Journal clubs

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Oxfordshire (health) librarians journal club
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See also Critical appraisal | LibGuides from Springshare | Major clinical studies & trial types | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Scholarship 2.0

Journal clubs are professional and social clubs used by librarians (and many other professional groups) to bring groups of people together to discuss articles in the peer-reviewed research literature. As such journal clubs are a form of continuing education and social learning. Typically, participants in journal clubs share their views about the appropriateness of research design, the datasets or statistics gathered by the researchers, any control groups that were used, etc. Often the research includes a synthesis of previous research even if the results from one paper contradicts another. If a study's results are valid, there may be discussion about the value of the results and if they are generalizable or might lead to new research or to new applications.

Attending a journal club is recommended as a type of continuing education, first and foremost, as a way to direct one's learning. Journal clubs help to expand the knowledge of participants, often beyond the scope of their own individual work and in order to gain a better knowledge of a discipline. The principles used to establish journal clubs for professional librarians have probably been borrowed from our health professional peers. Typically, they participate in journal clubs on a regular basis as part of their exchange of ideas with peers and to stay current with trends in the field. Some EBM journal club devotees are using Twitter to hold their regular meetings.

Note: In 2017, the Library Journal Club Network <> was created, a space where interested librarians can share information, ask questions, and find answers about journal clubs. The LJC website includes guidelines for creating and managing a library-related journal club, a list of readings and resources about journal clubs, and a directory of journal clubs. If you run a journal club, visit the directory and add information about your group.

How do journal clubs work?

Journal club members read articles before meetings, and aim to discuss and debate their views about the design of a research project. This includes reading and critiquing the research article's statistics and appropriateness of controls. Journal clubs begin with a general discussion of a paper's quality, and whether it adds something new to our understanding of an issue or problem. In original research, there may be an attempt to synthesize several papers (especially in clinical medicine where evidence can be contradictory). If a new paper's findings and conclusions are valid, there may be some discussion about how useful or important they are overall and whether there are opportunities to translate this into practice. Journal clubs are used in graduate and post-graduate programs to help students become familiar with the literature in their fields. They are also regularly used by health professionals in academic environments. Journal clubs help to improve skills of literature synthesis, understanding and discussion. In some institutions, journal clubs are mandatory and may be taken for credit. Research labs organize journal clubs for their researchers in order to help them read the scientific literature and debate concepts.

Systematic review of journal clubs

In 2008, Deenadayalan et al performed a systematic review of the characteristics of successful journal clubs. The characteristics of a successful journal club are:

  1. regular and anticipated meetings,
  2. mandatory attendance for members,
  3. clear long and short-term goals,
  4. appropriate meeting dates and incentives to attend,
  5. a trained journal club leader to lead discussion,
  6. circulating papers prior to the meeting,
  7. using the Internet for wider dissemination and data storage,
  8. using established critical appraisal methods and summarizing journal club findings.

In 2011, Young published a paper entitled "The prevalence and practices of academic library journal clubs" in the Journal of Academic Librarianship.

Principles of a good journal club

  • Focus on current real problems of interest to all members
  • Appoint a moderator, preferably someone different each meeting
  • Outline the important learning points at the start, and establish critical appraisal methods used
  • Ask members to bring questions, enthusiasm and a sense of humour
  • Something good to eat is always welcome
  • Use e-mail or web 2.0 tools to remind members about time, place, topics
  • Bring copies of the papers for all
  • Keep copies of the appraisal tools, and make them available
  • Keep a log of questions asked and answered
  • Finish with a summary of discussion and follow up (eg, tools, flowchart, audits, and further searches)

Role of librarians

  • varies with context: mainly teaching/refining the searching part ("Anatomy of a Search") done generally in a separate session from the appraisal skills ("Anatomy of an Article")
  • can intervene in critical appraisal as well as skills and confidence level increase and can become a (co) moderator
  • use worksheets, summaries, set of questions to ask, small vignettes - resource presentation etc.

Conducting a successful EBM journal club

  1. Organization: formalize structure and process well in advance (rationale, objectives, methods, evaluation method, etc).
  2. Clearly define roles and get department/organization support and commitment
  3. Recruit coordinator, moderator, librarian, presenter, audience: "give everyone a job"
  4. "Use real life clinical situations"
  5. "Teach the basics ahead of time" and "be prepared to go back to basics" as you go along.
  6. Provide snacks!
  7. Handouts (depending on context/role): article discussed, structured review checklist, tip sheet for presenter, guide for participants, evaluation, review of resources etc.


  1. Selling / Buy-in ("What's in it for me" if this is not a CME credited activity)
  2. Have a "champion of research" (subject specialist) to coordinate and moderate
  3. Clear role definition
Further reading: What Makes Journal Clubs Succeed? – Article from Evidence Based Medicine

Starting an online journal club

One alternative to F2F journal clubs is to form an online journal. There are a number of reasons why onlin journal clubs are useful, for example:

  • provides an asynchronous learning environment;
  • 24/7 availability; not time or place dependent;
  • expert facilitation; directed commentary;
  • based on adult learning principles
  • self-directed, task-oriented; emphasis on real-life situations; interactions among participants; involves of opinion leaders

A range of social media tools can be used to form online journal clubs, such as:

Historical note

The earliest references to journal clubs in health and medicine are in the memoirs and letters of Sir James Paget, a British surgeon, who described a group of physicians at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London in the mid-1800s who met as "a kind of club ... a small room over a baker's shop near the Hospital-gate where we could sit and read the journals."

Sir William Osler established the first formal medical journal club at McGill University in Montreal in 1875. The original purpose of Osler's journal club was "for the purchase and distribution of periodicals to which he could ill afford to subscribe."



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