Evidence Synthesis for Librarians and Information Specialists — Open & Free


Free to learners for a limited time, compliments of the Evidence Synthesis Institute and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)!

Learn about librarian and information specialist support of  evidence synthesis with this comprehensive course compiled by experts in the library sciences.  This course is for librarians, practitioners of library science, those working with research faculty and students, or anyone wanting to understand the core components of evidence synthesis.


This course brings the core components of the Evidence Synthesis Institute to a self-paced open online course. It contains 15 modules guiding learners through the ES process from an introduction to review types through writing a methods section for publication, with an emphasis on developing and using systematic search strategies. Development of this course was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) (RE-246347-OLS-20).

Open & Free features

Open & Free Courses

  • Open & Free OLI courses enable independent learners to study a subject on their own terms, at their leisure. Courses are:

    • Self-guided.
    • Self-paced.
    • Self-supported.
  • Open & Free courses include only the learning materials:

    • No teacher.
    • No tests.
    • No college credit.
    • No certificate of completion.
  • *If your teacher gave you a Course Key, do not use an Open & Free course because your teacher will never see your work.

What learners will learn

By the time they finish this course, learners will learn or be able to:

  • Utilize the basics of evidence synthesis when performing research or collaborating with researchers
  • Express the value of evidence synthesis principles in performing research
  • Strengthen their skills as library professionals when collaborating with a variety of stakeholders, such as learners and researchers

Learning objectives by module

Module 0 – Welcome – What to Expect


Module 1 – Introduction to Evidence Synthesis

  • Define evidence synthesis.
  • Understand the value of evidence synthesis across the disciplines.


Module 2 – Exploring Different Review Methodologies

  • Define different types of evidence synthesis methods including systematic review, meta-analysis, scoping reviews, systematic maps and rapid reviews.
  • Compare and contrast scoping and systematic reviews and describe the contexts in which these methods would be applied.


Module 3 – Reproducibility, transparent methods, and pre-registration

  • Define reproducibility
  • Define replicability


Module 4 – Evidence synthesis steps and librarians as co-investigators

  • Identify the high-level steps of evidence synthesis.
  • Describe the role of librarian in supporting systematic reviews.


Module 5 – Systematic review guidelines / checklists / reporting standards

  • Compare and contrast the difference between reporting and conducting guidelines.
  • Locate reporting and conducting guidelines 


Module 6 – Introduction to protocols and protocol registration (ZP)

  • Describe the rationale for public registration of a protocol
  • Describe the elements of a protocol
  • Select a suitable registry (repository) for an ES protocol

Module 7 – Formulating a research question

  • Define the Goldilocks principle.
  • Define the Russian Doll Principle.
  • Apply the Goldilocks principle, russian doll principle to create appropriately scoped questions.


Module 8 – Frameworks (Eg., PICO) and eligibility criteria

  • Define PICO & other research frameworks in order to create focussed research questions &  effective search strategies
  • Define inclusion and exclusion criteria in order to


Module 9 – Reference Interview

  • List an initial set of prompt questions that would be useful in a reference interview for an evidence synthesis project
    • Compare and contrast prompt questions you would use in an evidence synthesis reference interview versus a traditional reference interview.  
    • Identify the institutional/contextual factors that influence an evidence synthesis reference interviews.
    • Describe how disciplinary differences might influence an evidence synthesis reference interviews.
    • Understand the importance of negotiating expectations (for the role that the librarian will play) in an evidence synthesis reference interview.


Module 10 – Selecting databases for evidence synthesis

  • Explain why multiple sources should be searched in a systematic review
  • Understand the limits of Google Scholar


Module 11 – Developing a systematic search

  • Compare and contrast traditional database searching and systematic review searching
  • Construct an effective concept-blocked search strategy correctly using various search elements such as subject headings, keywords and operators.
  • Use database syntax and field searching appropriately in the design of a systematic review search strategy
  • Explain how and when to use search filters, limits and hedges in a systematic review search 
  • Run searches making use of database features for saving and exporting search results


Module 12 – Adapting Searches Across Database Platforms

  • Adapt the different elements of a search from one database to another using the correct database syntax


Module 13 – Supplementary Search Methods and Documenting Your Searches

  • Use a variety of supplementary searching methods to identify additional studies not found through database and gray literature searching
  • Explain the utility and importance of documenting your searches during a systematic review.
  • Document the search methods for reporting and reproducibility.


