OPLIN Focus Groups 2007: Report

    1. Introduction
    2. Methodology
    3. Session Flow General Outline
    4. Discoveries by Category
      1. Databases
      2. Connections
      3. Keeping Up With Technology
      4. Communications/Marketing
    5. Executive Director’s Discussion and Recommendations


    1. Introduction

    In the fall of 2007, OPLIN invited select library staff from across the state of Ohio to participate in focus groups to help OPLIN set its future priorities. The OPLIN board asked Wayne Piper of OLC to conduct these focus groups.

    The collective findings from the focus groups conducted by OPLIN staff proved to be fairly consistent statewide. Bandwidth and databases were the two main areas of interest for most of the attending library staff. There was also a recurrent request for the public library community to be made aware of both new and existing OPLIN services and undertakings. There seemed to be a genuine interest in understanding OPLIN’s role and in providing feedback that may help shape its future. The focus group settings tied into this interest wonderfully as it allowed OPLIN staff to discuss the role of OPLIN in the context of public libraries. Furthermore, library staff seemed pleased that OPLIN was soliciting their input and were eager and willing to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

    2. Methodology

    Library staff members were, in general, selected by the directors of their corresponding regional location. It was suggested that they choose individuals who direct or manage small libraries, branches or departments and imperative that they be both candid and verbal.

    The focus groups were held at the following locations, with representatives from the following libraries:

    • Central: Delaware County District Library, September 12, 2007
      • Columbus Metropolitan Library (2)
      • Newark Public Library
      • Westerville Public Library
      • Community Library (Sunbury)
      • Delaware County District Library
      • Worthington Libraries
      • Grandview Heights Public Library
    • Northwest: NORWELD, September 19, 2007
      • Ada Public Library
      • Wood County District Public Library
      • Tiffin-Seneca Public Library
      • Ida Rupp Public Library (Port Clinton)
      • Norwalk Public Library
      • Willard Memorial Library
      • Logan County District Library
      • Auglaize County Public District Library
      • Kaubisch Memorial Public Library (Fostoria)
      • Liberty Center Public Library
    • Northeast: NEO-RLS, October 3, 2007
      • East Palestine Memorial Public Library
      • Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library
      • Hudson Library and Historical Society
      • Warren-Trumbull County Public Library
      • McKinley Memorial Library (Niles)
      • Perry Public Library
      • Hubbard Public Library
      • Avon Lake Public Library
      • Mansfield-Richland County Public Library
      • Shaker Heights Public Library
    • Southeast: SERLS, October 31, 2007
      • Wellston Public Library
      • Herbert Wescoat Memorial Library (McArthur)
      • Portsmouth Public Library
      • Nelsonville Public Library
      • Pickaway County District Public Library
      • Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library
      • Washington County Public Library
      • Garnet A Wilson Public Library of Pike County
      • Briggs Lawrence County Public Library
    • Southwest: SWON, November 6, 2007
      • Clermont County Public Library
      • Adams County Public Library
      • Highland County District Library
      • Blanchester Public Library
      • Middletown Public Library
      • Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (2)

    3. Session Flow General Outline

    Everyone is introduced
    Why we’re here
    -You’re here to help OPLIN staff better understand the role OPLIN plays in your daily work and the technology challenges you face serving customers in your library.
    -Stephen and Laura are here to listen, observe, and record their impressions of your remarks, to answer questions about OPLIN, and to summarize our work at day’s end.
    -Wayne is here to facilitate this discussion in an objective way, to engage each of you in the conversation, and to keep our conversation on task.
    Impressions of OPLIN
    -Describe the role OPLIN plays in your daily work. You might also want to offer insights into how colleagues and customers use OPLIN or how your library has integrated OPLIN into its website. Be candid.
    Your technology challenges
    -What technology challenges do you face in your library on a regular basis?
    -What do you wish technology could do for your library? (The "vision" thing.)
    -An example might be...
    -Stephen and Laura can "scribe" the conversations.
    What will happen next
    -Stephen wraps up the day with general remarks on how OPLIN might use the information gathered to continue to move the organization forward in service to Ohio’s public libraries.

