Saturday, 5 October 2013

Library Anxiety

This is the first time I have come across the term Library Anxiety. I discovered it quite by accident on the website of the Luria Library of Santa Barbara City College, California, which hosted a national library week. I was intrigued by its theme which read as follows:

“Have you ever been intimidated by the thought of asking a librarian a question? If so, you’re not alone. Thousands of people around the world have Library Anxiety, avoiding libraries for a variety of reasons: time constraints, uncertainty about a librarian’s ability to meet their information need, fear of looking unintelligent for not being able to find information themselves, and more. Some people may simply be overwhelmed by the vast amount of information libraries provide through electronic databases and the library’s collection itself, not knowing where to start in the information search.”

The Luria Library assured students that the National Library Week would be “the perfect time to leap over the hurdle of Library Anxiety and learn more about what your library can do for you.” 


Students at the Library of Congress.
Photo source: www.loc.gov
I thought it was a very innovative reaching-out programme for students. It showed that the college cared for their well-being.

In the past I have been a member of private libraries as well as the British Council Library and the American Library in Mumbai, but I have never experienced Library Anxiety. I recall going up to the librarian(s) often and inquiring about the availability of specific books or reserving those I wanted to borrow. Librarians are by and large friendly people. I suppose that is because they spend the entire day among tons and tons of lovely books, which is not to say that their jobs are less stressful.


Apparently, Library Anxiety is an issue and is linked to other forms of anxiety and stress. The Washington State University, which offers counselling services, describes Library Anxiety as “a real and prevalent problem for many college students. Very basically, Library Anxiety is a fear of both the library space, which can be seen as overwhelming and confusing, and of the process of using the library to find materials.”

The American Library in Mumbai.
Photo source: www.photos.state.gov
In fact, the WSU Libraries – Guides has listed four common signs and symptoms of Library Anxiety: fear and uneasiness with the physical space of the library, often related to how big the library is; fear of approaching a librarian or library worker to ask for help; fear that you are alone in not knowing how to use the library; and feeling paralysed when trying to start library research.

I haven’t been to a library in nearly two decades and I haven't met anybody who felt anxiety in one, so there’s not much I can say. Do you have anything to share on this relatively unknown phobia?

14 comments:

  1. Library anxiety? wow. Never occurred to me. I love libraries.

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    1. Same here, Charles. I'm thinking of joining a library. The only problem is they are quite out of the way.

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  2. I have never heard of this before.

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    1. Patti, neither had I. I don't know how big an issue it is. Probably not very big.

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  3. The idea of Library Anxiety really does not surprise me, since there are so many kinds of anxiety. And students nowadays have a lot of pressure. On the other hand, I was comfortable doing research in the huge (to me) downtown Birmingham, Alabama in the periodicals area from the time I was 11 or 12. Although I did it on my own, maybe I never had to ask questions. I was not from a well-to-do family, just lucked into a very good teacher who demanded that we learn how to do research and supported us with the tools to do it. And a father who used the library all the time.

    City college or community college students often come from homes where they are the first child to attend college and some don't have the support of their families. Some are even homeless. That could be a factor.

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    1. Tracy, thanks for sharing your experience with libraries. They were not big during my school and college days in the 70s & 80s and it is only in the past two decades that educational institutions have realised the importance of a good library. We used to have a small library in school and even a 30-minute library period that most students used to hang out rather than borrow books. I remember we had to take home some book or the other. You are right: being alone without family or friends may be a factor in students developing some kind of anxiety or stress that perhaps makes them feel anxious inside a library.

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  4. It's the first I've heard it stated like this, but I get it. Libraries can be overwhelming... I love them myself, but there are some that intimidate me a little, to be honest.

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    1. Fleur, the only time I find libraries overwhelming is when I can't decide what to borrow. But then, I haven't been to a library in several years and I'll have to see what it'd be like the next time I visit one. As far as I can remember, the books I wanted to borrow were never there and I'd have to reserve them.

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  5. New to me, too. My students never seemed to think of librarians as resources for research. I would have to tell them that librarians are librarians typically because they love to help people hunt down information. If I have "anxiety" about approaching a librarian, it's because I'm afraid I'm going to get too much information.

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    1. Ron, I feel a touch of anxiety even when I'm surfing the internet for information and I find so much on the subject I'm researching that it leaves me with more than I can handle or know what to do with. Here, college students often use libraries to hang out, use their cellphones, and chatter.

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  6. Something I had never heard of before.

    I visit my local library once a month maybe, I have no real need to get my books down this avenue, but with constant cutbacks and shutdowns, I feel the more people that use it, the longer it will stay open.

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    1. Col, libraries belonging to private and government institutions continue to operate in India though the smaller circulating libraries owned by individuals are almost extinct. I'm not so sure libraries of any kind are going to be around in another 10 years, because of both the ebooks and I-don't-read culture, scarce resources, and rampant piracy. Urban Indians have easy access to badly printed pirated books on the roadside.

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    2. I have heard of the market for pirate films and clothes and jewellery and perfume - but never pirated books! Photocopies?

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    3. Col, actual pirated books with front and back cover and all the pages in between! The quality of the books is cheap, there are lots of typos, and even missing pages. The printing has improved though and there are times when you can't make out the difference between the original and the fake. The only consolation authors have is that someone is reading their books! Pirated editions of Harry Potter books were sold on the streets within days of their official release in India, at a price of Rs.200 ($4) against the actual cover price of Rs.600 ($12). This applies to non-fiction too. It's a well-coordinated syndicate and there's not much the authorities can do. Raids take place but the hawkers are always one step ahead.

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