The objective of this paper is to describe the focus group process used with hospital librarians in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region (NN/LM/PSR), in order to illustrate how focus groups can be effectively used in the library setting to plan programmes around identified needs. This paper explores the focus group methodology, a qualitative research technique, by discussing why it is used and the process involved in its use. Aspects of the methodology that are discussed include participant selection, question development, data analysis, and use of results in programme planning. The focus group findings assisted NN/LM/PSR in understanding the needs of hospital librarians related to integrating electronic resources into library services. The focus group data were used to determine the forum, content and speakers for a day-long symposium and subsequent planning meeting. The use of the focus group technique to assess the needs of a specific group on a specific issue resulted in activities and programmes that met these needs successfully. Based on the experiences detailed in this paper, the authors are confident that focus groups are an effective tool for programme planning, needs assessment and decision-making for all types of libraries.