Focus Group Technique for Research on Libraries

Focus Group as a Tool for Research in Libraries

A Bibliographic Survey by Dr. Mohamed Taher

This bibliography is dedicated to a pioneer, Patricia M. Cavill
who introduced me to this market research method in Librarianship

Pat Cavill, President, Pat Cavill Consulting
Focus groups are an under-utilized market research tool in many libraries. Yet, they are cheaper than questionnaires and the results tend to have a greater influence on decision makers because they use the words and feelings of library supporters. OLA Super Conference 2006
Pat Cavill Awarded the 
CLA Outstanding Service to Librarianship Award for 2005



What is a Focus Group:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaA focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their attitude towards a product, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. In the world of marketing, focus groups are an important tool for acquiring feedback regarding new products, as well as various topics.

ODLIS: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science: A small group of people assembled by a researcher to identify through informal discussion the key issues and/or themes related to a research topic, often to facilitate development of a more quantitative methodology, such as a survey. An effort may be made to select a representative sample of the larger cohort used in subsequent research. Focus groups are sometimes used in library research and strategic planning, for example, to determine user needs and preferences in the development of a technology plan. The technique is also used extensively in business for qualitative research on consumer behavior. Online focus groups are used in the evaluation of Web-based services.








Are Focus Groups Really Obsolete? Or Just One Tool out of Many?



This bibliography is a sample of the existing printed literature -- eighty citations published between 1986 and 2005. The themes, in this list, include acquisitions, collection development, marketing, information literacy, use, and user studies, customer satisfaction, etc., in public, academic, special (i.e., scientific, health and business libraries). The arrangement is chronological, and among others is intended to show the growth pattern, if any, as well as, acceptability, adaptation and contribution of this method in data collection. While, capturing the scattered literature is the purpose here, two steps are necessary and may be considered in future: first, annotate, and second evaluate these citations to identify some significant core areas and directions - applying both qualitative and quantitative methods. .Also, there must be a Canadian survey of print, online and digital resources.


  • Effect of Internet Book Reviews on Purchase Intention: A Focus Group Study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 31 no. 5 (September 2005) p. 461-8

  • Huber, J. T., et. al., F2F Connection: a community health information needs assessment of Texas families who have children with chronic illnesses and/or disabilities and their care providers. Journal of the Medical Library Association v. 93 no. 2 (April 2005) p. 278-81

  • Lee, D. Can You Hear Me Now? Using Focus Groups to Enhance Marketing Research. Library Administration & Management v. 19 no. 2 (Spring 2005) p. 100-1

  • Roddy, K. Community profiling. Library & Information Update v. 4 no. 5 (May 2005) p. 40-1


  • Elhard, K. C., et. al., Shifting focus: Assessing cataloging service through focus groups. Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services v. 28 no. 2 (2004) p. 196-204

  • Dickson, V. Collaboration plus! The development of an information literacy and communication program. Australian Library Journal v. 53 no. 2 (May 2004) p. 153-60

  • Harris, P., et. al., What It Means to Be "In-Between": A Focus Group Analysis of Barriers Faced by Children Aged 7 to 11 Using Public Libraries. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science v. 28 no. 4 (December 2004) p. 3-24

  • Hughes-Hassell, S., et. al., Using Focus Group Interviews to Improve Library Services for Youth. Teacher Librarian v. 32 no. 1 (O 2004) p. 8-12

  • Morrison, R., et. al., Taking Assessment on the Road: Utah Academic Librarians Focus on Distance Learners. Journal of Library Administration v. 41 no. 1/2 (2004) p. 327-44


  • Ho, J., et. al., User Perceptions of the "Reliability" of Library Services at Texas A&M University: A Focus Group Study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 29 no. 2 (March 2003) p. 82-7

  • Leighton, H. V., et. al., Web Page Design and Successful Use: A Focus Group Study. Internet Reference Services Quarterly v. 8 no. 3 (2003) p. 17-27

  • Shoaf, E. C. Using a Professional Moderator in Library Focus Group Research. College & Research Libraries v. 64 no. 2 (March 2003) p. 124-32

  • Seggern, M. V., et. al., The focus group method in libraries: issues relating to process and data analysis. Reference Services Review v. 31 no. 3 (2003) p. 272-84


  • Alexander, K., reviewer Focus groups for libraries and librarians (Book Review). Medical Reference Services Quarterly v. 21 no. 1 (Spring 2002) p. 93-4

