Interview with the Authors: Foster and Jewell, Systematic Reviews

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

February 28, 2023

I had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret Foster and Sarah Jewell about their book Piecing Together Systematic Reviews and Other Syntheses. This book has a great deal of useful information. 

For those of you who work with reviews, I hope you enjoy the interview and the book! 

Please introduce yourselves.

MF: My name is Margaret Foster, and I have been working in libraries since 1997, starting as a student shelver. After graduating with MLIS and wanting to learn more about medical research, I began a Master’s in Public Health. While there, I took a course on systematic reviews during which I consulted on the fellow students’ reviews. It was then that I recognized the unique role for librarians in reviews. From there I accepted a faculty position at Texas A&M University Libraries consulting on reviews, sometimes more than 100 a year, furthering my understanding of opportunities for information specialists in research syntheses. Currently I am a Professor with the School of Medicine at Texas A&M University, and Director of the Center for Systematic Reviews and Research Syntheses.

SJ: I’m Sarah Jewell, and I first learned how to support systematic reviews by attending the University of Pittsburgh’s Systematic Review week long workshop in 2010 and returning to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help formalize the library’s systematic review service. I also formalized a systematic review service at Rutgers University Libraries. In a previous role at Danaher Diagnostics, I gained experience with systematic reviews to support product regulatory submissions, and in January 2023, I started a new role as Assistant Director of Clinical Services at Weill Cornell Medical College. I will be leading a team of clinical medical librarians serving clinicians and patients, managing the Myra Mahon Patient Resource Center, as well as contributing to the Samuel J. Wood Library’s systematic review service.

Briefly summarize Piecing Together Systematic Reviews and Other Syntheses.

MF: The book is 22 chapters starting with a chapter that introduces the PIECCESS framework and research syntheses. The framework serves as a guide for the 8 phases and 8 processes of a review project. The eight phases are proposal, protocol, preliminary findings, peer-reviewed paper, preservation, promotion, tracking impact, and updating the review. Not all reviewers will choose to do all of the phases or produce a written product from each phase. The processes for each phase are: Plan, Identify, Evaluate, Collect, Combine, Explain, Summarize, and Share. The beginning chapters focus on the PIECCESS processes, then go back and walk readers through the phases. Throughout the chapters on review projects steps we focus on the librarian’s potential roles. The later part of the book delves into different aspects of managing a systematic review service, training librarians, teaching others how to conduct reviews, and research opportunities.

Please describe why systematic reviews and syntheses are important.

SJ: There are so many things you can do with systematic reviews and other syntheses: you can compare potential drugs or therapies, you can describe qualitative phenomena comprehensively, you can influence and change policies to align with the evidence base, etc. Syntheses are not just for health and medical information professionals, but for any field that gathers and assesses evidence. In my most recent role as a Senior Scientific Librarian for Danaher Diagnostics, I learned the value of systematic reviews for monitoring in vitro diagnostics along the whole product lifecycle.  

Why did you decide to edit this book? 

SJ: I love telling my side of the story of how we met at the MLA book author mixer. I was in step 2 of the MLA book proposal process for a book on systematic reviews, when I saw Margaret Foster and Susan Fowler, both of whom were teaching systematic review workshops for MLA and were well known. Since they were at the potential book author mixer, I had a feeling that they wanted to write a book on systematic reviews, too, and I suspected that they would win if they put in a competing proposal, so I decided to eliminate the competition by joining forces with them! I shared my draft book proposal with them then and there, and Margaret was excited to take on co-editorship with me, and Susan was happy to support us by writing a couple of chapters. I think both editions of the book are stronger because Margaret and I worked together. Our different experiences and perspectives enrich the material and help us provide guidance to a wider range of audiences.

Who is the primary audience?

SJ: With the second edition of this book, we focus on expanding the utility of the content to beyond health and medical information professionals. We strive to provide a wider range of examples and case studies, not just on pharmaceutical information, but also in the fields of education, social care, public health, and policy. We hope the book is helpful to information professionals starting or managing a systematic review service in any evidence-based field of study. We also see the potential for funders, reviewers, editors, and administrators supporting knowledge syntheses to find value in this text.

How do you hope readers use the book?

MF: This is probably not a book to sit down and read from beginning to end. More likely readers will turn to the chapters as they need them. I hope they can use the book to support their work through the examples from a wide range of experienced authors.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

SJ: I currently live in Park Slope, Brooklyn with my boyfriend and our dog. In addition to writing and editing library literature and systematic reviews, I love writing poetry. For my next writing project, I would like to write a consumer health information book for patients who have been diagnosed with severe mental illness.

MF: I live in College Station, Texas with my husband and two children. As I have been consulting reviews for nearly two decades, my family has heard their fair share about the process. My daughter has helped pass out handouts during a few Saturday morning workshops. And on one occasion she gave me her best eye roll and said “I know Mom, systematic reviews”. I have continued to work on reviews as I enjoy the process and the critical thinking it requires. They are complex puzzles to be pieced together in order to see the big picture. Writing this second book on reviews and involving more experts has been hard work and so rewarding. Thank you Lauren for letting Sarah and me tell you a bit more about the book.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education.  Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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