Information for Practice Marks 25th Year as Repository of Social Work Knowledge
February 6, 2018
Advancing evidence-based social work practice is a driving passion for NYU Silver Professor Gary Holden. For the past 25 years, as co-founder and editor of the website Information for Practice and its internet precursors, Dr. Holden has made it his mission to provide social work professionals with curated news and new scholarship in order to make their practice more evidence-informed.
Dr. Holden observed that after social workers complete their education, they often work in under-resourced, over-stressed environments which lack access to costly peer-reviewed journals and subscription databases. Furthermore, they often lack the time and capacity to navigate the vast and ever-growing quantity of professional information online in order to identify that which is relevant. In 1993, along with colleagues Drs. Kathleen Barker and Gary Rosenberg, Dr. Holden launched what would become Information for Practice to enable social workers to overcome these barriers to staying abreast of news and emerging scholarship with direct implications for evidence-based practice.
“When this started out 25 years ago, I was walking around conferences distributing disks with Gopher links on them,” Dr. Holden recalled, referring to a protocol for delivering documents over the Internet that predated the World Wide Web. “As the Web evolved, Information for Practice migrated to the platform, where it now fulfills our vision of providing social work practitioners with a free, virtual, professional library.” The site reaches professionals throughout the English-speaking world, averaging 683 views per day in 2017 from users primarily in North America but also in South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Hosted at ifp.nyu.edu, Information for Practice provides direct links to significant content relevant to social workers in the following topic areas: article abstracts from scholarly journals; open access journal articles; various forms of professional guidelines; abstracts or full text meta-analyses and systematic reviews; new monographs and edited collections; infographics, videos and historical items curated from a variety of sources including popular media, government, organizational and academic sites; news from around the world; grey literature, including government, scientific, and industrial reports that are not commercially published; calls and consultations, including for conference presentations, journal submissions and nominations for awards; clinical trials that are planned or currently recruiting participants; and funding opportunities for research and service.
Dr. Holden stressed that Information for Practice is truly open source. “Not only is there no fee to use the site, there is no registration requirement, no attempt to capture individual user data, and no advertising of any kind.”
Although Dr. Holden makes use of RSS feed aggregation and automation as well as recommendations and submissions from colleagues, he exerts a considerable amount of editorial control over the site. He estimates he spends 35-40 hours a week reviewing prospective content and making inclusion and exclusion decisions based on his assessment of their value to social work practitioners. He also manages the site’s Twitter feed, @info4practice, through which he highlights new content that he deems particularly noteworthy. As of February 5, 2018, @info4practice had 4,574 followers from around the world (none of which were purchased).
Beyond visiting the website directly or following it on Twitter, practitioners may also create personal RSS feeds from the entire site or from any subset of categories. They may also join the more than 2,000 subscribers to the site’s listserv, who receive a notice when each month’s archives are available for review, by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Holden suggests that perhaps one of the most useful ways to use the site is to treat it like a daily newspaper. “I have designed the site to present a constantly refreshing front page for users, with the additional simple and advanced search mechanisms. I want social workers to be able to quickly scan the front page and see what is new or use the search procedures to discover recent work on topics that they are interested in.”
While originally intended for practitioners, Dr. Holden said, Information for Practice and its Twitter feed have gained a substantial following among academics. “The links to online first journal articles and abstracts, news about clinical trials that are starting soon or are now recruiting, notices of conference, publication and funding opportunities, all provide faculty and researchers a glimpse into not only what is currently happening in the field but also what is on the horizon.”
Dr. Holden noted that NYU Information Technology Services donates the server space on which Information for Practice is hosted and that NYU Silver both compensates him for a percentage of his time as editor and provides some technical assistance. Past support was provided by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Division of Social Work and Behavioral Science, and Dr. Helen Rehr.