Writing to the ICMJE: We Need More Librarians as Peer Reviewers!

Last summer I was really proud to work on the following letter to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors as part of a CHLA/ABSC Knowledge Synthesis Interest Group initiative with Robin Parker and a number of other top notch librarians:

Iverson, S., M. Della Seta, C. Lefebvre, A. Ritchie, L. Traditi, and K. Baliozian. “International Health Library Associations Urge the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) to Seek Information Specialists As Peer Reviewers for Knowledge Synthesis Publications”Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association / Journal De l’Association Des bibliothèques De La Santé Du Canada, vol. 41, no. 2, July 2020, pp. 77-80, doi:10.29173/jchla29483.

(I’m going to fangirl for a second about the fact that it was signed not by only our own national association, the Canadian Health Libraries Association (CHLA/ABSC), but also by the European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL), the Australian Library and Information Association/Health Libraries Australia (ALIA-HLA) and the American Medical Library Association (MLA)).

In it, we basically flagged that we’re seeing A LOT of systematic reviews getting published with really subpar searches, when searches are being reported at all (both of which are incredibly problematic given that the searches represent one of the most important pillars of any systematic review – its literally the data collection method).

We also called attention to the fact that librarians were not being tapped for peer review for these types of publications by journal editors (1), despite it being widely recognized that we are methodological experts (2-6). We were also happy to promote an initiative seeking to connect editors with librarians willing to act as peer reviewers: the Librarian Peer Reviewer Database.

So where are things one year on? To my knowledge, we never heard back from the ICMJE.

Anecdotally, I’ve received slightly more requests to peer review knowledge syntheses from journals, and was pleased to receive some fairly intense reviewer feedback on one of my recent submissions.

I’m looking forward to seeing more research like Grossetta et al.’s (2019) work soon so that we can see if there has been any widespread change on this issue.


  1. Grossetta Nardini HK, Batten J, Funaro MC, Garcia-Milian R, Nyhan K, Spak JM, Wang L, Glover JG. Librarians as methodological peer reviewers for systematic reviews: results of an online survey. Res Integr Peer Rev. 2019 Nov 27;4:23. doi: 10.1186/s41073-019-0083-5. PMID: 31798974; PMCID: PMC6882225.
  2. Kugley S, Wade A, Thomas J, Mahood Q, Jørgensen AMK, Hammerstrøm K, Sathe N. Searching for studies: a guide to information retrieval for Campbell systematic reviews. Oslo: The Campbell Collaboration. Version 1.1 Feb 2017. DOI: 10.4073/cmg.2016.1.
  3. Lefebvre C, Glanville J, Briscoe S, Littlewood A, Marshall C, Metzendorf MI, et al. Searching for and selecting studies. In: Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, et al., editors. Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.0 [Internet]. Cochrane; 2019.
  4. Aromataris E, Munn Z (editors). Chapter 3 Systematic reviews of effectiveness; section 3.2.5 Search strategy. In: Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewer’s Manual. The Joanna Briggs Institute, 2017.
  5. Meert D, Torabi N, Costella J. Impact of librarians on reporting of the literature searching component of pediatric systematic reviews. J Med Libr Assoc. 2016;104(4):267-77.
  6. Rethlefsen ML, Farrell AM, Osterhaus Trzasko LC, Brigham TJ. Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. J Clin Epidemiol. 2015;68(6):617-26.