Focus Groups

What are Focus Groups?

Focus groups are a great way to gain insight into the needs and opinions of the people you serve.  Generally they are a group of 6-10 similar people who are willing to meet for 45-90 minutes to provide feedback on your services within the context of their own needs. Your library or organization may use surveys and other assessment tools to measure your effectiveness.  Focus groups are a great way to follow up with specific details and action items to improve service.

Focus Groups:  The Pre Work

Focus groups are one of those things that are easy to run well if you do some behind-the-scenes work up front.  There are three essential things to do before hand

  1. Identify a list of 8-10 questions that will keep discussion focused.  What are the things you want information on from this group?
  2. Determine who you will invite, how to invite them, location for meetings and compensation. You don’t need to provide a huge amount of compensation, but it’s nice to have an answer for the question, “what will I get out of this” (even if that answer is simply, “improved service.”  It is even nicer to provide them with a small token or snacks during the focus group.
  3. Find two people not connected to your organization to run the focus groups.  Why not connected to your organization? You want the focus groups to be open, honest and not defensive.  With someone outside of your organization participants may feel more free to be honest.  With someone outside of your organization you can protect against the focus group becoming a session someone explaining why certain choices have been made.  Why two people?  One person facilitates the group and the other records what is said.  It is best to make an actual recording of the session to transcribe later but if this is not possible notes are essential.  Don’t have funds to hire a consultant?  You can ask someone from a separate department or better yet offer to run focus groups for a local colleague if he or she will do the same for you.

Focus Groups: The Work

During each focus group meeting the facilitator encourages and manages the discussion with the goal of generating the maximum number of ideas from the largest variety of people.  I like to take notes on a flip chart to supplement the recording.

Your participants should be “heterogeneous strangers.”  This means that the people should be similar in terms of the people you serve (“senior citizens” or “graduate students” or “faculty” should be grouped together) but they shouldn’t be people who know each other well.  For that reason it is usually a good idea to avoid pre-formed groups.  Keep in mind that you will run groups until you stop hearing new ideas which usually means scheduling 3-5 groups.  So this means you will need to invite 30-60 people to 3-5 specific sessions.  This will improve your chances of having groups of a useful size.

The facilitator keeps the conversation going.  They keep it neutral, not commenting on suggestions but merely taking them on board.  The types of questions that are most useful are ones that fully get at a challenge or pain point for the user.  Then the experts at your organization can determine how best to address those issues.

Focus Groups:  The Post Work

After the focus groups are over the real work begins.  The data collected in the sessions needs to be collected in a usable way.  Generally this involves “coding” the responses (tagging the responses into categories) and  ranking the most common responses to the questions by type of user and answer. Then your organization can begin to make an action plan based on the information learned.

Focus groups are fairly simple to run and can help you to learn a lot about how to best serve your users.  More information can be found in a great 13 page report on how to run focus groups published by Duke University.

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Library Service & the Culture of Haste

Library Service Expectations

Library Service expectations, like service expectations in any sector, have changed dramatically over the past decade.  We live in a culture of instant gratification.  Libraries used to have few if any competitors.  Now they have innumerable online service providers who can provide content quickly and conveniently, albeit for a fee.  Our library users are the same consumers who have gotten used to streaming movies from Netflix downloading kindle books from Amazon.  I see this as a good thing.  It makes libraries raise their game in terms of service.

The Culture of Haste and Library Service Expectations

A good friend of mine, I’ll call her Sarah, runs the public service department of a large academic library.  She’s the kind of librarian who likes to provide good library service to the students and faculty.  These days good library service means fast library service.  Interlibary loan is an area of library service that has received a lot of attention over the past decade.  Once a slow process, a lot of work has gone into streamlining the delivery chain, improving the tools and generally making it a timely service that meets the needs of today’s researchers.  This process has been achieved because of people like Sarah who work hard to ensure that items in their library collections are loaned quickly and efficiently to researchers elsewhere who need them.

