Guidelines

Guidelines for creating and managing a library journal club.

  1. What is a journal club?
  2. Benefits of journal clubs
  3. Journal club logistics
  4. Marketing and justifying a journal club
  5. Sustaining a journal club
  6. Defining success

What is a journal club?

Journal clubs are meetings where participants engage in discussion or critical appraisal of research publications and other professional literature in their field.

Other names for journal clubs include “discussion groups” or “reading groups” but the purpose remains the same: to keep current on published research, to think critically about the quality of the research, to learn about the research process and to inform decision making. Participating in a journal club, either at a single meeting or a series of these, can be considered a method for learning informally in the workplace, and therefore professional development.

The origins of journal clubs date to back to at least 1875 when physician Sir William Osler introduced the practice at McGill University. The earliest journal club librarianship appeared a century later, with the Chicago Medical Library Journal Club in 1974. Though popular among health sciences librarians, the prevalence of journal clubs extend to many sectors, including school, academic, and public librarianship.

Some associations, such as the Canadian Health Libraries Association and the Medical Library Association, offer continuing education credits for journal club participation.

Benefits of journal clubs 

Librarians’ participation in journal clubs has been found to have several benefits. These positive impacts can be at the individual or group level, or even at the organizational level.

  • Benefits to the individual: Participating in a journal club prioritizes time for learning, builds knowledge, improves professional and research skills (including critical appraisal), and is also a means of social interaction.
  • Benefits to the group: Journal club meetings offer protected time for learning, foster a culture of research, and can spur collaborative actions.
  • Benefits to the organization: Journal clubs can influence decision making at the library or organizational level, leading to improvement for users. These can include new initiatives and more capable and knowledgable staff.

Journal club logistics

Meetings

There are many ways to run a journal club. Common ways include:

  • Face-to-face in the workplace or a social setting (e.g., cafe)
  • Virtually via Twitter, Skype, Google Hangouts, Second Life, etc.
  • Periodically: weekly, monthly, or quarterly
  • Convenient times for the group: breakfast, lunch, afternoon break, or just after work

Selecting readings

Some journal clubs focus on a particular subject, such as information literacy or health sciences librarianship. Others cover a broad range of topics in or related to librarianship. Many journal clubs take a critical appraisal approach, selecting a research study for each meeting and formally assessing its validity and relevance for their practice. Other journal clubs may select readings that support their group’s goals, such improving research skills or learning more about faculty members’ work. Another common approach is to simply select articles or other types of publications (reports, videos, blog posts) for discussion that are of current interest to participants.

Leadership

Leadership is the key! Some journal clubs have one or two coordinators, while others rotate the responsibilities. for selecting readings, facilitating discussions, and scheduling meetings. It is important to have several core members whose dedication can sustain the group. Some librarian journal clubs have explicit involvement from their organisation’s management, while others are ‘grass-roots’, with librarians meeting informally on their own initiative.

Documentation

Keep track of discussions using web pages, blogs, wikis, or an intranet. Documentation can be helpful for many reasons:

  • Prompting further reflection and synthesis
  • Preserving collective knowledge for future reference
  • record-keeping and evaluation purposes

Defining success

To sustain a journal club, it’s important to define what success will look like for the group. Some journal clubs’ purpose is general information sharing, and therefore success is simply defined as increased awareness and ongoing participant amongst members. Other groups choose to focus on more specific learning objectives and skill development, and success is seen when members do indeed improve their knowledge and skills. Here are some indicators of the success of your journal club:

  • Participants learn something or reflect on an issue that applies to their work
  • Discussions are balanced in terms of who participates and the tone of the discussion
  • Participants are proactive about bringing ideas and topics for discussion
  • Attendees are from different roles, departments or organizations
  • Participants learn about research methodology or professional approaches that can be directly applied to their work

Justifying and promoting a journal club

Promoting your journal club is important in order to ensure the long-term success of your journal club.  Librarians are busy people, so, in order to attract and retain members you must be able to convince your colleagues that spending time reading and discussing articles is worth their time.  Some of the benefits of participation in journal club that you can highlight include:

  • Journal club as a cost effective means of participating in professional development (in some cases, participants can earn continuing education credits)
  • An opportunity to (prioritize?) engage with the professional literature
  • Exposure to new ideas or research methods that can inform, or be integrated into practice
  • Using research and discussion to inform decision making
  • Improving professional skills by becoming more familiar with particular subject areas, tools or resources
  • Increasing awareness of colleagues interests and perspectives

Sustaining a journal club

Here are some ways to ensure your journal club is successful:

  • Have the discussion during mealtime and/or provide refreshments if possible
  • Hold the meeting in a space that is conducive to group interaction (either face-to-face or virtual)
  • Have a dedicated coordinator and build a core group of members who are open to exploration of ideas
  • Support from the administration or from professional associations
  • Keep in mind that maintaining a successful journal club requires persistent effort over time!