Everybody has an opinion. Those of us who serve the public can pretty much count on that, as well as the fact that they will state those opinions most vociferously when they are dissatisfied. A focus group can harness those ideas, stimulate service development, and make our patrons (in this context, our customers) feel valued. It can also lend much needed support and organizational “buy-in” to the decisions we as librarians make. Adapting the generic focus group concept, which is easily researched in books and articles, is essential to tailoring the process for your individual institution. Here’s a look at how we are doing it at SUNY Optometry.
Why did we decide to do it?
Like most institutions, SUNY Optometry has a veritable plethora of electronic journals to offer. Some customers want them all listed on a single page on our web site. Some would like them grouped alphabetically. Others would like them arranged by subject. Still others would like to link to them directly from PubMed (still a pipe dream until more journal providers participate in LinkOut.) Most alarmingly, some remain confused as to what is available and unaware of just how much they can access from their desktops. We decided that some consensus development was in order, and that a focus group may be the way to reach it.
How will we do it?
Notice the future tense . . . we haven’t done it yet. But here is the plan: Recruit participants. We will make our groups interdisciplinary, combining clinicians, didactic faculty, researchers, and students. We will make sure that there is broad representation from as many departments as possible (e.g. primary care, ocular disease, low vision, learning disabilities, etc.) avoiding “friendship groups” whenever possible. We will also try to ensure that the individuals we choose are reasonably heavy users of our library services. Because there is only one hour of freedom that everyone has in common (noon to 1PM) we will offer lunch as an incentive. The Library Director, traditionally unbiased and hopefully knowledgeable about electronic journal delivery options, will moderate.
How is the Academic Focus Group different from the generic focus group?
Individuals in an academic setting are used to the peer review tradition and are comfortable with an open analytic process. They also support the rigorous examination and open discussion of results. The focus group, therefore, becomes a sort of "peer review" of potential electronic journal delivery options. Like the peer review process, it will ultimately lend an air of authority to the decisions we make about electronic resource delivery.
So the next time someone offers an opinion, they will know we are listening.
Many thanks to SUNY Optometry Assistant Librarian
Kadri Niider for her in-depth research on focus groups.