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Volunteer runs library focus groups to plot long-range plan

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SHIRLEY — The fiscal climate is tight in the state as well as the town, said Friends of the Hazen Memorial Library member Leslie Cady.

With a small budget, and Cady’s volunteer services, the Friends have sought feedback from a cross-section of library patrons to help determine what patrons like about the programs and services offered by the library. The Friends hope the information will help them determine where the money they raise should be spent, according to members. Library administrators will also use the information to help build a long-range plan for the library, said Cady.

“It’s really important data for the library to know,” she said.

Cady agreed in January to moderate several focus groups — one of her areas of professional expertise — for the Friends and submit a report of her findings to the library.

During the focus group sessions, participants, who may be similar in some way, are asked a series of questions. The moderator then encourages them to discuss their answers with the group, according to Cady. The discussions are recorded by note-takers as well as videotaped, she said.

Prior to the actual sessions, Cady provided an outline of the project to the Friends. Library Director Debra Roy agreed to act as the project sponsor, and as such established with Cady the scope of the project, a timeline, as well as reviewed the budget.

A Planning Committee was also established, and met for four weeks beginning on Feb. 7. The committee first determined the key user groups that would best serve the project’s mission, said Cady, who participated on the committee. Members then divided responsibility for contacting and enlisting participants, planning meals for the focus group meetings, and enacting the plan.

Two of five focus groups met on March 6 and 7, Cady said. One group was comprised of parents of preschool children, and the second – senior citizens.

The senior citizens talked about current events, but also shared some memories about the old library building, said Cady. For instance, the library books were moved from the old library by a line of children that reached as far as the new library building, each of the children passing the books to the next one in line, she said.

Some participants said that they believe the library is the center of the Shirley community, partially because of its location, but also because of the services and programs it offers.

“Part of it has to do with the fact that they feel really comfortable coming to the library,” Cady said.

Participants also enjoyed even the focus group sessions, she noted. People said they enjoyed the conversations, and thought the sessions went well, according to Cady.

“They’re there because they want to support the library,” she explained. “The library is important to them.”

Meantime, patrons also learned more about what they can do to support the library, said Cady.

The Friends sponsored an Italian meal from Sorrento’s Pizzeria in Harvard, which was provided to attendees at each group meeting.

“It’s our way of thanking them for participating in the program,” said Cady.

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