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Cornell University Library’s Evidence Synthesis Service: Innovative Collaborations Amidst a Global Pandemic

2020 has been a year of exciting growth for Cornell University Library’s Evidence Synthesis Service Team. Evidence syntheses, such as systematic reviews, scoping reviews, and other forms of literature synthesis, have emerged as an attractive research alternative to in-person lab and fieldwork for many Cornellians during the pandemic. Working remotely, researchers sought out the expertise of the CUL Evidence Synthesis Team’s six librarians, all trained to provide in-depth guidance and instruction on evidence synthesis methods and their application across disciplines. The era of COVID-19 has also led to new opportunities for our librarians to collaborate on cutting-edge projects, and two major long-term global projects for our team have reached pivotal new phases. We are pleased to share an overview of our accomplishments this year, and to highlight the critical role that librarians play in evidence synthesis work.

This summer, members of Cornell University administration engaged the library’s Evidence Synthesis Team to perform a series of rapid evidence reviews to inform campus reactivation decisions. Drawing from our knowledge of rapid research synthesis methods, we developed eight protocols to outline our approach to search the literature and address research questions identified by Cornell administrators on COVID-19 transmission, surveillance testing and contact tracing. All eight protocols are publicly available on The Open Science Framework in accordance with the defining characteristics of high-quality evidence synthesis: reduced bias, transparency, and reproducibility. This project displays the value that librarians bring to the process of rapid evidence-based decision-making.

 

Many new studies on COVID-19 are published every day, and researchers are turning to librarians for guidance on methods for effectively synthesizing it. This year, Division of Nutritional Sciences researchers brought on a librarian co-author to their recently published article, Transmission of SARS‐CoV‐2 through breast milk and breastfeeding: a living systematic review. Living systematic review guidelines recommend searching sources at least monthly and making the results of these searches visible to end users within another month. This continuous and consistent approach to literature searching allows for rapid synthesis of fast-publishing studies.

 

Another exciting project that came to fruition this year is Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger. Ceres2030 is an international project of 78 researchers from 23 countries that sought the expertise of a global team of librarians who served as co-authors and methodology developers on eight evidence syntheses on topics pertaining to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger. The evidence syntheses have recently been published in Nature Research as a special collection, and each one features a librarian co-author. Kate Ghezzi-Kopel, Coordinator of the CUL Evidence Synthesis Team, led the global team of 12 librarians involved in this effort. The Ceres2030 librarian team also includes Erin Eldermire, Head of the Flower Sprecher Veterinary library and member of the CUL Evidence Synthesis Service team. Librarian collaboration with researchers on Ceres2030 was critical to the success and eventual publication of this collection of articles that will ultimately influence policy-making decisions.

 

Although training for medical librarians to support systematic reviews is common, the CUL Evidence Synthesis team has worked over the past few years to expand training opportunities for librarians working on evidence syntheses outside of the health sciences. In partnership with colleagues at the University of Minnesota and Carnegie Mellon University, we received an IMLS grant to provide multiple online trainings for librarians over the next three years. In August 2020, we conducted a pilot of this training to a group of 50 librarian participants who work in fields like life sciences, agriculture, education, business, and others. Recordings from this pilot are freely available, and we look forward to expanding our reach by continuing to train librarians on evidence synthesis methods.

We exist in a world of ever expanding scholarly resources, and librarians are uniquely suited to serve as teachers and research partners when it comes to applying new methods to navigate and synthesize evidence. This year has presented new challenges to researchers, disrupting their usual workflows and forcing them to synthesize rapidly growing bodies of literature quickly. Evidence synthesis is coming into the forefront as an integral library research service during these times, and the CUL Evidence Synthesis Team looks forward to continued engagement with researchers across disciplines to inform high-quality evidence-based decision making in a changing world.

On the home stretch—Mann spaces and services are here for you!

It’s home stretch time—and we want to be sure that all Cornell students and researchers know that Mann Library spaces an services are here for you as you need them. Specific updates to keep top of mind:

  • Mann Library hours of operation through December 21 are: Monday – Thursday 10:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m., Friday 10:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m.; closed Saturday; Sunday 12:00 p.m. through 5:00 p.m. For full hours info see: bit.ly/mann-hours 
  • Looking for a warm study spot on campus during off-hours? The Mann Library lobby, Room 102 and the Stone Classroom are all accessible 24/7 via card swipe access. But remember!  Before you come to campus please complete your Daily Check-in and while here, please follow all Cornell COVID safety requirements: bit.ly/cornell-covid-safety
  • Contactless pick-up of books paged from our stacks also continues to be available 24/7 in Room 112 via card swipe. For full info on requesting books from the library stacks: bit.ly/getbooks-cul
  • And, for any question big or small, librarians are here for you remotely all the time! Just hit the “Chat with us” button you see on the right of this or any page on our website; or visit library.cornell.edu/ask for more options on contacting us.