    4. Discoveries by Category

    4.1 Databases

    • Google vs. OPLIN
      • Library users want instant gratification with their search.
      • OPLIN search should look "more like Google."
      • Staff wants relevancy-ranked results.
    • Presentation
      • Customers don’t realize that they can access the databases remotely.
      • Customers don’t care where the databases come from.
      • Customers aren’t aware that the resources are paid for.
      • Users want to be able to search catalog and databases at the same time.
      • The word "database" is confusing to customers.
      • Library staff often associate OPLIN with databases, but aren’t sure which databases are provided via OPLIN due to a "seamless integration."
      • Users want information immediately, not after a lengthy, cumbersome, non-intuitive search.
      • Databases are generally confusing to library customers.
      • Libraries link to OPLIN databases from their homepages.
      • Staff prefers the subject listing over the alphabetical listing.
    • Most useful/requested databases
      • NoveList (use frequently)
      • NewsBank (use frequently)
      • EBSCO, specifically: MasterFILE Premier, Student Resource Center (use frequently)
      • Health Databases (use frequently)
      • eLibrary (use frequently)
      • Heritage Quest (requested)
      • Legal Forms Database (requested)
      • Gale Contemporary Authors (requested)
      • Literary Criticism is a "hole" in the collection (requested)
    • Future of reference databases
      • The more users can search multiple sources at one time, the better.
      • Users want fast, relevant results.
      • The ease of use is key to database interfaces.
      • Staff would like for the federated search to include locally purchased databases in addition to the statewide resources.
      • Some staff feel that the future of databases is uncertain.
    • Training
      • Both library staff and customers are unaware of what databases are and how to access them.
      • Library staff often use the e-trainings provided by Jay Burton at SLO.
      • Some feel that staff wouldn’t want to take the time to be trained on databases.
      • One library director talked about how they provide staff with one hour per week for training purposed.
      • Teachers and professors are not teaching students how to use reference databases.
      • Some libraries are allowing staff time to "play" with the databases to increase familiarity.
      • Some feel that promoting the databases begins with staff training.
      • Explaining the databases takes instruction from reference staff.
      • Some would like to see internal database training: "staff teaching staff."
      • Some staff would prefer interactive online tutorials.

    4.2 Connections

    • More bandwidth, please
      • Almost everyone who attended the focus groups talked about bandwidth issues.
      • Staff would like to utilize software that moderates bandwidth and prioritizes traffic.
      • Many libraries block Myspace.
      • Bandwidth slows after school.
      • Some staff would like to have the public and staff usage separated (with staff use receiving the higher priority).
    • OPLIN as a utility
      • OPLIN is viewed as an "invisible" utility.
      • Some libraries buy additional circuits.
      • All of the focus groups were extremely pleased with the OPLIN Support Center and the self-service function.
      • Libraries would like OPLIN to be more up-to-date (i.e. no more T1 lines).
      • Libraries are interested in OPLIN web hosting and web templates.
      • Libraries want wireless connectivity.
    • Spam
      • There were many complaints about spam. Some staff even stopped using their OPLIN email address because of all the spam.

    4.3 Keeping Up With Technology

    • Public computers
      • Libraries need more space for computers, more computers, and the funds to purchase them.
      • It was suggested that OPLIN offer technology training for the general public.
      • Libraries want technology replacement plans.
      • Libraries are using or would like to use time and/or print management software.
      • Some libraries are experimenting with open source solutions.
      • Customers want scanning and fax capabilities.
      • Many libraries use OPLIN as a homepage for the public computers.
      • Library staff are wanting to upgrade their machines to run Vista and/or Office 2007.
      • More people on computers means that more staff is needed.
      • Customers want more computers and more computer time.
    • Staff training
      • There was a general consensus that library staff needs more/better technology/computer training.
      • Libraries find it difficult to ensure that all staff are up to date on technology changes and advancements.
      • Libraries feel that any tech support at all is hard to come by.
      • Smaller libraries have a harder time keeping up with technology demands.
      • Libraries have staff that are "techno-phobic."
      • Library staff would like to increase their library’s web presence.

    4.4 Communications/Marketing

    • Databases
      • Library staff would like to see the databases promoted more.
      • Libraries want to place their own branding with the databases.
      • Staff feel that teachers need to be educated about online resources (databases included).
      • Staff feel that the brochures used to educate customers about databases are outdated and visually unappealing and would like to see brochures by subject listing.
    • OPLIN Services
      • When library staff thinks of OPLIN, they think of connectivity and databases.
      • However, most library staff and customers don’t know what OPLIN is, or what services they provide.
      • Library staff think that library professionals should be aware of OPLIN, but not necessarily the general public.
      • Because funding is sometimes based on awareness, there is a need to promote OPLIN more.
      • Staff feels that the name "OPLIN" is vague and non-descript.
      • Libraries feel that OPLIN is failing to promote itself to them.
      • Staff would like more communication when it comes to resources being added or taken away as well as more say in decision-making processes (i.e. the OPLIN Content Advisory Committee, communicating what OPLIN is "exploring").
      • Staff would like to see continued use of the OPLIN listservs.
      • Library staff admit that OPLIN branding gets lost in library marketing efforts.
    • Support
      • Library staff would like to have an OPLIN newsletter (in several formats) available to them to keep them up-to-date.