Library Service and the Culture of Haste

Are We Racing to Meet Library Service Expectations?

One day not too long ago Sarah was speaking to the staff in the interlibrary lending department and explaining that for each item they were working on there was an actual researcher waiting for the book.  One of the lending staff took exception to this and said that Sarah was “buying in to the culture of haste.”

What’s Wrong With the Culture of Haste

OK, I get it.  Yes, we live in a society full of instant gratification.  The rushing can be too much at times.  Stress related illness is at an all time high. We need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses.  Every time I’m on the road someone is rushing in a way that puts other lives at risk.  Sometimes rushing isn’t necessary.  And often it can have negative consequences.  Sometimes rushing means a decline in quality, but it doesn’t have to.

What’s Right With the Culture of Haste

Librarians like Sarah have it right. It is important to Sarah to provide good library service to all researchers, not just the ones at her own institution. She also wants to provide good library service to researchers at other colleges and universities who need to use items from her library’s collection.  Her colleague accused her of buying in to the culture of haste as if it were a bad thing.  When it comes to library service, it’s not.  It is simply providing good library service in an environment of ever increasing expectations.  Where we have the tools and staffing to provide fast service, why not?

How Can We Help Our Colleagues Embrace the Culture of Haste?

Many of us are able to see the value in providing super-timely library service yet work with people who don’t get it.  So what can we do? I think Sarah had a good idea.  She explained the context to her colleague.  Unfortunately her colleague didn’t get it.  This time.  Perhaps with repeated explanations the expectation will begin to sink in.  Perhaps by explaining in in a context meaningful to the colleague it would help.  Obviously this is going to differ from person to person but everyone has been in a situation in which they didn’t like waiting.  Rather than getting frustrated at colleagues who don’t understand the changing nature of library service expectations we need to continually have the conversation on why faster library service is important.

What are your experiences dealing with colleagues who have different views on library service expectations?

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Assessing Job Interviews: Ace the (Library) Interview, Part 6

The Importance of Assessing Job Interviews:

This month I have dedicated my posts to job interviewing.  Topics have included the importance of knowing the organization, evaluating “fit,” preparing for common questions and knowing which questions to ask.  With interviewing practice makes perfect.  Like many skills, interviewing is something that you get better at each time you do it.  This final installment of the “Ace the (Library) Interview” series is about evaluating the process.

Points for assessing interviews include fit,

How Assessing Job Interviews is Done:

The process of job interview assessment is quite simple.  After the interview, take a few minutes to objectively evaluate how it went.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What three things worked well?
  • What three things might be improved?
  • How well would fit in the organization?
  • Would you be happy in this job?  Why or why not?

The more you know about yourself in terms of how you interview and what type of organization you would like to work in the better your chances of landing your dream job.

The Result of Assessing Job Interviews:

By paying attention to the process you will see your interview skills improve.  Paying attention to the process ultimately means you will be better able to choose the right job for yourself.  So the next time you have a job interview do yourself a favor and take a few moments to objectively evaluate the interview process.  By thinking  about what you might do differently (and what you would do the same) next time.

Has this series been helpful to you? I'd love to hear why or why not.  
If you liked this series, please share it with someone you know.  

This is the final in a six part series that provides useful tips for interviews. Although provided in the context of interviewing for professional library jobs, the information in this series has application for other industries as well.

Disrupting the Library, part 6

Disruptive Suggestion #5:  Find Smarter Ways to Serve Your Customers

Are you sure you are giving your users what they need?  The example the article gives is Siri, the voice interaction service offered on Apple products.  Library users may not require or even desire voice command services, but what is it they do want?  Not what they are asking for, but where is the need?  Maybe users need library materials delivered to their home or office? Maybe faculty on the tenure track need communities of practice to support them?

The point is to listen to your users and find out what their needs are.  Then think, “how can these needs be met?” Then think some more.  Then plan, all the while talking to users and thinking.

This is the sixth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 7.