification, get in touch with the requester for more information, they’ll be happy to explain their requirements. Also check spellings/alternative terms with a thesaurus / medical dictionary.


Resources: This is not a definitive guide to resources, because that would go on for ever! It will take time for you to familiarise yourself, this is just the name of the game. When I started out I searched out training sessions and contacted library colleagues in other organisations to register for their internal training. The library network is full of goodwill and I attended high quality training for minimal cost (mainly travel). The type of question will guide you to certain resources and this will come with experience – so if you don’t know just ask. Some key resources that I use are:


Creating the “Digest”: My approach has changed over the years and made me think carefully about what I send to the user. Initially I started out by sending a lot of detail about the search strategy plus a pdf with article abstracts, based on a template developed by the LIHNN Clinical Librarian Group. As time went on I refined the evidence summary to include the question, an overview of the results, a brief search strategy and categorised items braodly according to the hierarchy of evidence e.g. Guidelines, Systematic Reviews, Clinical trials, Case studies which I adapt depending on user requirements. I also choose to appraise/or guide the user as much as possible and include links to full text if possible. If you are stuck for ideas have a look at some other librarians digests e.g. Bolton’s Health Matters Informationist Information Consultancies or Health Libraries Lincolnshire Online Literature Searches. There is no prescriptive template for this, and I would adopt an approach which suits you and evaluate regularly with your users to refine it.


Evaluation:  Finally, I want to take a few moments to talk about evaluating the service, a crucial part of the process but which can be difficult to get right. Some key issues to think about:

  • What do you want to know? (Format; Usefulness of results; Impact on the individual; Impact on the organisation). Think about this before you start – I wouldn’t try to capture too much information as your survey will be too long! I focus on impact these days, but earlier evaluations focussed on format and usefulness.
  • When do you send the evaluation? (With the digest/results; 6 weeks after, once per year). There is no prescriptive answer, but if you are looking for ‘impact’ data, this is likely to be apparent some time after the results are sent, although leave it too long and your user will have forgotten what you did.
  • Which format? (Paper based survey, SurveyMonkey, Interviews/Case studies). I tend to use online surveys as my results usually go via email. If I have time I use case studies which provide a more detailed account of impact.

There will be later posts on this blog which talk about evaluation and impact in more detail, but for the time being look at the Impact Toolkit for example surveys.


I hope this has been useful but if you have any questions or comments, please make them on this posting.

Tracey Pratchett
Clinical Librarian
Library and Knowledge Service
Knowledge, Education, Learning & Development Division
University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

This entry was posted in Top Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Top Tips to Setting up a literature searching service by Tracey Pratchett

  1. kmperson says:

    Brilliant advice Tracey. After being out of the loop for a while it was good to refresh my memory. The link to Bolton and Lincolshire summaries have proved food for thought.
    Lucy A

  2. kmperson says:

    Reblogged this on PC KM Updates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s