Library anxiety

September 28, 2009

Library anxiety. What is it? Really it’s a phrase, coined to describe the feelings of fear, anxiousness, nervousness, intimidation and uncomfortableness that library users, especially first time users, feel.

Think back, remember that first big paper you wrote in college. You walked to the library to do some research and didn’t even know where to start or who to ask for help. The building was large and unfamiliar. You might have felt lost. Everyone else in the library was busy, reading or writing, it seemed like you were the only one who was not sure of yourself. You felt all alone.

Many people are right there in that place. They have had bad experiences in the past and give up on the system. Honestly, my own experience was similar and because of it, I never used to the resources a library has to offer to its potential.

I missed out because I was intimidated by the library system.

Too bad. Studying librarianship, I am beginning to see how much a library has to offer and how much I missed. There were employees that could have helped answer my questions. They could have taught me how to become a better researcher. They can assist with topic selection and the narrowing or broadening of that topic.

So why am I, and others, anxious at times in a library setting?

The physical building is intimidating. It is large and unknown. Libraries are built to feel grand and impressive. The idea is that they contain so much knowledge, they must be grand.

The layout is confusing and complicated. What does “circulation” mean? Is there a reference desk? Are all library employees qualified to answer my questions? Where do I go to get started?

The staff are uninviting. They look imposing. Their body language is scary. They didn’t greet me or ask if I needed help. I asked them for help and they lectured me.

I cannot find what I am looking for. I don’t know where to search. I don’t understand search math or boolean searching. What is a periodical? Where are the books?

I’ve had bad luck in libraries before. I’m not likely to want to go back, or ask any questions again. I’m going to try every other information option available before I go to a library. I will be doubtful of success in the library.

What about you? What is the most intimidating thing about a library to you? Is a library your first source for information or do you go to other places first (like the web, friends, coworkers etc.).

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