Tag Archives: African American

Fear at First Sight: Library Anxiety, Race, and Nova Scotia

Article Authored By: K-Lee Fraser and Joan C. Bartlett, PhD

Reviewed by: Cherie Buenaflor, Kielayameosha Carswell, Larissa Edwards, Vanessa Lindquist, Katryna Pierce, and Jennifer Powell

Link to article: https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/4366/4701

Summary and Literature Review
This article studied racial differences in library anxiety and the coping methods of undergrads in Nova Scotia, Canada with research through surveys and interviews. The authors of the article describe a brief history of how African Nova Scotians (ANS) faced discrimination and barriers to education. Although things have improved with scholarships and grants created by the African Nova Scotian community, enrollment in higher education is still lower than for Caucasian Nova Scotians (CNS). The research used the Library Anxiety Scale (LAS) as a survey tool, which was later followed with demographic questions.

The literature review section goes into detail about environmental, dispositional, and situational antecedents, which all play a role in how the students react to the library. Fraser and Bartlett further mention that the advancement of technology has also complicated how students interact with the library and library staff. Based on interviews and surveys, the authors determined that ANS initially had lower library anxiety than CNS. ANS had a positive reaction at first, but over time, their library anxiety increased especially due to barriers when interacting with staff. Fraser and Bartlett discussed how important it is that more research be done around Library Anxiety as there is not much current information, and the size of their study only looked at a small number of students. This article calls attention to the positive effect that early exposure to libraries can have in future academic success.

Research Questions
Fraser and Bartlett’s research questions compared the experience of undergraduate ANS students with their Caucasian peers in academic libraries. Their first question “Is there a racial difference in library anxiety among Nova Scotians?” serves to provide a brief overview of the history of the ANS community. Historically, 48 African communities were formed on the margins of society in Nova Scotia, some fleeing American slavery, others as Jamaican and Berumudan refugees between the late 1700s and early 1800s. These people were also victims of institutional racism in Nova Scotia, some finding the same racial discrimination as in their countries of origin, including less access to benefits. Fraser and Bartlett (2018) provide evidence that ANS students seeking higher education are faced with multiple educational barriers, including segregated schools, lack of math and science curriculum in secondary schools, and poorly trained teachers (p.4).

Further research questions: “Which aspects of library anxiety affect the two racial groups?” and “How do students alleviate library anxiety?” are asked because this research seeks to find insight on how academic libraries can support ANS students dealing with library anxiety to increase their likelihood of academic success.

The study employed a mixed method approach to their research, including both quantitative and qualitative methods. The first phase was preliminary and included a survey of 48 Nova Scotian undergraduates and recent graduates. Eighteen students identified as ANS, 24 identified as CNS, and five students identified as “other” ethnicities (the students who identified as “other” were excluded from the final results). The survey utilized a “43-item, 5 point Likert scale survey” called the Library Anxiety Scale (LAS). The LAS studied dimensions of library anxiety. Students participated in the survey online, and, after completing the survey, were invited to participate in a follow up interview.

During the interview phase, eight students participated in interviews, with five students who identified as ANS and three students as CNS. An interview guide was created with guidance from research questions, the LAS, and questions addressed in previous studies, as well as findings from the survey. The interviews were conducted in person, on Skype, and on the telephone, ranging from 30 to 90 minutes. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using the Constant Comparative Method, applying both closed and open coding schemes.

Findings and Conclusions
The authors concluded that while their sample size was small, they observed low to mild academic library anxiety in both ANS and CNS university students. ANS reported initial lower anxiety than CNS when they visited the university library. Prior to attending the university, ANS students had positive interactions at their community or local library. For CNS students, prior experiences at their community library “… were filled with anxiety and avoidance” (Fraser and Bartlett, 2018, p. 10). These negative feelings continued for CNS students when they first visited the university library, and used words like “intimidating,” “overwhelmed,” and “difficult” to describe their experiences. (2018, p. 12).

