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Library Anxiety

Library Anxiety

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Published by: zirb on May 22, 2012
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05/08/2015

 
THE IMPLICATIONS OF LIBRARYANXIETY FOR ACADEMICREFERENCE SERVICES: A REVIEWOF THE LITERATURE
Academic reference librarians continually observethat many students
are
embarrassed about
not
knowing
how to use the
library
and are
reluctant
to
approach
the
reference desk.
The
theory
of
libraryanxiety offers
an
explanation, proposing that
a
fear
of
being
in and
using libraries serves
as a
psychologicalbarrier, hindering many university students fromusing
the
library efficiently
and
effectively. Thisreview integrates
the
literature
on
library anxiety
and
summarises
the
implications
for
academic referenceservices.
It is
based
on a
literature review submittedin partial fulfilment
of the
Master
in
Library
and
Information Management
at
Charles Sturt University.
AARLJune 2007 vol 38 no 2pp
129-147.
Heather CarlUe,
Off
Campus Librarian, GriffithUniversity Library,
Mt
Gravatt Campus, Nathan,
Qld
4111.
Email: H.Carlile@griffith.edu.au
L
ibrary anxiety
can
create significant barriers
to
students'
use of the
academic library. Although
its
nature
and
effects
arc
well documented,there
is
little
in the
literature dealing directly with
the
implications
of
library anxiety
for the
provision
of
reference services.
To
provide
a
referenceservice that meets
the
needs
of all
clients,
it is
important
to
understand
the
sources
of
library anxiety, identify who is susceptible
to it, and be
aware of whatcan
be
done
to
minimise
its
negative effects. This review provides
an
integratedoverview
of
the available literature
on
library anxiety
in
order
to
highlight
the
implications of this phenomenon for the provision of effective academic referenceservices.
The
term
library anxiety
was first used
in
1986
by
Mellon
to
describethe negative and uncomfortable feelings experienced by many university studentswhen using,
or
contemplating using,
the
academic library.
As a
psychologicalbarrier
to
effective library
use,
library anxiety needs
to be
understood
by
reference librarians, who interact daily with students
in the
library environment.
Australian Academic
&
Research Libraries June 2007
129
 
Heather Carlile
In this literature review, academic reference service is defined as the provision ofassistance, help and support to students in accessing, using and understandingthe library, its resources and equipment.This review is divided into three parts. The first outlines the theory of libraryanxiety. The second provides an integrated analysis ofthe research, review anddiscussion articles, theses, dissertations and conference papers, and book thathave built upon Mellon's theory of library anxiety. It notes the ways in whichlibrary anxiety has been identified and measured, summarises the sources,independent variables, and negative effects ofthe phenomenon, and synthesisesresults and observations about how library anxiety may be reduced. The reviewconcludes with a discussion ofthe implications of library anxiety for the provisionof academic reference serviees, offering recommendations for future practiceand further research,
THE THEORY OF LIBRARY ANXIETY
The term
library anxiety
was first used by Mellon in 1986 to describe the senseof fear and anxiety reported by 75% to 85% of the students she studied, whenconfronted with the need to conduct research in an academie library for thefirst time. In her two-year qualitative study involving the thematic analysis ofthe personal writings of 6 000 undergraduate students, Mellon identified therecurrent themes of fear, confusion, a sense of being overpowered or lost, and afeeling of helplessness and dread, in the students' approach to having to use thelibrary to conduct researeh, Mellon likened the library phobia described by thestudents to that of math or test anxiety, and suggested that the use of the termlibrary anxiety may lead to this phenomenon being treated as an accepted anxietythat can then be counteracted. The broad themes identified by Mellon were thatstudents saw their own library skills as inadequate and the skills of others as beingadequate, and that this 'inadequacy' was seen as 'shameful', leading to a fearthat their ignoranee would be revealed if they asked librarians for help, Mellon'sgrounded theory of library anxiety proposes that when students are confrontedwith the need to gather information in the library, many become so anxiousthat they are unable to approach the problem logically and effectively. Libraryanxiety was seen as being characterised by:being overwhelmed by the size ofthe library;not knowing where to find things and not understanding howthe library is organised;laek of eonfidence about knowing how to start research; andlack of knowledge about what to do in the library, accompaniedby feelings of inadequacy and fear of asking for help,Mellon recommended that the concept of library anxiety should be included ininformation literacy
classes
and presentations to let students know that
it is
normalto feel lost, fearful and anxious when using the library, so that by aeknowledgingthe existence of
these
feelings, librarians may help to reduce students' anxiety.
130 Volume 38 Number 2 Australian Academic & Research Libraries
 
The implications of library anxiety for academic reference services
Students come to the referenee desk with more than just a need for information.The feelings a student has about the library ean influence whether or not they askfor help, how they approach their search for information, and how they respondto any obstacles they encounter in the library environment. In particular, theearly stages ofthe information search process have been identified as producingfeelings of uncertainty, confusion, frustration and doubt.Library an.xiety is most consistently described in the literature using the conceptsdeveloped by Mellon. Even when researehers have expanded the eonstruct toinclude the broader related aspects of computer and teehnology use , or theresearch process , similar descriptions of the feelings and thoughts of library-anxious students are found. The words used most frequently in the literature todescribe the thoughts and feelings of library-anxious students include:feeling confused, embarrassed, frustrated, overwhelmed,threatened, and lost;fear, phobia, worry, and nervousness;negative and self-defeating thoughts;a sense of unease and discomfort; andfeeling helpless, inadequate, incompetent, intimidated,and unsure.Library anxiety has been found to be a unique phenomenon, whieh is specific tothe library environment and unrelated to general trait anxiety in graduate andundergraduate students. Although it has been suggested that some dimensionsof library anxiety, such as asking for help, may be related to personality traitsthat are not library specific , no empirical evidenee has been provided to supportthis.
IDENTIFYING AND MEASURING LIBRARY ANXIETY
While there are several artieles that diseuss library anxiety or integrate previousstudies and existing theory , the majority of the library an.xiety literaturecomprises primary research articles. The objectives of these studies are concernedwith identifying who is library-anxious, and determining and investigating thesources ofand reasons for - library anxiety. Table 1 summarise the tyjaes oflibrary anxiety studies.
Australian Academic & Research Libraries June 2007 131

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