  • Cavill, P. The power of focus groups. PNLA Quarterly v. 66 no. 2 (Winter 2002) p. 4-6

  • Crowley, G. H., et. al., User perceptions of the library's Web pages: a focus group study at Texas A&M University. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 28 no. 4 (July 2002) p. 205-10

  • Everhart, N., et. al., Using focus groups with young people [to improve school library programs]. Knowledge Quest v. 30 no. 3 (January/February 2002) p. 36-7

  • Henner, T. A., et. al., Using Focus Groups to Guide Development of a Public Health Web Site [At the University of Nevada School of Medicine]. Medical Reference Services Quarterly v. 21 no. 4 (Winter 2002) p. 15-22

  • Higa-Moore, M. L., et. al., Use of focus groups in a library's strategic planning process [University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Library]. Journal of the Medical Library Association v. 90 no. 1 (January 2002) p. 86-92

  • Marmion, D. Editorial: listening to our users [preliminary results from a focus group study of online searching behaviors]. Information Technology and Libraries v. 21 no. 2 (June 2002) p. 44

  • Mehra, B., et. al., Scenarios in the Afya Project as a Participatory Action Research (PAR) Tool for Studying Information Seeking and Use Across the "Digital Divide". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology v. 53 no. 14 (December 2002) p. 1259-66

  • Perry, V. E. Putting Knowledge to Work Effectively: Assessing Information Needs Through Focus Groups. INSPEL v. 36 no. 4 (2002) p. 254- 65


  • Large, A., et. al., Focus Groups with Children: Do they Work?. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science v. 26 no. 2/3 (June/September 2001) p. 77-89

  • Leach, A. Information provision in a rural context: the perspectives of rural adults [In KwaZulu-Natal]. South African Journal of Library and Information Science v. 67 no. 2 (2001) p. 51-62

  • Milliot, J. New focus leads to Varsity Group's first profit. Publishers Weekly v. 248 no. 45 (November 5 2001) p. 12

  • Searing, S. E., et. al., The Future of Scientific Publishing on the Web: Insights from Focus Groups of Chemists. Portal v. 1 no. 1 (January 2001) p. 77-96

  • Vogel, I. An online impact assessment tool for research information: some preliminary concepts. Information Development v. 17 no. 2 (June 2001) p. 111-14

  • Verny, R., et. al., Case study 2.2: conducting focus groups {to evaluate Kent State University School of Library and Information Science}. In: Library evaluation. Libraries Unlimited, 2001

  • Young, N. J., et. al., General information seeking in changing times: a focus group study. Reference & User Services Quarterly v. 41 no. 2 (Winter 2001) p. 159-69


  • Cast, M. Community college focus group: comments from the 2000 ALA Midwinter Meeting. College & Research Libraries News v. 61 no. 5 (May 2000) p. 384

  • Cavill, P. M. Focus groups: guiding the development of Teacher librarian [at the AASL/IASL joint conference, November 1999, Birmingham, Alabama]. Teacher Librarian v. 27 no. 3 (February 2000) p. 67-8

  • Chase, L. C., et. al., Internet research: the role of the focus group [use of the focus group technique in online format] . Library & Information Science Research v. 22 no. 4 (2000) p. 357-69

  • Killingsworth, B. L., et. al., [The Use of Focus Groups in the Design and Development of a National Labor Exchange System] [computer file]. First Monday (Online) v. 5 no. 7 (July 2000) p. 1  

  • Norlin, E. Reference evaluation: a three-step approach--surveys, unobtrusive observations, and focus groups [at the University of Arizona]. College & Research Libraries v. 61 no. 6 (November 2000) p. 546-53

  • Schneider, J. M., reviewer Focus groups for libraries and librarians (Book Review). Bulletin of the Medical Library Association v. 88 no. 3 (July 2000) p. 279-80 

  • Welsh, Jennifer, Focus groups in library and information services:  report of a pilot study, The New Review of Information and Library Research. 6, 2000


  • Bex, J., et. al., Users' views on UK academic networked information services. Education for Information v. 17 no. 2 (June 1999) p. 145-54


  • Bluh, P. M. Ulrich's focus group meeting, October 27, 1997 [in Florham Park, New Jersey]. Serials Review v. 24 no. 1 (Spring 1998) p. 118- 20

  • Curran, C. C., et. al., Using focus groups to gather information for LIS curriculum review [at the University of South Carolina]. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science v. 39 no. 3 (Summer 1998) p. 175- 82

