Focus! — said the focus group

Ten delegates of EAHIL+ICAHIS+ICLC 2015 workshop participated in our focus group interview session in Edinburgh. Focus group is a qualitative method, the results cannot be generalized to a population (e.g. all participants at the EAHIL workshop), but can say something about trends and point out features and patterns that recur. In our session, we looked for perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes about some themes we have covered in our benchmarking project.

The focus group participants were Bente Aastad (Telemark University College, Porsgrunn), Elaine Garrett (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists London), Imrana Ghumra (Cilip Health Libraries Group London), Hans Ket (University Medical Center Amsterdam),Marie Källberg (Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm), Joëlle Longchamp Reuge (Haute école de travail social et de la santé in Lausanne), Emma-Lotta Säätelä (Biomedical- and Medical libraries at Uppsala University), and Guus van den Brekel (University Medical Center Groningen), and, as moderators, Karen J. Buset & Tuulevi Ovaska.

We talked about the challenges of data comparison, our site visits, marketing, library as a place, and — most importantly — how the project should proceed. We took notes but also asked the participants to put a word or two on post-it notes.

Post-it notes

Post-it notes


Preparation for the session 

We used a semi-structured interview guide to structures the discussion and secure that all topics were covered and that all of the participants had the opportunity to express their opinion. We made notes but also asked to the participants put a word or two on post-it notes. In the blog we asked the people attending our workshop session, to themselves very shortly (name, organization, main tasks) by commenting the blog post. Some of them also explain why they chose to attend this session:

  • … interested in focus groups as a way of identifying our user needs, and the benchmarking process because I have seen on recent visits to other libraries how much we can learn from each other
  • … it is important to do the right thing at the hospital, using benchmarking and focus groups are two different methods to learn what the library can do to keep updated and preparing for the future
  • … interested in hearing what you have learnt in your benchmarking … it will help our planning to learn what you found important during your project.
  • … hope to hear more about benchmarking in general …
  • … benchmarking to find out how to improve some of our services, for example : the marketing …
  • … interested in the question about site visits and the library as a physical space

The workshop started with a brief summary on benchmarking and focus group as methods, and we also explained to the group the intention of the workshop was not to teach them something about benchmarking, but to get input and ideas for our future work.

Topic 1: Data comparison

The discussion was mostly on library quality assurance in different countries, for example the Quality assurance framework in England, that provides tools for best practices, that we think we should check out. The focus group agreed that using indicators probably is the best way forward, but the big question is, which data to compare: number of books and e-books, number of loans…? They advised us to to go back to our data and start figuring out what we want to measure. They asked, if we should also compare our library staff numbers and competencies, and would it be possible to measure progress of services.

Post-It notes from the participants

Focus group tools

Focus group tools

Topic 2: Site visits

The group agreed that site visits are useful but take time from other activities, as well as money for traveling. They agreed that interviewing the students in all the three libraries has given us useful information but that we should also think how to get in touch with those who are not visiting the library. It was agreed that there are challenges in making visits and comparisons among libraries and their users in several countries, for example in our case three different languages (in addition to English as the common language) and the different (working) cultures of our countries. We think there is more information and value — and more to learn — in comparing with someone different from your own country.

Sidetracks from the discussion

  • EAHIL should engage in such projects
  • Libraries are not good at publishing and sharing results.
    • Could there be a performance parameter on “How good are the libraries in sharing information about their projects”?

Post-It notes from the participants

  • What about non-users?
  • Staff not always open to be interviewed
  • Language and cultural barriers
  • How do we share information?
  • Books and shelves
  • Furnishing
  • Number of study desks and PCs

Focus group

Focus group

Topic 3: Marketing

We talked about good examples like the Biblio-Jack project in Brussels. Libraries and librarians need skills and more knowledge on marketing; how to do it, what works out…. IT could be useful to collaborate and share marketing material, as an example we learned about the common hospital library week in Sweden. It was suggested that EAHIL should have a new special interest group for people interested in marketing so there could be more cooperation in this field. It was also asked if it is possible to measure or have indicators of the impact of marketing. The group thought marketing could be one of the main focuses of our benchmarking project.

Post-It notes from the participants

  • Targeting different user groups
  • Video Biblio-Jack
  • Core skills for librarians?
  • Share stories, examples, material, experiences e.g. promoting libraries in education
  • Small level marketing projects

Focus group

Focus group

Topic 4: Library as a place

Library as a place was discussed earlier in connection with the site visits and student/customer interviews.

Post-It notes from the participants

  • Find the people that do not use the library anymore, maybe clinicians and researchers or nurses
  • Re-zoning university libraries in UK — also health libraries

How should we proceed?

The group suggested that we figure out what we want to measure at this point, that we use indicators, that we should compare staff and — most importantly — that we must focus on fewer topics. We are grateful to the group for the discussion, the tips and the encouragement.