Both ANS and CNS students expressed higher anxiety in terms of their experience with library staff. This included staff being “unapproachable” and “unfriendly” (Fraser and Bartlett, 2018, p. 12-13). ANS students also had anxiety about being stereotyped and treated differently due to their race/ethnicity. These negative feelings by both ANS and CNS students caused them “… to avoid library staff” (2018, p. 14). The authors concluded that “early exposure” to positive experiences at local and community libraries could play a role in students’ lower initial anxiety when at a university library (2018, p. 14). They also concluded that academic library staff must work to remove barriers with their interaction with students in order to create a more welcoming space.

What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations
The concept of “library anxiety” was first introduced to the field of library and information science by Constance Mellon in 1986 (Muszkiewicz, 2017). In a subsequent study by Bostick (1992), it was found that library anxiety was caused by several factors: “barriers with staff, affective barriers, comfort with the library, knowledge of the library, and mechanical barriers” (Muskiewicz, 2017, p. 224). These causes of library anxiety can be identified in the Nova Scotian students in this study, specifically staff barriers (Fraser & Bartlett, 2018). Fraser & Bartlett (2018) stated that students avoid interacting with library staff because they felt unsupported. Students reported feeling annoying to unfriendly, unapproachable library staff (Fraser & Bartlett, 2018). Students also reported that library staff’s lack of cultural knowledge is a stressor; they often avoided seeking advice (Fraser & Bartlett, 2018). Many ANS reported feeling more comfortable using online resources due to the anxiety and uncomfortable experiences with library staff. Wallis (2014) and Lichtenstein (1999) stated that “creating positive interactions between students and library staff helped ease fears and increased students’ academic research skills throughout their degrees” (as cited by Fraser & Bartlett, 2018).

Applying the findings from this Canadian study, libraries in America can work to alleviate the anxieties felt by African American and African Diaspora students in several ways. One way is to offer programs that will introduce students to the library staff. Muskiewicz (2017) highlighted a program at Valparaiso University in Indiana, in which librarians introduced themselves to new students by using humor and factual information about the librarians as a way to make themselves more accessible to students. Additionally, Fraser and Bartlett (2018) related a decrease in library anxiety for those students who reported previously positive experiences in using libraries. This presents an opportunity for partnership between academic, school, and public libraries to create positive library experiences for students in their community. These partnerships could aid in the development of stronger information seeking behaviors and increased confidence in engaging with library staff. Another way America libraries can alleviate anxiety is by designing programs that allow librarians and teens/students to work closely together, build relationships, and have healthy discussions regarding cultural differences. These programs will create an environment where students feel more comfortable utilizing library services, which will likely translate to students being comfortable using academic libraries. The creation of comprehensive LibGuides could also be beneficial, considering the fact that students were more likely to use online resources than interact with library staff. These LibGuides, geared to helping students navigate library services, could potentially be a project that students and librarians could collaborate on. A better understanding of the needs of the community could help librarians to provide culturally relevant services and collections.

By making themselves culturally knowledgeable, American librarians will be more approachable and better able to develop partnerships with the African American (AA) and African Diaspora (AD) students who use their library. This can help alleviate the library anxiety felt by these students. An increase in library staff’s cultural awareness will allow them to provide better services and create a more welcoming environment for AA/AD students in America’s academic libraries.


Bostick, S. L. (1992). The development and validation of the library anxiety scale. Dissertation Abstracts International, 53(2), A4116.

Fraser, K., & Bartlett, J. C. (2018). Fear at First Sight: Library Anxiety, Race, and Nova Scotia. Partnership, 13(2). https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v13i2.4366

Muszkiewicz, R. (2017). Get to Know Your Librarian: How a Simple Orientation Program Helped Alleviate Library Anxiety. Public Services Quarterly, 13(4), 223-240.

Health Information Ties: Preliminary Findings on the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of an African-American Community

Article Summary for Health Information Ties: Preliminary Findings on the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of an African-American Community

by Allison Murphy, Marcia Seaton-Martin, Randi Brown for SJSU INFO 275(10)


This article focuses on a study of the health and information seeking behavior of African Americans. The study, which was published in 2007 in the journal Information Research, used Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties” theory as the basis for research. To conduct the survey, 200 random citizens of the Near East Side of Buffalo, New York, were asked specific questions via phone interviews.

