Identifying gaps in consumer health library collections: a retrospective review

Eleni Giannopoulos, Michelle Snow, Mollie Manley, Katie McEwan, Andrew Stechkevich, Meredith Elana Giuliani, Janet Papadakos


Background: The objective of this study was to determine if search request forms, which are used when a patron’s request for information cannot be fulfilled at the time of contact with the library team, can be used to identify gaps in consumer health library collections.

Case Presentation: Search request forms were collected from 2013 to 2020 and analyzed independently by two reviewers. Search request forms were included if they were complete and contained a record of how the request was fulfilled. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize patron characteristics. Search request forms were iteratively coded to identify themes in the data and determine if resources provided to patrons could be found within the library collection. The study team subsequently reviewed search request forms to determine reasons for identified gaps. Two hundred and forty-nine search request forms were analyzed. Six main content themes were identified: 1) understanding the cancer diagnosis, 2) cancer treatments, 3) understanding disease prognosis, 4) support during and after treatment, 5) natural health products and therapeutic effects in oncology, and 6) research literature. The majority of patrons were patients (53%). Over half (60%) of the submitted search request forms reflected collection gaps, and many (16%) contained queries for information about rare cancer diagnoses. The main reason that queries could not be satisfied was that there was limited consumer health information on the requested topics (53%).

Conclusions: Search request forms are a useful resource for assessing gaps in consumer health library collections.


neoplasm; consumer health; gap analysis; collection development

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