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EBD Best Practices for Librarians

A guide created for dental librarians by dental librarians.

Librarian's Role in EBD

Librarians may be called upon to teach portions of the EBD process, to consult on phrasing of the question and search methods, to perform the search based upon a question, or to serve on curriculum committee.


What teaching looks like varies from institution to institution and may range from the librarian being mentioned to students as someone to consult if they are struggling with the process all the way to the librarian being an equal instructor in an EBD course.

In addition to the expected teaching of how to research a question appropriately, the librarian will also reinforce the EBD process, reiterating the EBD cycle and research's role in it. They may give critique as to whether a question is a foreground or background question and aid with putting foreground questions into PICO format. Sometimes the librarian may teach appraisal of the evidence, the evidence pyramid, or how to identify study types.

It is also helpful to solicit examples from clinicians at your institution to make the instruction more relevant to your students. If you can you might want to invite clinicians to your class to again assist with showing students the relevance of EBD.


Consulting has more in common with one-on-one reference interactions. The patron who is in the process of learning EBD may come to you with a completely written PICO question and want assistance with remembering or learning how to search for the answer. On the other hand, they may come with several ideas of EBD questions they could ask and need guidance on how to check if the question is foreground or background and write it into the proper PICO format if it is a foreground question. They may also have selected articles to answer their question and need help identifying their study type or appraising their quality.

It is often helpful in this type of consultation to remind the patron of the three aspects of EBD - patient, clinician, evidence - the evidence is just one of the three legs of the stool, and it is important to take their clinical expertise and the patient's needs and preferences into account as well. You may also need to remind the patron that ultimately you are a librarian, not a clinician, and so cannot assist them with aspects of EBD requiring clinical expertise. 

Performing a Search

Occasionally you may be asked to perform an EBD search on behalf of a clinician, faculty, or postgraduate student. It is up to the individual librarian and institution to decide when this is appropriate. If you need help determining if it's appropriate to perform an EBD search on behalf of someone else, aspects to consider include: whether a patient emergency is at hand and speed is of the essence, whether the primary job of the patron asking is that of a learner, your pre-existing relationship with the patron asking, and more.

If you do perform a search on behalf of someone else, it is important to conduct a thorough reference interview and determine which aspects of the PICO question are most and least important. You may want to do a quick initial search and send the results to the patron, asking them for feedback so you can tweak it to be better. They could select a couple articles from the list that are going in the right direction or a couple that are not what they wanted to help you refine the search.

Curriculum Committee

Some librarians may be asked to serve on a curriculum committee at the dental school, either as voting or non-voting members. The goal of curriculum committees is to ensure excellence in the curriculum being taught, as well as to keep various departments informed of the content of their curriculum to minimize repetitiveness and support scaffolded learning.

The librarian may provide valuable input on the progression of EBD throughout the curriculum or present on resources that faculty and student representatives can then inform others about. All librarians invited to curriculum committee receive the opportunity to see the direction the curriculum is going in and develop the collection appropriately in response to this. Note that some institutions may have a specialized EBD curriculum committee. 

Continuing Education

Regardless of the type of involvement a librarian may have in the institution, it is important to pursue continuing education as EBD specifically and the health sciences in general is an ever-progressing and changing field. Taking online or in-person courses, attending conferences (local or national), reading current literature, and maintaining a connection to health sciences librarians and interprofessionals are all important ways to do so.

Note that non-library trainings, conferences, and readings provide value as well. Consider, for instance, if you teach formally in courses frequently, perhaps a course on assessment or teaching methods may help you improve your skills.