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.

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The project so far and plans for the future

The project started with preliminary plans in February 2013. See background information. Library data and statistics were gathered, shared and compared spring 2013 – spring 2014. There were several online meetings between spring 2013 – autumn 2014. The blog started in October 2014, aiming to report the site visits during and after them. The three site visits took place in October (Trondheim), November (Brussels) and December (Kuopio) 2014.

During each visit week we had many talks with library staff members and with library users, and also had a chance to talk with the library director of each university library.

In Trondheim we discussed with Lisbeth Tangen about these topics

  • campus development implies library development
  • NTNU is focusing on innovative learning technologies and library has be part of that
  • in measuring the impact of the library the connections between quantitative and qualitative indicators must be set
  • libraries have to pay attention not to become hidden services: students are now the only visible users in the library; currently the library space is mainly a working place for students
  • digital resources are very expensive and need to be constantly marketed
  • new activities to develop, especially for research aspects: publication funding, open access, bibliometrics, etc.
  • ==> new competencies are needed in the library: we need more university librarians and staff with good ICT competences, plus “something new” that remains to be discovered or invented. It is time to design future library roles and to market them.

In Louvain-la-Neuve we had lunch with Charles-Henri Nyns and talked about among others

  • library statistics and economics
  • comparing statistical data of universities is not easy due to divergent funding and financing models, even among French speaking university libraries in Belgium; but it is important to seek out at least some comparable indicators nationally and internationally
  • library advocacy — how to convince the decision-makers and justify not only the existence but the enhancement of library services

In Kuopio we discussed with Jarmo Saarti who originally proposed this benchmarking project. We talked about

  • how to proceed with the project
  • statistics and other data useful as background information
  • next steps could include formulating questions for the measurement of the impact of the library collections on users, and how well the money on the digital resources is spent; but this kind of follow-up project would require ICT persons and statisticians — maybe with funding from Horizon2020?
  • how and where we could and should report the experiences and findings of the benchmarking; one possibility could be a presentation at LIBER conference 2016
  • implementing ideas and best practices from each others’ libraries
  • learning also from working cultures, different points of view and lifestyles

Our next steps include a face-to-face meeting in Brussels in February (in connection with another meeting), writing more blog posts during spring 2015, sharing our benchmarking experiences and the project-so-far with colleagues in June in EAHIL 2015 workshop, planning a conference paper for year 2016, and writing a journal article.