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The Medical Library Association Is Working to Conquer COVID-19
by
Posted On August 11, 2020
Due to the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in our communities don’t just involve dining outdoors and wearing masks in public, but are present in research institutes as well. Whether in hospitals, universities, government agencies, or biotechnology companies, laboratories around the country have had to address COVID-19 in some way. Some institutes suspended their projects, while others have been able to jump into the ring with the virus itself.

Groundbreaking experiments involving the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) are taking place rapidly across the scientific and medical field. While breakthroughs for COVID-19 treatment and prevention are a cause for optimism, this information also needs to be able to be seen and used properly by those investigating the virus.

The Medical Library Association (MLA) has put together COVID-19 Breaking News & Developments, a website containing frequently updated COVID-19 resources to assist information professionals in finding the most reliable and recent results when researching COVID-19.

Easily Accessible COVID-19 News

COVID-19 Breaking News & Developments is home to several links containing numerous helpful resources, including recent articles and press releases concerning general COVID-19 news. These items cover government funding awards, new clinical trials, and other trends in research. A recent press release discusses the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarding $248.7 million to diagnostic companies to support the scaling up of manufacturing for COVID-19 tests.

In addition, the MLA site links to a website created by Johns Hopkins University that offers COVID-19 details for each state in the U.S. Here, statistics about the virus, such as confirmed cases, deaths, and testing positivity percentage as well as county infographics, are laid out in a visually appealing and user-friendly format. Policy decisions for the state are also included, with updates given as they occur.

A Sea of Medical Data

Several medical data resources are linked on COVID-19 Breaking News & Developments. A PDF file from the nonprofit organization The Medical Letter (a group that publishes unbiased recommendations for prescribing drugs) provides a table of treatments that have been considered for COVID-19 as recently as July 31. While these treatments are only meant to be used for clinical trials, the PDF reports extensive knowledge about them, such as proper dosage and side effects. Additionally, the PDF summarizes published papers on the use of the treatments, almost serving as a treatment archive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 Breaking News & Developments links to two resources created by the NIH. Its iSearch COVID-19 Portfolio User Guide is a collection of published and pre-published work about the virus across several different databases and e-libraries, including medRxiv, PubMed, and SSRN. In addition, the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences formed the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) to create a data analytics system using reports from participating hospitals. The N3C will use this data in combination with machine learning algorithms to detect trends in COVID-19 spread, diagnosis, and treatment.

The MLA website links to several sources of grey literature compiled by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH)—a nonprofit group that focuses on providing healthcare decision makers with evidence to make informed determinations about recent developments in the field. These sources are freely accessible and contain government documentation that may not exist in typical medical databases. CADTH states that it prioritizes Canadian grey literature, but does feature information from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.

On the same page that provides the grey literature resources, CADTH offers a directory of search strings for COVID-19, personal protective equipment, telehealth, and other topics that are continually explored during the pandemic. The directory breaks the search strings into different groups based on the database being used. For instance, if you wanted to search for COVID-19 references on Embase, an appropriate search string may be “sars-related coronavirus/”. These search strings allow medical and academic librarians to better conduct literature searches for both laboratory researchers and physicians.

The Importance of Accountability

The scientific process is ultimately one of experimentation and review. With the speed at which experiments are taking place for COVID-19, it is especially important for published literature to be held accountable for proper methods and accurate results. For this reason, MLA has provided a link to Retraction Watch, a blog and OA database of retracted published articles. The Retraction Watch database includes retracted articles, reasons why they were retracted, their DOIs, and other details.

However, the link for Retraction Watch provided by MLA takes the user straight to a list of retracted COVID-19 research. The list has entries for 30-plus papers, each describing where the paper was published and when it was withdrawn/retracted. Several of the entries also have a link to an article describing the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal/retraction. These links allow for information professionals to quickly determine if a resource they plan on using or recommending is suitable as a reference.

Resources Not Just for Medical Research

The information on COVID-19 Breaking News & Developments can be used by information professionals across libraries of all types. The site links to Yale University Library, which created several links for the preservation community that lead to discussions on how to properly handle materials during the pandemic. In addition, the COVID-19 Resources for the Public tab at the top of the MLA website offers resources for older family members as well as for parents and kids.

MLA is helping information professionals obtain and disseminate important knowledge about not only surviving COVID-19, but thriving in our communities despite the virus. If a resource you found for COVID-19 is not yet a part of the website, you can submit it to MLA for its possible approval and inclusion. Be sure to check the website frequently, as the links are updated at least weekly.


Larissa Pack is a freelance science and medical writer. She gained experience in both the biotechnology field and academia while working on her graduate degree in bioengineering. Her email address is lmpack01@outlook.com.

Email Larissa Pack

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