Module 14 – Grey Literature

  • Define and provide examples of types of grey literature.
  • Design and document a search process for grey literature sources.


Module 15 – Writing the methods section and the PRISMA Flow Diagrams

  • Identify an appropriate reporting guidelines for your review project
  • Select the appropriate template for PRISMA flow diagrams
  • Assess a search methods section against the PRISMA-S guidelines

Course outline

Welcome to the Evidence Synthesis Institute
Meet Your Instructors
Module 1: Introduction to Evidence Synthesis
What Is Evidence Synthesis?
Module 2: Exploring Different Review Methodologies
The need for various review methods
Common evidence synthesis methods
Systematic review vs. Scoping reviews
Module 3: Reproducibility: The importance of transparent evidence synthesis methods
What makes a search strategy reproducible?
What Makes A Search Strategy Replicable?
Module 4: Evidence synthesis steps and librarians as co-investigators
Steps of Evidence Synthesis
Module 5: Systematic review guidelines/checklists/reporting standards
Systematic review guidelines
Where to find Reporting and Conducting Guidelines
Module 6: Introduction to protocols and protocol registration
Public Registration of a Protocol
Elements of a Protocol
Suitable Registries for Evidence Synthesis Protocols
Module 7: Formulating a research question
Formulating a Research Question
Module 8: Frameworks and eligibility criteria
Eligibility Criteria
Module 9: Reference Interview
Introduction to the The Reference Interview
Project Contextual Factors
Institutional Factors and Expectations
Disciplinary Differences and Reference Interviews
Module 10: Selecting databases for evidence synthesis
Selecting databases for evidence synthesis
Module 11: Search strategies
Why systematic searching?
Identifying search concepts to include in your search
Finding subject heading and keywords
Constructing your search
Sensitivity vs Precision
About filters and search hedges
Module 12: Adapting Searches Across Database Platforms
Adapting a search strategy to a different database and platform
Identifying which parts of a search to adapt
Locate database-specific guidance when adapting searches
Module 13: Grey literature
What is grey literature and why search it?
Searching for grey literature: the big picture
The mechanics of grey literature searching
Documenting grey literature searches
Module 14: Supplementary Search Methods
Finding Studies Beyond Databases and Grey Literature Searches
Module 15: Writing the methods section and PRISMA Flow Diagrams
Identifying the appropriate reporting guidelines
Selecting The Appropriate Template
Assessing Search Methods Against Guidelines
Planning Reporting and Tracking Methods

How to cite this course

Kocher, M., Riegelman, A., Kibbee, M., Young, S., Bostrom, M., Marsalis, S., and Premji, Z. Evidence Synthesis for Librarians and Information Specialists. Open Learning Initiative, 2024. Available from https://oli.cmu.edu/courses/evidence-synthesis-for-librarians-and-information-specialists-o-f/ 

Other course details

Estimated time to complete: approx. 7-14 hours. 

  • Matt Kibbee, Evidence Synthesis Research Librarian, Cornell University Library
  • Megan Kocher, Science & Evidence Synthesis Librarian (Agriculture), University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Amy Riegelman, Social Sciences & Evidence Synthesis Librarian, University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Sarah Young, Social Sciences Librarian, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
  • Molly Bostrom, University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Scott Marsalis, Social Sciences Librarian, University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Zahra Premji, Health Research Librarian, University of Victoria
  • Jim Morris-Knower, Research and Evidence Synthesis LIbrarian, Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University

System requirements

OLI system requirements, regardless of course:

  • internet access
  • an operating system that supports the latest browser update
  • the latest browser update (Chrome recommended; Firefox, Safari supported; Edge and Internet Explorer are supported but not recommended)
  • pop-ups enabled
  • cookies enabled

Some courses include exercises with exceptions to these requirements, such as technology that cannot be used on mobile devices.

This course’s system requirements:

  • If the student is working with an instructor in a distance-learning situation, chat environment and videoconferencing software.
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