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Keep Calm and Ask a Librarian

A typical health sciences student might approach the Falk Library Main Desk with these questions: “I’m embarrassed to ask, but how do I find this book?” or “How do I search PubMed to locate articles on my topic?” Congratulations intrepid library user—you asked for assistance! Less common, and more challenging are users so intimidated about navigating the library that they do not ask for help.

We want to reach out to anyone who feels ‘library anxious’ or reluctant to approach our helpful, accessible library staff. Library anxiety is described as “an uncomfortable feeling or emotional disposition, experienced in a library setting, which has cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral ramifications…characterized by feelings of…tension [and] fear…which debilitate information literacy.”

A real and measurable phenomenon, library anxiety—like test or math anxiety—is a situation-specific occurrence, and has been a topic of research for three decades. In one large study, 75 to 85 percent of first-year college students (s=6000), described their initial academic library encounters in terms of anxiety and fear (e.g., scary, confused, helpless). It seems reasonable for freshmen to report widespread levels of library anxiety. However research among students seeking advanced degrees, including nursing, law, and education, has shown that users at all levels of higher education can experience library anxiety rooted in self-perceived feelings of inadequacy about using the library. Research has further revealed that negative consequences from library anxiety can contribute to: academic procrastination; low quality research papers; and even failure to complete programs or earn degrees.

So if you’re the least bit uncomfortable about seeking help, please be assured that our role is to assist you with locating the information you need. If you’re uneasy about asking in-person, you can chat, call, or e-mail your questions via HSLS Ask-a-Librarian. We also offer classes to help you effectively use library resources. Asking the library staff for help might save you hours of time and frustration. Think of Falk Library as a judgement-free zone—just like a certain fitness center advertises—but without that bothersome monthly membership fee.

~ Rebecca Abromitis