Penn State health sciences librarian volunteers for WHO Librarian Reserve Corps

June 17, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Several months ago, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) — a partnership of the World Health Organization (WHO) that mobilizes resources to respond to acute public health events — was overwhelmed with the amount of literature being published related to the COVID-19 pandemic. To get the help they needed to manage this information, GOARN formed the Librarian Reserve Corps (LRC), an organization composed of volunteer librarians.

When the call for volunteers went out, Brad Long, embedded health sciences librarian with the Harrell Health Sciences Library at Penn State College of Medicine’s University Park location, knew he had to join.  

“For me, it was just the right thing to do,” said Long, who learned of the initiative through the Medical Library Association MEDLIB-L listserv. “I was already helping with the University Libraries’ and College of Medicine’s responses to the pandemic. I jumped at the opportunity to provide an impact on a larger scale.”  

A few weeks later, Long was called to serve on a team of librarians searching for literature on hand sanitization in low-water environments without access to alcohol-based products. He was assigned specifically to search the grey literature. As he explained, grey literature is “materials and research produced by organizations outside the traditional commercial or academic publishing and distribution channels,” particularly prepublication sources such as medRxiv, government publication search engines like or databanks such as Mendeley Data.

“The COVID-19 literature is being generated much faster than the peer review process can keep up with it,” he continued. “To get the information out as quickly as possible, authors and publishers are posting the preprints to these servers until the articles can be published. During a pandemic, or even an epidemic, the speed of access to research information is more critical than whether or not something has been peer reviewed yet.”

Next, Long conducted a search for rapid evidence review. His search focused on epidemiological studies using serological markers. “Again due to time constraints for publishing a review during a pandemic, rapid evidence reviews are often utilized instead of a full systematic review,” he said. “This may mean limiting a search to a couple of core databases and skipping the potential for a meta-analysis.”  

Since then, Long and another U.S.-based librarian were called upon to perform literature searching for WHO headquarters, providing weekly literature updates to Europe-based researchers for a systematic review that will potentially be used to develop a COVID-19 protocol. As of June 16, he is also part of a beta-testing team working on a joint crowdsourcing project between the LRC and the National Library of Medicine. The two organizations will review and update the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) used for indexing COVID-19 articles.

Through all of this, Long has been serving on the LRC’s administrative team, often participating in meetings three to five hours a week. “The LRC is a rapidly evolving project, and I have been willingly pulled into many roles of immediate need,” he concluded.

A medical librarian since 1995, Long began his position with the Harrell Health Sciences Library in August 2017. A University Libraries faculty member, he is embedded administratively in the College of Medicine’s secondary active learning curriculum at University Park, working to provide faculty and students with research support for their educational needs. Long also supports the Penn State Health clinics and the Family and Community Medicine residency program in State College, as well as students in the M.D./MBA program during their year at University Park.

“We Are” stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment.


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Last Updated June 19, 2020