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Focus group sessions target effectiveness of programs

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SHIRLEY — A series of five focus group sessions held on behalf of the Hazen Memorial Library is complete.

Leslie Cady moderated the sessions and spearheaded the focus group project. She gave a status report regarding the project to the Friends of the Hazen Library.

The project began with three objectives, said Cady. They were to evaluate the effectiveness of Friends-funded events and programs, gather public opinion about those events and programs, and determine at what capacity library patrons and Friends members would like to be involved with Friends activities.

However, after discussing the project with library Director and project sponsor Debra Roy, Cady said the scope was expanded to include all library services and programs.

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

During conversations about the project with Roy, Cady said people don’t consider the library’s programs and the Friends of the Library-offered events and activities separate functions.

She also noted that the project deliverables were expanded to include a list of the library’s offerings, an analysis of who the library’s stakeholders are, and a cross-section of who holds a stake in the program’s and services offered there.

Other deliverables in the original plan were evaluation criteria for the Friends events, focus group moderator and observer-recorder training, five completed focus group sessions and a patron summary report, which Cady predicted will be delivered by the April 11 project deadline.

The dates for some the sessions had to be extended, Cady pointed out, primarily because other groups often reserve the library meeting room. Instead, she said the sessions that needed to be rescheduled were conducted elsewhere.

The tasks necessary to complete the project aren’t in Cady’s proposal, but are highlighted in the status report.

“I want people to know how much work this really was,” she said.

A planning committee was also established and met for four weeks beginning on Feb. 7. Initially, Cady said she thought some of the tasks would be distributed among outside volunteers.

“I had expected that we would have used (Friends members) more,” said Cady. “This group did all of the work by itself.”

Members divided the responsibilities of contacting and enlisting participants, planning meals for the focus group meetings and enacting the plan.

Cady led the project. Friends member Maureen Babcock assigned callers who contacted potential focus group participants. Children’s librarian Kathleen Farrar took charge of room setup for the group sessions. Roy ordered and picked up the food provided at each session.

Additionally, Friends member Beth Wade donated paper goods, beverages and the use of her camcorder. Polly McGrath sent handwritten thank-you notes and helped with video equipment scheduling, states Cady’s report.

“I’ve had quite a few really impressed people because of the handwritten notes,” said Cady.

She said she and her husband, Stewart, converted video taken at the sessions to computer-readable files.

Overall, the project went very smoothly, she said.

“We had a plan, and we stuck to our plan,” said Cady.

The Friends thanked her for her services, which she provided pro bono.

“You have no idea how thrilled I was when you proposed, ‘Let’s do a focus group,'” said Roy. “It’s turned out better than I could have expected.”

Cady’s professional background includes extensive experience conducting focus groups and marketing services. She retired from Hewlett-Packard after 11 years, but she said she plans to start a consulting business in the near future.

Cady said she would consider providing the same service to other libraries once she starts her business.

“I can see how libraries could need this,” said Friends member Cheryl Gregory.

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