The results of the survey showed that most African Americans relied on health professionals for information, rather than using an Internet search or website. The majority of those surveyed looked for information for themselves, but 22.2% looked for information for other family members or friends. The article concluded that health professionals are very important to underserved populations.

Core Research Questions

One of the core research questions is whether Granovetter’s strength of weak ties theory can be applied to this survey and information. Sociologist Mark Granovetter defines strength of weak ties as “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and the reciprocal services that characterize the tie. The stronger the tie between individuals is an indication that they are part of the same social network” (Morey, 2007). Granovetter believes that if individuals have a close relationship, they will be part of the same social group.

Granovetter also attests that if individuals do not have a strong relationship between themselves, they will be “more useful sources for obtaining information and other resources” (Morey, 2007). This article mentions that library and information sources have not previously studied the health information seeking behaviors of minority groups. The study is one of the first to raise the question of how a specific African American population looks for information regarding health and wellness.

Methods Used

Information gathering for this study was completed via a telephone survey. The researcher purchased a directory of random listed household telephone numbers that corresponded to the target census area of Buffalo’s Near East Side. Using the MS Excel Rand() function, arbitrary telephone number pools were selected three times until at least 200 interviews were completed.

The telephone questionnaire used original questions along with others from “The online health care revolution” and “The strength of Internet ties’” (as quoted in Morey, 2007) that investigated the health seeking behavior of African Americans and the relationship closeness of persons from which they seek medical information or help. The survey was designed using the following type questions:

1. Which members of their social networks do participants interact with the most when seeking consumer health information? How do the participants define the ‘closeness’ of this relationship?
2. Where do participants seek and obtain consumer health information?
3. Which age group is more likely to seek and obtain consumer health information?
4. Which sex is more likely to seek and obtain consumer health information?
5. Did the participant look for consumer health information for himself or herself or someone else? (Morey, 2007)

The survey was tested and revised before implementation. To eliminate bias and ensure a diverse gender and age response demographic, the survey introduction was modified when half of the surveys were completed. Nine hundred forty telephone numbers were called to complete 216 surveys.

Findings and Conclusions

Two hundred sixteen African American men and women between the ages of 18-74 were surveyed who searched for medical information in the past six months. Most often, respondents looked for information from health care workers (45.3%), the Internet (14.5%), or other sources (9.8%). Older participants were more likely to look for additional information, but younger partakers were more likely to use the Internet.

A major source of health information seeking was from health care professionals, despite a predominantly weak relational tie. Family and friends with whom those surveyed had strong ties were also important sources of health information for themselves and as sources for proxy information gathering, even though the value of the information may be questionable. Respondents did not replace traditional sources of information gathering, health care workers or family ties, with the Internet.

Further Questions

After reading this article on health information seeking behavior, there are several questions that come to mind.

1. Is seeking information from the youngest male or female over 18 truly going to give an accurate representation on health information seeking behavior?

Many students just out of high school are in great shape and health, therefore they are less likely to have health issues.

2. Why turn to family members for health information?

There has been a history of African Americans being treated differently in hospitals, not being given medicine for pain, or being given minimal drug doses. Economics could also play a role. Sometimes the elderly are more comfortable with their family members.

3. Can results of a survey from a small number of people give an accurate representation of health information seeking behavior?

The answer is no. According to the 2010 quick facts census, there was a population of 261,325 people in Buffalo, and 38.6% of that group were African Americans living alone, which is approximately 100,000 persons (United States Census Bureau, 2015). If it was assumed that the 2007 census had similar demographics, then the surveyed African American population represented less than one percent of the targeted demographic.

4. What could contribute to such a percentage gap with those who used the Internet versus those who sought out a health care professional?

The article points out that this is an underserved area of Buffalo, so one could assume that respondents had no access to the Internet at home, did not know how to use the Internet, or did not have transportation to a library.

For future research, as shown by the numbers above, there should be more people included in the survey. It may cost more, but the results or findings would be more accurately represented.


Morey, O. (2007). Health information ties: preliminary findings on the health information seeking behaviour of an African-American community. Information Research, 12(2). Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/12-2/paper297.html

United States Census Bureau. (2015 September 3). Buffalo (city), New York. Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/3611000.html