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The Librarian Reserve Corps: A Volunteer Organization Helping to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic-The Rumors Blog-Guest Post

by | Sep 11, 2020 | 0 comments


By: Bradley A. Long, Embedded Health Sciences Librarian, Harrell Health Sciences Library, Penn State College of Medicine – University Park Regional Campus, State College, PA and Jess Callaway, Clinical Research Librarian, Shepherd Center, Atlanta, GA

Librarians Assemble

The Librarian Reserve Corps (LRC) is an active group of volunteers from 13 countries, lending their time and expertise to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The LRC was born from the need for the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) to rapidly respond to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, supported by evidence-based literature.  GOARN is a partner organization of the World Health Organization’s (WHO).  GOARN member, Dr. Lina Moses, from Tulane University, contacted her librarian liaison, Elaine Hicks, to see if there was a way for the librarians to help support GOARN’s information needs.  From there, Ms. Hicks was able to contact other librarians within the U.S. and Canada, and the idea for the Librarian Reserve Corps (LRC) was born.

Since then, the LRC has grown into a robust group of international volunteers.  The mission of the LRC is “[to] respond to information needs in public health emergencies in partnership with the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network. The advanced library and information skills of LRC volunteers contribute to the prevention and control of disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies by providing responders with the latest information relevant to their mission areas.”1  


Growing in Leaps and Bounds

The LRC is a growing organization and is evolving to meet the increased demand for its services.  Following the formal launch of LRC, Sara Loree, a librarian at St. Luke’s Health System in Boise, ID, and Stacy Brody, a librarian from the Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library at George Washington University, were recruited as co-leaders. The co-leaders identified individuals from the pool of volunteers to head-up the working groups and established a fluid organizational structure to meet the dynamic needs of the organization.  The LRC is currently recruiting for a volunteer Executive Director to provide the overall strategic leadership to the organization.

One of the early tasks for LRC was to establish an online presence and have a tool to centralize the LRC activities. LRC work groups were often using cloud-based tools that the group leaders were used to, such as various cloud-based drives and online bibliography management software.  To assist with providing the LRC with a uniform web presence, SpringShare graciously provided the LRC with gratis LibApp accounts.  This generous gift provided the LRC with an online landing spot for both GOARN and WHO researchers to retrieve their mediated search results, and to serve as a homepage for the LRC volunteers.  Work still continues with cloud-based tools, but the LibGuide-based webpage has been a great tool for the centralization of efforts.

Searching for Evidence, Searching for Clarity

One of the LRC’s primary services to GOARN and WHO is to provide mediated literature searching services.  Traditionally, medical librarians conduct literature searches in PubMed and/or CINAHL, along with maybe another database or two, if necessary.  However, with the explosion of COVID-19 literature, this level of searching is no longer sufficient.  Our quick scan of key biomedical and STEM bibliographic databases illustrates the COVID-19 pandemic information explosion, in the chart below.


Furthermore, the de-duplicated combined results of these databases still will not necessarily represent the whole of the available COVID-19-related research literature.  There are many other non-indexed resources available, such as other preprint servers, non-index journals, and government reports and protocols.

This is in an environment where COVID-19 literature has (1) utilized non-uniform terminology and (2) is still developing well-defined COVID-19 subject headings within some of  the key biomedical databases.  For example, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has been assigning temporary supplementary concepts as part of its PubMed/MEDLINE indexing.  However, the assignment of formal Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) for COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 related terminology is still pending.2  NLM is utilizing crowdsourcing groups, including several LRC members, to assist with the development of MeSH. Furthermore, some STEM databases, such as Scopus and Web of Science, primarily utilize keyword searching and possess limited indexing.

As a direct result, LRC librarians are being pushed to be as comprehensive as possible with their searches, often searching 10 or more resources per search request. Researchers have required such extensive searches because they cannot afford to miss any publications due the daily changing knowledge-base of COVID-19.  Sometimes, this may even require a team of librarians to be assigned to a single search request, in addition to being asked to provide weekly updates to the original search.  

Stemming the Information Tide

Another key role of the LRC is to address the COVID-19 infodemic.3,4 An infodemic occurs when there is an excessive amount of information emerging about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution. According to the WHO, and infodemic can spread misinformation, disinformation and rumurs during a health emergency.4 Infodemics also hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people.  Because of the infodemic, and many publishers making their COVID-19 publications open access, GOARN members were having difficulties navigating the wave of emerging publications. This difficulty is how the Literature Indexing and Metadata Enhancement (LIME) workgroup was formed. 

LIME is a group of thirty volunteers, led by Jess Callaway, a librarian from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. LRC volunteers learned the core pillars of GOARN and then began the long process of manually cataloging new COVID-19 related publications as they were released each day. Currently, LRC members have reviewed and cataloged over twenty thousand articles relating to COVID-19 since April of 2020.  

The longer the librarians worked on their daily cataloging it became obvious that many articles were not following the standard rules. For example, patient case reports were being published as opinion or short commentaries pieces. Original research was being pushed through the publication process as letters to editors and short comments. Careful consideration had to be given to all early published  systematic reviews and field research due to the speed with which things were constantly changing. Every publication required time, patience, and a set of human eyes to determine what it truly was according to the evidence based model.  Because of these things, it was even more crucial each publication was viewed by one of the LRC volunteers so that the articles could be sorted best for GOARN members review. 

The biomedical publishing industry is reacting in a very altruistic manner.  A vast majority of publishers have been making their COVID-19 publications freely available, even within their traditionally paid-access-only platforms.  However, even with a 49% increase in the ability for journal editors to complete the peer review COVID-19 articles, most journals are not able to keep up with the demand for quickly publishing peer-reviewed articles.5  Thus, there is a significant amount of research being submitted to preprint servers, such as medRxiv or bioRxiv, or to several of the data repositories, such as the Harvard Dataverse COVID-19 Data Collection, in order for information to be quickly available.6,7  Thus, the need for speedy publishing at this point appears to be superseding the need to for peer reviewing. 

Moving Forward

As the LRC continues to grow and evolve, it is making a difference by supporting the response efforts of WHO and GOARN.  This relationship has been invaluable to the international response efforts aimed at reigning in the COVID-19 pandemic.  LRC members have also been able successfully observe and identify current trends in the publishing industry, and take those observations back to their home institutions, thus further strengthening the COVID-19 response efforts.  If anyone is interested in becoming a member of the Librarian Reserve Corps, they can learn more here: https://librarianreservecorps.libguides.com/home/getinvolved.

For questions/comments about LRC, please fill out our contact form at: https://librarianreservecorps.libguides.com/c.php?g=1032318&p=7482404


  1. https://librarianreservecorps.libguides.com/home
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21748091/
  3. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30461-X/fulltext
  4. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/techbull/jf20/brief/jf20_mesh_novel_coronavirus_disease.html
  5. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19
  6. https://www.biorxiv.org/node/1268394.abstract 
  7. https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/covid19


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