Library Anxiety

I know plenty about anxiety, but not so much about library anxiety.  That’s why I believe studies of student attitudes and experiences of the library are so useful, particularly for librarians and wanna-bes, like me.  Although it may be impolitic to say so, I suspect the fundamental reason many librarians chose their profession is a sense of comfort and ease in libraries.  Personally, I have rarely met a library I didn’t like.  So people like me may not be in the best position to automatically comprehend the feelings of those for whom the library is not a welcoming environment.  Studies remind us of that reality and help us walk in those users’ shoes, for a bit. 

More than twenty years ago, a guy I was dating in college said something very revealing that brought me up short.  It was:  “For you, college is enjoyable.  For me, it’s terrifying.”  My teenage self was stumped.  Someone who didn’t like college?  It was such a natural and rewarding environment for me; I never imagined it could be other for him.  I suspect that from his perspective, college looked like a long series of opportunities for failure.  I wonder how anyone could function with that mindset. 

In the readings for Week Eleven, I did notice a trend in information literacy away from “tools” and towards “students.”  As stated in Kilcullen’s article, “Good library instruction should be patron-oriented, begin with patron needs, and concentrate on the learning process rather than library ‘tools'” (10).  One article that I was particularly glad I read was Constance Mellon’s “Library Anxiety:  A Grounded Theory and Its Development” (1986).  A telling observation that Mellon makes is that when college students were asked about their experiences with the university library, they did not talk about “tools” but rather about feelings.  And the feelings they documented–feeling lost and, as a result, stupid, and more than that, feeling uniquely stupid–were very real.  I appreciated that one step taken to remedy this anxiety was to introduce students to library staff who were friendly, supportive, and helpful.  (This study’s strong connection to composition theory and teachers was another point in its favor, for me.)

As I continued on to read Maybee (2006) and Kracker & Pollio (2003), I figured out that while Mellon called her methodology a qualitative study which produced a grounded theory, it seemed identical to the phenomenological approach outlined by the other two articles.  I liked its approach:  “There is no attempt in this type of research to constrain the participant in any way, as is true in the case of questionnaires; rather, the intent is to let the participant describe his or her experience in all of its individual ambiguity and concreteness” (Kracker & Pollio 1104).  In Kracker & Pollio’s article, I found the description of phenomenology theory and the methodology to be of greater interest than the actual research results.  The discussion section on pages 11-12 left me wondering which libraries the authors were making suggestions for, since the study encompassed several types of libraries (college, public, special) and ages of users. 

And I had to smile at the suggestion (p. 12) that libraries consider a different decor for various areas of the library to create a more personal, welcoming environment.  At UGA’s main library, the uniform decor consisted of tile floors, plain wooden tables, and creaky wooden chairs; if you were lucky, you got a window.  I found a representative photo on Flickr.                                    UGA Library Study Area

By contrast, and perhaps more in the vein of what Kracker and Pollio were envisioning, here is a photo of the lounge of UGA’s Student Learning Center (opened in 2004, a year after I graduated, alas): Student Learning Center Lounge

A few words about Maybee’s (2006) article. Although I read the discussion section several times, I still question in what ways student conceptions of information need to change. I can appreciate the overall point that library instruction programs should be cognizant of students’ conceptions of information and adjust their instruction methods accordingly, but in which ways these conceptions are flawed or limited was not entirely clear to me. I did note, however, the emphasis away from the “list of skills” approach, which limits “the potential for student learning” (84).

On the far end of the spectrum is Ward’s (2006) article, which appeals to that most idealistic side of me: “Can we be information literate if we possess the technical ability to find and evaluate information, but not the human capacity to experience and value it?” (397). Amen.

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

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