Do You Suffer from Library Anxiety?

Posted: April 23, 2019 9:00:00 AM CDT

Yep, it’s a real thing, and you may suffer from it without even knowing it. Library anxiety is a common problem that can prevent people from using the library and its resources effectively, which can hurt your ability to complete coursework or possibly lower your potential grade.

So, what exactly is library anxiety?

Very basically, library anxiety is a fear of either using the library space, which is often seen as overwhelming and confusing, or the fear of not knowing how to find library materials.

You probably have library anxiety if any of the following are true:

You have a fear or uneasiness with the physical space of the library.

You’re not sure where to go to find things, where you are allowed to study, how to use the study rooms, what you are allowed to bring into the library, where to check out materials, and so on.

You feel uncomfortable approaching a librarian or library worker to ask for help.

You’re not sure where or which desk to ask for help, what to ask or even how to describe what you need. You’re not sure who to ask for help or alternatively, you know who to ask but they appear intimidating or maybe just look busy.

You have a fear that you are the only person who doesn't know how to use a library.

You feel like your question is stupid and you should already know the answer. You’ve already been told the answer but can’t remember while everyone else seems to know exactly what they are doing. You value your independence or self-reliance and may feel like you should be able to figure out libraries all by yourself.

You feel paralyzed when trying to start library research.

You feel overwhelmed and are not sure where to start your research or what words to even type in. You think you might be searching in the wrong place.

If you find yourself agreeing with any of these fears, please know one important thing.

You are not alone!

Constance A. Mellon, the lead researcher on the subject of library anxiety concluded from a study that, “75 to 85 percent of students in each class described their initial response to the library in terms of fear or anxiety.” That means only 15-25% of students don’t feel some sort of anxiety about the library. I’ll say it again. You are not alone!

You’ll also be happy to know that library anxiety can be overcome.

First, as I’ve already mentioned, it helps just to recognize that what you’re feeling is normal. You’re not the only one who feels overwhelmed. Sometimes being able to name a problem really helps in dealing with it. Just identifying that what you are feeling as library anxiety means you can now take steps to deal with it.

Second, you don’t need to do this on your own. Ask a librarian or library worker for help. Now, I know that asking for help is part of what raises library anxiety, but I promise that your life will be a whole lot less stressful if you work up the courage and ask. When you do, you’ll discover that librarians are here to help you. We want you to come and ask us. We even named our reference desk, The Ask Us Desk, just to remove any doubt.

Librarians are not the strict, stern, and humorless guardians of information that have been portrayed in the movies. Librarians like helping you and want to see you succeed. There are many librarians like me who receive joy from helping people succeed. It’s part of what attracted me to the field of library science.

If you’re still not convinced, I will offer a few tips that can maybe help lessen the anxiety.

First, if it’s the library building that intimidates you, come in and wander around with no purpose. Just come and see the place, maybe read some of the signs to learn about any rules or policies. We’re open most days from 7:30 am – 1:30 am, and we don’t even blink an eye at people wandering around. That way, when you do need to use the space, you’ll have a much better idea of where you can go and what you can do.

Second, if you need help or have a question, try using our chat service. It’s anonymous unless you choose to share your name, so you don’t have to worry about us knowing if you are behind a particular question.

Third, if you don’t want to use chat, try approaching one of our Graduate Assistants or Student Workers. It might feel less intimidating than a speaking with a professional librarian.

Finally, here’s a little trick I use when I get anxious about something. Ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen? Do you envision some sort of scenario where a librarian laughs in your face or tells you how stupid you are for your question or scoffs at you that you don’t know the answer to some basic question about using the library? Now, think through how realistic that is. Would the person sitting on the other side of the desk actually laugh at you or tell you how stupid you are? No! That would never happen in a million years. We are happy to answer basic questions. We have no way to know what prior experience you have had using a library and whether you should have known the answer or not. Too often, our minds build up these horror scenarios but fail to probe at how unrealistic they really are.

So now that you have learned what library anxiety is, please don’t let it get the best of you. The library staff is here to help you. We want to help you. We want to reduce your stress and make using the library as easy and as comfortable as possible. Come in and let us help you use the library’s amazing services and resources!

Anjanette Jones
User Experience and Web Design Librarian


By: Anjanette Jones

Category: Library Hacks