Be well and best wishes to you all for a successful end of semester!

TEEAL Wraps Up

This past March, The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library project at Mann Library released the latest and final upgrade to its iconic “Library in a Box,” a digital collection of top-quality life sciences journals produced for agricultural research and teaching institutions in developing countries around the world since 1999. This release marked both the 20-year anniversary of the TEEAL project and the onset of sunset operations to bring the project to a formal close. With the wrap-up, TEEAL’s partners are shifting towards the use of AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture), a large online database of agricultural science developed by an international consortium known as Research4Life—and Mann Library is celebrating the fruitful conclusion of a landmark Cornell initiative in purpose-driven scholarship for human well-being around the world.

 

TEEAL computer with CDs and the mini-computer
The original TEEAL containing 172 CDs vs. TEEAL today, a palm-sized Mini-ITX computer

Supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other funders, TEEAL has been stewarded over the past two decades by a dedicated project staff under the leadership of three Mann Library Directors—Jan Olsen (1987-1999), Janet McCue (1999-2008) and Mary Ochs (2008-present). During this time, the project evolved dramatically. In 1999, the inaugural “Library in a Box” that was shipped to TEEAL’s very first subscriber, the University of Zimbabwe, was made up of two large towers containing 172 compact discs storing a collection of articles from about 100 agricultural life science journals. Today, a palm-sized yet powerful Mini-ITX computer running Ubuntu provides access to a fully searchable collection comprised of over 600,000 articles in more than 500 high-research journals issued by over 100 publishers. TEEAL’s scope too has expanded significantly since inception to keep up with the increasingly interdisciplinary approach to solving problems in food and fiber production: In addition to agriculture, it now also covers fifteen related life science fields.

 

For the project’s final phase, TEEAL staff have been working with colleagues at Research4Life to ensure that researchers in partner institutions across the world can successfully move from retrieving journal articles from TEEAL’s “Box” to accessing materials online. Recent surveys and correspondence have confirmed that more and more TEEAL subscribers are able to make successful use of online resources thanks to increasingly reliable internet capabilities at their home institutions and AGORA’s widening availability. But the project has also been taking into account those institutions where internet infrastructure is more underdeveloped. With our colleagues at the Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), we identified a significant subset of subscribing institutions eligible to receive free final TEEAL upgrades. These partners—190 institutions in 58 countries where, geography and institutional need still pose significant obstacles to high-speed internet access for now—will be able to count on a fully subsidized and updated TEEAL collection and hardware to help bridge their eventual full transition to using online resources. Notes current Mann director Mary Ochs, “TEEAL proved wonderfully effective in using a self-contained digital library to connect agricultural researchers at our partner institutions to the highest quality life sciences information and data available. As the past two decades have seen more robust internet infrastructures established in many countries of the developing world, we are happy to now be moving forward with our partners into the even more promising future of accessible information made possible by fully online resources like AGORA.”

 

Users access TEEAlL from computer
TEEAL subscribers are able to make successful use of online resources thanks to increasingly reliable internet capabilities at their home institutions

By the project’s final close, TEEAL will have provided final upgrades to about 230 institutions. The response received from these partners thus far has been inspiring. Evelyn Anambo, the College of Veterinary Science (CAVS) Librarian at the University of Nairobi (Kenya), wrote that TEEAL has been “a gem to our users.” Dr. Jean Mbomba of the Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques et Vétérinaires (FSAV)) at Loyola University of Congo in the Democratic Republic of Congo let TEEAL staff know that the new fully-subsidized TEEAL machine has been particularly timely. It will help meet the growing demand for access to teaching and research materials that came with the recent merger of several different institutes to form the new Faculté. And in the words of Ugandan agricultural librarian Onan Mulumba, who witnessed TEEAL’s full “CD tower to mini-computer” evolution at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of Makerere University:

 

“We shall always be grateful to Cornell University’s Albert R. Mann Library (and the entire staff), to ITOCA, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The TEEAL project has really contributed a lot to academic and Research triumph at Makerere University. The office where I am sitting right now has a collection of hundreds of TEEAL compact disks, the initial form through which TEEAL was instituted. I will always remember TEEAL every time I look at them and [the] current database.”