Implications of Using Focus Groups to Improve Library Services
Wilson-Matusky, Deborah K., School Libraries Worldwide
Focus groups have been used to improve services in a variety of arenas. In educational settings, they have been used in improving classroom teachers' performance, in general professional development, and in addressing areas of concern in the school setting. This research explores the effectiveness of focus groups in a school library media setting to improve library services to users, with particular emphasis on prioritizing concerns and generating solutions. Recommendations of the focus groups were compared with recommendations from the school librarian based on analysis of the data. As a result, a combined action plan was developed for guiding the future practices of the school library.
Background of the Study
The school library program has the potential to influence every aspect of teaching and learning processes. It touches each student in the school and is an essential partner for teachers and their curricula. Recent studies conducted by Lance (1999) and numerous others have shown that the quality of the library program directly relates to student achievement (Baughman, 2002; Baumbach, 2002; Lance). The last 25 years have changed the direction of school library programs. The library is much more than a collection of print resources. Technology has become an integral means of achieving learning goals. Research shows that users, both students and teachers, require a broad spectrum of resources, instruction, and also a skilled school librarian to guide them in their research journeys.
A broad paradigm shift has taken place in school libraries in the United States. According to Lamb and Johnson (2004), "Over the past several decades the focus of the library media program has shifted from building a warehouse of materials to an emphasis on creating a collaborative community of lifelong learners" (Overview, para 2).
As school librarians in the Baltimore County Public Schools, we are excited and encouraged by these changes and have committed ourselves to designing a program that welcomes users and supports their interests and learning needs. According to the American Library Association (2003), the school library should be a place of opportunity for students:
* Where all students can strive for and achieve success
* Where quality collections are provided, in print and online, that support the curriculum and address a variety of learning needs
* Where students develop a love of reading and literature
* Where library media specialists help students explore the world around them through print and electronic media
* Where students can work individually or in small groups on research and collaborative projects, (p. 2)
The role of the school librarian involves various roles: teacher, instructional partner, information specialist, and program administrator (American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 1998). In Baltimore County Public Schools, school librarians work as information specialists by finding authoritative information electronically, as well as building and maintaining a broad scope of print resources. We work as instructional partners who collaborate with classroom teachers to support the curriculum and help design their instruction. We are teachers concerned with helping students develop information literacy skills. As program administrators, we also have the responsibility for allocating funds for building collections that support the curricular areas offered in the school and maintaining an efficient and effective program readily available to staff, students, and the community. Ultimately, we are the decision-makers for the school libraries.
As school librarians, we are concerned with the quality of our programs, especially as our users perceive it. Often we may think we are providing all that is needed; yet our users may see our program differently. Certainly they can offer other perspectives and insight. …