It’s all about perception.

In researching the information seeking behavior and perceptions of information services of undergraduate college students with library anxiety, I found occasion to review many resources. In particular, I found the information and approaches of one peer reviewed article and one professional article of interest.

The peer reviewed article by Blundell and Lambert (2014) followed a pilot study of second-semester freshman. The purpose of the study was to build a foundation for further study into the specific triggers of information anxiety in undergrads. This is of particular importance as  researchers have discovered that anxiety can be detrimental to both information seeking and academic performance. Despite an awareness and previous research concerning information anxiety there is very little know about the specific triggers. The literature review included by the authors indicated that when anxiety and uncertainty are heightened information-seekers are more likely to claim satisfaction even with minimal or poor resources and identified anxiety as “the biggest impediment to successful completion of information tasks” (pg. 263). Such behavior can have short term negative effects on performance as well as negative long term effects on degree completion. Researchers seemed to agree that limiting anxiety during the information seeking process would be key.

The professional article by Siess (2006) took a very different approach and provided some very interesting information. This editorial reviewed a 202 article by Barbara Fister about why some students were reluctant to use the reference desk. Fister was quoted: “Surrounded by computers and books and journals chosen specifically to support their learning, students are embarrassed by those riches – or, rather, by the fact that what they need is somewhere in all that bounty and they don’t know how to find it.” Siess followed her review of Fister’s 2002 article with more recent comments by librarians. These librarians identified what they saw as specific issues and offered suggestions for alleviating the anxiety. Three facets of fear were identified by one librarian: not knowing who to ask, fear of asking a dumb question, and reluctance to bother a busy librarian. How you greet people, how you dress, and being free enough to be approachable were recognised by this librarian as important to reduce anxiety. Another librarian suggested that there is a public perception that anyone should be able to navigate a library and that librarians have encouraged the view that libraries are self-service resources. Another responding librarian hypothesised that the problem may be that patrons don’t know what reference librarians can do. Another offered the idea of high visibility, roving reference librarians, and buttons to be worn for identification of library staff so that patrons know if they are speaking with a librarian, support staff, or student employee.

It is clear that while these students do use the library and it’s resources, their seeking can be easily thwarted due to information anxiety. The very nature of their issue with fear, uncertainty, and embarrassment would seem to indicate quite obviously that these students are not creating their own information sources, but rather are likely to give up and isolate themselves.

While the peer reviewed article was of interest and provided a great overview of previous research, the nature of the pilot study left many questions unanswered. The professional article, on the other hand, though only a short editorial, provided many insights from the front lines and suggestions for how to reduce the anxiety.

In the end, it would seem, it really is all about perception.

References

Blundell, S., & Lambert, F. (2014). Information Anxiety from the Undergraduate Student Perspective: A Pilot Study of Second-semester Freshmen. Journal Of Education For Library & Information Science, 55(4), 261-273.

Siess, J. (2006). Fear Of Reference: Is It Because of Our Image?. One-Person Library, 23(2), 4-6.

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