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.

The meaning of library — and life?

The title of this post refers to our interviews with the library staff members in all of the three libraries. We started with questions like “what is your job, what do you work with” and ended up talking about the meaning of the library, sometimes even life. Interviews turned into discussions and interchange of opinions.

We interviewed three persons at the NTNU library; a research librarian who has worked for more than 20 years,  a librarian who has worked for more than five years and a new staff member, also a research librarian. At UCL we interviewed three librarians; one who has worked in the library for more than 20 years, another one who has worked for seven years in her first job there, and a third one who has worked for about 20 years. In UEF we interviewed two staff members, a librarian/information specialist who has worked in KUH medical library for three and a half years, and an information services advisor who has worked there for 13 years.

The starting point for the interviews were about roles and value:

  • What is your role in this library?
  • Why do you work here?
  • What is the meaning/purpose of your work here?
  • What value does the library (and your role in it) add to the university?
  • What would mean if the library did not exist/provide the services?
  • In your opinion, is the library doing the right things/providing the right services?
Kollasj - interview

Discussions with staff members at NTNU, UCL and UEF


What did we learn?

The method turned out be very useful. Staff members were willing to share, and what started as interviews soon turned into collegial discussions. We found ourselves taking part in processes where people reflect their own work. It seemed possible for many of them to talk about the meaning of their work and the value of library with outsiders. Even if their supervisor was also present, it was not official and there were no organizational objectives. It seemed they were able and willing to speak freely.

There were no “right answers” but opinions and views. It was a chance for free expression and reflection. We ended up finding the value together — in connection to each person’s tasks in their library.

To conclude these fruitful discussions: If libraries did not exist, they would have to be invented.

Interviewing library users (part 3)

Today we talked to the users of the Kuopio University Hospital (KUH) Medical Library. We asked them the same questions that were asked in NTNU/BMH library and UCL Library.

Our questions were:

  1. What do you use this library for?
  2. Why do you (study/read/work/group work) right here?
  3. Where would you study if the library did not exist?

All the people we approached, except one who was in a hurry, were happy to participate in our small interview. We have chosen five different spots and talked to five individual users, as there are currently no rooms for group work. 

Where we interviewed the users

Where we interviewed the users

We spoke to four medical students who were studying for exams, reading library books and own books. Two of them were also using computers — one after waiting for an hour, another one for an hour and a half, having used the waiting time for reading. One interviewee was a nurse who came to search for information, to read new journal issues and to take a look at a recent doctoral thesis.

Two of the students had taken the first computer that became available, one had chosen a carrel booth as a second choice, and one had chosen her favourite place for quietness and for being able to sit by the window. The nurse was standing close to the information sources she needed. The quiet atmosphere was appreciated.



If they could not use this library four of them would have gone to the learning center or the campus library and one would have studied at home.