A Survey of Approaches Taken by Medical Libraries to Educate Users About Retracted Biomedical Publications

Peiling Wang,1 Lisa Ennis2


A growing rate of retractions in biomedical literature is a threat to the scientific publishing ecosystem. On January 7, 2022, the Web of Science had 7776 retracted biomedical articles published in 2000-2022, and 113,931 articles cited these retracted articles. The continued use of these retracted publications as valid scientific findings is a serious problem.1-3 Medical libraries can play a significant role in their user education and support programs to increase awareness and provide tools. This study aims to investigate how medical schools’ libraries teach users about retracted literature.


Currently, there are 154 MD and 38 DO programs in the USA. An online survey was distributed to the Medical Library Association’s lists of 12 Chapters and the Osteopathic Libraries Caucus (88 members). The 9-item questionnaire collected data on the offered degrees, the library programs’ topics, instructional modes, and free-text comments as well as the importance of covering retracted literature.


A total of 85 questionnaires were received, of which 38 responses were completed. Some of the incomplete questionnaires were from librarians in university or hospital-affiliated medical libraries. The 38 completed responses were from 22 medical schools within public universities or standalone (58%) and 16 medical schools within private universities or standalone private (42%). These programs offer 28 MD and 13 DO degrees. The topics covered how to cite (74%), copyright (71%), plagiarism (43%), retractions (37%), and 6 other topics filled by 6 respondents (funding supports, use of image, predatory journals, predatory publications, ghost authorship, and Salami factor). The delivery modes included how-to guides (82%), sessions in courses (68%), faculty workshops (47%), video tutorials (37%), and lunch-and-learn sessions for students or faculty (29%). The mean (SD) importance of covering retracted literature was 3.74 (1.00) on a 5-point Likert scale. For the libraries having taught or planning to cover retracted literature, the scope and levels varied (Table 50). For the 63% of libraries not yet including retractions in instructions, reasons included “would love to but it’s hard enough to get into how to use the library resources” (perceived time limit); “important to include, but I need to learn more before I can develop instruction beyond ‘here’s how to check’”; and “what would we teach?” (knowledge gap).


The preliminary results suggest that the coverage of retracted literature by library education ranged from ad hoc to substantial. Librarians are aware of the needs to discuss the retracted literature in-depth but are limited by the allotted time for library instruction or knowledge gaps. To close the knowledge gap on retracted literature in the biomedical ecosystem, Medical Library Association competencies should address this competence. Effective tools for tracking and alerting the retracted literature can help faculty and students. Given the low response rate, a revised survey should include all medical libraries beyond medical schools’ libraries.


1. Pfeifer MP, Snodgrass GL. The continued use of retracted, invalid scientific literature. JAMA. 1990;263(10):1420-1423.

2. Wang P, Su J. Expert-recommended biomedical journal articles: their retractions or corrections, and post-retraction citing. J Inf Sci. Published online February 2, 2022. doi:10.1177/01655515221074329

3. Wang P, McCullough L, Su J. Continued use of retracted publications: implications for scientific publishing and information systems. iConference. Published online February 2, 2022. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_infosciepubs/462/

1School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville, TN, USA, peilingw@utk.edu; 2Library & Learning Resources, Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, AL, USA

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

None reported.

Additional Information

Peiling Wang and Lisa Ennis are are co–first authors.