  • Massey-Burzio, V. From the other side of the reference desk: a focus group study [at Johns Hopkins University]. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 24 no. 3 (May 1998) p. 208-15

  • Nord, L. L. Talking with young adults: a focus group experience [evaluating YA services at Johnson County Library]. Voice of Youth Advocates v. 21 no. 5 (December 1998) p. 343-6

  • November, S. Field notes: I'm not a teenager--I just read like one. The Horn Book v. 74 no. 6 (November/December 1998) p. 775-80

  • Ozinga, C. J. Focus groups view public libraries [report of a session at the 1998 PLA Conference]. The Unabashed Librarian no. 108 (1998) p. 4

  • Rose, P. M., et. al., A focus group approach to assessing technostress at the reference desk [at the Health Sciences Library at SUNY Buffalo]. Reference & User Services Quarterly v. 37 no. 4 (Summer 1998) p. 311-17

  • Schafer, S. A. Student satisfaction with library services: results of evaluation using focus groups {at Athabasca University}. In: The eighth Off-Campus Library Services Conference proceedings. Central Mich. Univ., 1998

  • SLA members speak: technology focus groups. Information Outlook v. 2 no. 9 (September 1998) p. 33


  • Beachboard, J. C. Assessing the Information Technology Management Reform Act from a bureau's perspective [focus group of bureau-level managers]. Government Information Quarterly v. 14 no. 3 (1997) p. 291-311

  • Bertot, J. C., et. al., Key issues affecting the development of federal IRM: a view from the trenches [focus group on information resources management]. Government Information Quarterly v. 14 no. 3 (1997) p. 271-90

  • Connaway, L. S., et. al., Online catalogs from the users' perspective: the use of focus group interviews [at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library]. College & Research Libraries v. 58 (September 1997) p. 403-20

  • Glitz, B. The focus group technique in library research: an introduction [based on a presentation at the 1996 MLA Conference]. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association v. 85 no. 4 (October 1997) p. 385-90

  • Goulding, A. Joking, being aggressive and shutting people up: the use of focus groups in LIS research. Education for Information v. 15 no. 4 (December 1997) p. 331-41

  • Morrison, H. G. Information literacy skills: an exploratory focus group study of student perceptions [at Concordia University College of Alberta]. Research Strategies v. 15 (Winter 1997) p. 4-17

  • Mutter, J. BISAC group to focus on Net commerce. Publishers Weekly v. 244 (September 29 1997) p. 25-6

  • Parang, E. Using focus groups to match user expectations with library constraints [at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Library; workshop report from the 1996 NASIG Conference]. The Serials Librarian v. 31 no. 1-2 (1997) p. 335-9

  • Kaufman, D. B., et. al., Using student employees to focus preservation awareness campaigns {Virginia Tech Libraries}. In: Promoting preservation awareness in libraries. Greenwood Press, 1997


  • Connaway, L. S. Focus group interviews: a data collection methodology for decision making [bibliographical essay] . Library Administration & Management v. 10 (Fall 1996) p. 231-9

  • Johnson, D. W. Focus groups. In: The Tell it! manual. American Lib. Assn., 1996

  • Kerslake, E., et. al., Focus groups: their use in LIS research data collection. Education for Information v. 14 (October 1996) p. 225-32

  • McNeil, J. S. Publish electronically or perish [presented at the 1995 Charleston Conference]. Library Acquisitions v. 20 (Fall 1996) p. 359-61

  • Tyerman, K. Getting things in focus: the use of focus groups in Brent Libraries [to monitor service to the ethnically diverse community]. Library Management v. 17 no. 2 (1996) p. 36-9

  • Waters, M. R. T. A children's focus group discussion in a public library: part two [in Texas]. Public Library Quarterly v. 15 no. 3 (1996) p. 5-7

  • Waters, M. R. T. A children's focus group discussion in a public library: part one [in Texas]. Public Library Quarterly v. 15 no. 2 (1996) p. 5-6

  • Waters, M. R. T. From the mouths of the young: what children and young people think about the public library. Public Library Quarterly v. 15 no. 4 (1996) p. 3- 16


  • Alreck and Settle, Survey Research Handbook (1995).
    Advantages of Focus Group: There are a number of advantages of surveys including: spontaneity, subjectivity, stimulation, speed, simplicity, structure, specialization, selectivity, and secrecy, (p. 394) cited in UO Thesis, sequence=1

