Interview with an Author – Margaret Sampson

Margaret Sampson is the medical librarian at CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), managing the medical and family resource libraries. Her specialty is information retrieval for systematic reviews, with an active research portfolio focusing on improving search quality.

This week, she was the first-author on “A systematic review of methods for studying consumer health YouTube videos, with implications for systematic reviews” which published on Sept 12th.


Margaret graduated from the University of Western Ontario with her Master of Library and Information Science degree in 1997, and in 2009 she completed her PhD through the University of Wales. She has over 60 peer reviewed publications and in 2010 was awarded the “Hospital Librarian of the Year” award by the Canadian Health Library Association.

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m the librarian at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. I worked for quite a few years with a systematic review team at the hospital before joining the library.

PJ: Tell us about the research you published with us, and why it is interesting?

For me, this was an interesting project because I was able to take my knowledge of systematic review methods and reporting standards, and apply that to figuring out how best to tackle researching YouTube content. In turn, I was able to learn a few things from the YouTube world that can improve the searching and reporting for systematic reviews.

I think YouTube and other online video sources are important in many ways – certainly people are turning to them for health information, and that is relevant to my current work where I manage a consumer health library and need to think about the quality and accuracy of consumer health information. There are other applications as well – for lab scientists we have the JoVE journals, which seem to have been a big hit. PeerJ should consider incorporating video, if it hasn’t already.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what made you decide to submit to us?

I’m not sure how I heard of it, but as a librarian, I am very interested in innovation in open access publishing. I was impressed with the governing board; Jason Hoyt, Pete Binfield, and Tim O’Reilly – all are big thinkers.  I was excited when I received an invitation to be an academic editor, giving me an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

PJ: What do you think of our “Pay once, Publish for life” Membership?  

Some of the projects I work on are grant funded and we can write publication charges into the budget, but others are unfunded. With this model, it will be easier to publish that unfunded work in an open access journal.  I really hope the model proves to be sustainable.

PJ: You have published in several journals in the past. What opinion have you formed about the publication process in general, and how would you compare it to your PeerJ experience?

I’ve actually authored a paper on time lags in publishing systematic reviews, so I can quantify the process! The evidence base for most systematic reviews is already aging by the time the review is published. A small, but non-trivial percent, are already out of date by the time anyone gets to read them. A lot of my work focuses on how best to keep systematic reviews up to date, and one really good method is to pick a journal that will get the systematic review published in the first place while it is still fresh.

I submitted this manuscript December 10, 2012 and it will probably be published September 12, 2013. That may not seem really fast, but most of the delay was me getting around to doing revisions. The journal took 18 days from my final submission to publication. In comparison, the median time from acceptance to publication in the sample of systematic reviews in my 2008 paper was 18 weeks!

PJ: PeerJ encourages full transparency in the peer review process. Can you share some details about the review process you experienced with us, and tell us why you chose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?

I am part of a network called PRESSforum where librarians can have their important searches peer reviewed by another librarian. That is open peer review. Maybe it is just the nature of librarians, but those reviews are useful, respectful and highly professional. The reviews are open for others to look at, and that serves as a good learning tool for those developing their searching skills. On this PeerJ paper, the editor, Peter Muench, and the peer reviewers all provided thoughtful and helpful feedback.  So when I was asked about making them open, I had no hesitation.

PJ: Was there anything that surprised you with your overall PeerJ experience?

Yes, actually. As part of the submission process, I was asked if I had, or planned to deposit data sets related to the paper in a third party location.  I haven’t been asked that by any other journal, and of course data deposit improves the transparency of the research process enormously. In systematic reviews we worry about publication bias, and suppression of results that may not have been favorable. We ask people to register their trials, but that is only part of the solution. Direct access to the data is hugely important. I did deposit my data with Dryad.

PJ: What are your thoughts about the value of Open Access publishing?

Open access publishing is vital to continued access to the scientific literature. When you have libraries like Harvard saying they have hit the wall on escalating subscription costs and are dropping key journals, you know there is a problem. What we need is a sustainable business model for open access publishing. PeerJ’s approach of getting the costs down seems the logical route to sustainability!

PJ: What do you see as wrong with the current system of publication?

It is expensive and ponderous.  I have certainly considered bypassing the system and just posting my research on blogs. I am hoping PeerJ turns out to be the happy median.

PJ: Given your experience, what would an ideal publishing venue look like?

I know this isn’t what you are asking, but I love the images PeerJ features, and I love the look and legibility of the manuscripts.

PJ: Anything else you might want to talk about?

Yes – the exciting follow-up to this publication. The final goal of all this is to “be sweet to babies.” Very soon, we are going to launch videos on YouTube showing babies getting really simple and effective pain control during their vaccinations. That means either breastfeeding or drops of sucrose before and during the shots. The original title of this manuscript was “so many screaming babies”, which is the state of the home videos of infant vaccinations at this stage. We want to show that it doesn’t need to be this way. When we post those videos, I hope I’ll be able to let PeerJ readers know, and I’d ask for your help in pushing those videos by tweeting, viewing, and of course sharing them with any new parents so they can be sweet to their babies.

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

Innovative, efficient, beautiful.

PJ: Thank you for your thoughts!

You can follow Margaret on Twitter. “Be Sweet To Babies” will have its own web site very soon, and we will keep you posted. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario on its website.

PeerJ is currently getting first decisions back to authors with a median time of 24 days, and we have hundreds of highly satisfied authors. If you would like to experience the PeerJ process for yourself, then submit your next article to us!

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