    5. Executive Director’s Discussion and Recommendations

    Let me begin by stating that the reason for doing the focus groups was to help the OPLIN Board decide on future spending priorities. In particular, the Board looked ahead at the April 2007 meeting to the possibility that OPLIN might have some excess E-Rate funds, but we were not sure how to plan for spending those funds. Accordingly, the Board agreed to ask Wayne Piper and OLC to facilitate five small focus groups around the state to find out what librarians think they need. We intentionally avoided inviting "major players" in the state to these groups, since Board members and the OPLIN staff often have contact with these library leaders in various other meetings around the state and thus have many opportunities to collect their opinions. Instead, we wanted to hear from the librarians who use OPLIN in their daily work and face daily technology challenges in the library, but may not get many opportunities to voice their concerns.

    All groups started by discussing the databases, the first thing they thought of when asked how they use OPLIN in their daily work. Much of the discussion was not surprising, revolving around the difficulties in getting the public to use the databases. There was very little sentiment for purchasing more databases; almost all the discussion concerned improving access and usability of the databases we already buy, with many mentions of Google as a competitor.

    At some point the groups would remember that they also get their Internet connectivity from OPLIN. This sometimes was expressed as a plea for more bandwidth, but often as a simple "thank you" to OPLIN for something they take for granted. When they turn on their computers in the morning, they trust that the Internet will be there. The OPLIN connection is a dependable "utility" serving their library. In the rare cases when they had a problem, they were effusive in their praise of the Support Center.

    When asked about their daily technology challenges, it became clear that public computing is becoming a burden on libraries. Members of the group with purchasing authority were concerned about finding space for more computers and finding funds to purchase and replace computers, especially in light of the demands of the new Vista operating system. Members of the group who spent a significant amount of their time in direct contact with patrons lamented their inability to answer many of the questions they get from public computer users, and expressed a desire for more computer training.

    After listening to all five groups and then discussing with Wayne and Laura what we had heard, my first impression was that OPLIN’s current spending addresses many of the major technology needs of libraries. We are spending money to develop an interface to the databases that will probably not "beat" Google (can anyone do that?), but may at least let us compete in the same arena. Once that interface is developed, we plan to spend money on marketing and promotion of the databases. We are spending money to upgrade our Internet connections, though we perhaps could be more aggressive in that spending. We were able to address some of the groups’ concerns, such as placing stricter limits on e-mail spam, fairly quickly without any major expenditure of funds. And even though computer training is not something we have identified as an OPLIN service, we do have Jay Burton from the State Library doing database training for us. My first reaction was that OPLIN is doing a pretty good job.

    On further reflection, however, I believe we can do more:

    • I recommend that OPLIN continue to spend money on web site development and usability testing for the Ohio Web Library site, but I also recommend that we spend money to upgrade public libraries’ web sites. These sites should be able to take full advantage of the Ohio Web Library and provide an attractive "home" for links to OWL. While we may not have enough resources to do this ourselves, I recommend we reconsider combining our resources with other groups, particularly recommending that we reconsider membership in the Plinkit Collaborative (www.plinkit.org).
    • I recommend that OPLIN become more aggressive in upgrading the Internet connections to libraries. In particular, I recommend that we upgrade the connection of every library that is consistently using over 80% of current circuit capacity during peak afternoon hours. Where Ethernet is available, that should be our upgrade path.
    • I recommend that OPLIN purchase a block of online technology courses from WebJunction, to be added to the block of general courses (800 hours) being purchased by the State Library. We had considered this action before, but were unhappy with the WebJunction course selection. That selection has now improved and looks like it would address many of the computer training needs of libraries.
    • I recommend that OPLIN plan to spend significant funds on media promotion of the Ohio Web Library once a satisfactory user interface has been developed.
    • I recommend that OPLIN repeat these focus groups in two years, with new participants. Our experience this time has shown us that holding these focus groups is a very strong public relations tool.

    Finally, I recommend that the funds needed to accomplish the above recommendations come from E-Rate reserves.