  • Canning, C. S., et. al., Using focus groups to evaluate library services in a problem-based learning curriculum [J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library]. Medical Reference Services Quarterly v. 14 (Fall 1995) p. 75-81

  • Oberg, D., et. al., Focus group interviews: a tool for program evaluation in school library education [at the University of Alberta]. Education for Information v. 13 (June 1995) p. 117-29


  • Batchelor, K., et. al., Expressions of interest in Brent [focus group discussions]. Library Association Record v. 96 (October 1994) p. 554-5

  • Milliot, J. Business watch: Inland sold to Miller Group; small press to remain focus. Publishers Weekly v. 241 (July 18 1994) p. 16

  • Mullaly-Quijas, P., et. al., Using focus groups to discover health professionals' information needs: a regional marketing study [conducted by the Midcontinental Region of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine; presented at the 1993 MLA Conference]. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association v. 82 (July 1994) p. 305-11


  • Carlson, L. T., et. al., The role of focus groups in the identification of user needs and data availability [by the EIA]. Government Information Quarterly v. 10 no. 1 (1993) p. 89-100

  • LaChance, S. The impact of user focus groups on the design of new products. In: 14th National Online Meeting. Learned Information, 1993

  • Valentine, B. Undergraduate research behavior: using focus groups to generate theory [at Linfield College]. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 19 (November 1993) p. 300- 4

  • Young, V. L. Focus on focus groups [expansion of a presentation made at ACRL's sixth National Conference in April 1992]. College & Research Libraries News no. 7 (July/August 1993) p. 391-4


  • Hernon, P., et. al., Literature reviews and inaccurate referencing: an exploratory study of academic librarians [based on focus group interviews at 5 ARL institutions]. College & Research Libraries v. 53 (November 1992) p. 499-512

  • Johnson, D. W. Keeping things in focus: information for decision making {focus group interviews}. In: Keeping the book$. Highsmith Press, 1992


  • Baker, S. L. Improving business services through the use of focus groups [at Iowa City Public Library]. RQ v. 30 (Spring 1991) p. 377- 85

  • Day, C. Open group discussions as a market research method: a study on young adults' views of the library service in the London borough of Ealing [using focus groups]. Library Association Record v. 93 (June 1991) p. 389-90+

  • MacRitchie, J. The virtue of fools [Ealing library's young adult focus groups]. Scottish Libraries no. 28 (July/August 1991) p. 9

  • Mitchell, Z. O. Focus group afterthoughts [ALA project on support staff sponsored by a 1990 World Book-ALA goal award] . Colorado Libraries v. 17 (June 1991) p. 32-3

  • Roy, L. What is qualitative research? [direct observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and oral history]. Journal of Youth Services in Libraries v. 5 (Fall 1991) p. 105-7

  • Scott, R. N., et. al., Don't ask unless you really want to know! Tapping branch campus library users' perceptions with focus group interviews {at Georgia College}. In: The fifth Off-campus Library Services Conference proceedings. Central Mich. Univ. Press, 1991

  • Widdows, R., et. al., The focus group interview: a method for assessing users' evaluation of library service [at Purdue]. College & Research Libraries v. 52 (July 1991) p. 352-9


  • Devin, R. B. The focus group: impressions of a participant [at a session held by Elsevier's New York office]. Serials Review v. 16 no. 1 (1990) p. 96-8

  • Leather, D. J. How the focus group technique can strengthen the development of a building program. Library Administration & Management v. 4 (Spring 1990) p. 92-5

  • Manning, H. M., et. al., Focus group research: a case study [ASIS self-examination]. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science v. 17 (October/November 1990) p. 7-10

  • Robbins, K., et. al., Hospital library evaluation using focus group interviews. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association v. 78 (July 1990) p. 311-13

  • Tagler, J. From behind the mirror [use of focus groups by Elsevier's New York office]. Serials Review v. 16 no. 1 (1990) p. 94- 5


  • Burroughs, R. Book publishers focus on librarian focus groups. Library Journal (1976) v. 114 (March 15 1989) p. 48-9


  • Hutton, B., et. al., Focus groups: linkages to the community [at Denver Public Library]. Public Libraries v. 27 (Fall 1988) p. 149-50+


  • Focus groups [for publicizing library services and getting community feedback]. The Unabashed Librarian no. 59 (1986) p. 20

  • Scharf, M. K., et. al., A library research application of focus group interviews. In: Energies for transition. Association of College & Res. Libs., 1986

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