It takes longer than you think: librarian time spent on systematic review tasks

Krystal Bullers, Allison M. Howard, Ardis Hanson, William D. Kearns, John J. Orriola, Randall L. Polo, Kristen A. Sakmar


Introduction: The authors examined the time that medical librarians spent on specific tasks for systematic reviews (SRs): interview process, search strategy development, search strategy translation, documentation, deliverables, search methodology writing, and instruction. We also investigated relationships among the time spent on SR tasks, years of experience, and number of completed SRs to gain a better understanding of the time spent on SR tasks from time, staffing, and project management perspectives.

Methods: A confidential survey and study description were sent to medical library directors who were members of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries as well as librarians serving members of the Association of American Medical Colleges or American Osteopathic Association.

Results: Of the 185 participants, 143 (77%) had worked on an SR within the last 5 years. The number of SRs conducted by participants during their careers ranged from 1 to 500, with a median of 5. The major component of time spent was on search strategy development and translation. Average aggregated time for standard tasks was 26.9 hours, with a median of 18.5 hours. Task time was unrelated to the number of SRs but was positively correlated with years of SR experience.

Conclusion: The time required to conduct the librarian’s discrete tasks in an SR varies substantially, and there are no standard time frames. Librarians with more SR experience spent more time on instruction and interviews; time spent on all other tasks varied widely. Librarians also can expect to spend a significant amount of their time on search strategy development, translation, and writing.

 This article has been approved for the Medical Library Association’s Independent Reading Program.


Systematic Reviews; Literature Search Methods; Types of Information Resources; Review Literature as Topic; Surveys and Questionnaires; Task Performance and Analysis; Time Management; Staffing

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