Tag Archives: cultural awareness

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.

The Intersection Between Cultural Competence and Whiteness in Libraries

Reviewed By: Shelley Carr, Kristina Cevallos, Karen Chacon, & Rachel Dunn

Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/culturalcompetence/

Article Synopsis

In her article, “The Intersection Between Cultural Competence and Whiteness in Libraries,” Fiona Blackburn (2015) examines her experiences working in Australian libraries and the implementation of cross-cultural provisions as evidence of privilege and the predominance of “white culture” in libraries in Australia. While this article provides examples of services designed for culturally diverse communities, Blackburn focuses on evaluations of her experiences as a white librarian in Australia in regards to personal understanding and development of cultural competence, especially the influence of white privilege, whiteness, and “white culture.” The article acknowledges the predominance of white workers in the LIS field as well as the dominating bias toward Western ways of assessing, accessing, and organizing information. Though considering her personal experiences at multiple information organizations, Blackburn asserts the importance of cultural competence, which is defined by Overall (as cited in Blackburn, 2015, para. 17) as:
the ability to recognise the significance of culture in one’s own life and in the lives of others; to come to know and respect diverse cultural backgrounds and characteristics through interaction with individuals from diverse linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic groups; and to fully integrate the culture of diverse groups into service work, and institutions in order to enhance the lives of both those being serviced by the library profession and those engaged in service.

With this definition of cultural competence in mind, Blackburn examines this topic from the perspective of an Australian librarian, and also refers to supporting literature from U.S. LIS professionals who support the practices of cultural competence. In commenting on the importance of cultural competence in library and information organizations, Blackburn encourages a global awareness of whiteness and privilege in the LIS profession.

Core Research Questions & Methodology

As Blackburn describes her journey through librarianship in Australia and her growth and interest in cultural competence, whiteness, and intersectional librarianship, she seeks to answer a few questions. What is cultural competence in the context of librarianship? What is the connection between intersectionality and cultural competence in addressing whiteness in the library? And, how can librarians and library workers approach cultural competence in a primarily white workforce within a predominantly white industry with awareness of power and privilege? Blackburn explains her reasoning by way of her personal experiences as a librarian in Alice Springs, and elsewhere in Australia, and referencing existing scholarship on cultural competence, intersectionality, and diversity in libraries.

Blackburn uses her own experience as a “56-year-old, tertiary-educated, female Anglo-Australian librarian” (Blackburn, 2015) to seek answers to her questions regarding cultural competence, intersectionality, and whiteness in libraries. She notes that working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been her main source of learning about cultural competence and addressing whiteness in the library, but cultural competence goes far beyond just working with Indigenous peoples. Her awareness of her own culture (her whiteness) is her starting point on the journey to becoming culturally competent. Blackburn links together her personal reflections, professional experiences, research, and conversations with librarians as a method to form her conclusions.

Findings and Conclusions

Blackburn’s experience in Australia showed her that there were only a handful of librarians and libraries providing services specifically for Aboriginal people. For this reason, Blackburn focused on building greater engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Blackburn’s goal was for people to see their culture reflected in the library in order to build stronger connections between patrons and their library. This would require more of Blackburn’s colleagues to step in and help create that culture of support, inclusion, and engagement in all nine branches of the library system in which Blackburn worked. From her own experiences, Blackburn found that members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must be actively incorporated in their libraries’ programs and services in order to support library staff working together to create a culture of inclusion in that library. Once patrons are aware that library services and staff are focused on meeting their needs, patrons may attend engagement activities and library programs more frequently. Blackburn mentioned how some library staff resisted these new ideas due to not having enough time to connect with members of the community and not wanting to add any extra tasks to their workload. Blackburn asserts that once those new connections are built, library staff can focus on maintaining the relationship as the library patrons continue to come to the library.

As support for her arguments, Blackburn introduces the concept of intersectional librarianship which, “recognises the interactions between any person or group’s multiple layers of identity and the marginalisation or privilege attendant on each” (Blackburn, 2015, para. 30). Library staff members need to learn to become allies and active participants in change, which cannot be accomplished in a one-day training session. LIS professionals need to recognize their own biases and privilege before they can become allies to any group. Librarians must focus on understanding the challenges patrons may be facing and what necessary steps are required to mitigate these challenges.

Applications in the United States

The United States could stand to learn from Blackburn’s experiences with the Aboriginal populations in Australia and how the library spaces she worked in were able to support and include the voices and experiences of their patrons. By creating spaces where the patrons could see themselves reflected, connect with their culture, and inhabit a neutral space, they were able to foster engagement with the Aboriginal community and increase usage by that group. The United States could stand to improve inclusion and respectful interaction with Native Americans and other underserved populations by creating inclusive reflective spaces and deeply considering how whiteness comes into play within libraries.

White librarians in the United States could benefit from examining their own “whiteness” and white privilege in the context of the LIS profession after reading Blackburn’s article. Through this awareness and understanding, librarians in the United States can build upon their cultural competence and expand on the inclusion of diversity within their library services. Blackburn’s focus on building engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and her work with Libraries ACT lend some insightful findings that would benefit any library. However, the conversations Blackburn notes in her article give interesting perspectives on how libraries are seen as “white places” and are not as culturally inclusive as they could be. These conversations heighten awareness of cultural differences and what should be taken into account when designing services for diverse populations.

For example, often librarians are busy promoting their own services/programming and forget to work in collaboration with their colleagues for the overall success of that library. In addition, library staff should be mindful of cultural inclusion when designing services for groups that are underserved and seek to include those groups across all library programs and services. In some cases, librarians promote Black History Month or LGBTQ only for one month and forget to incorporate the concept for the rest of the year. In order for patrons to feel a sense of belonging to their library, this should be highlighted throughout the year, and included in collection development decisions and program planning.

U.S. libraries could observe the global practices of international information organizations and draw from their experiences in order to better design services for diverse populations. In her article, Blackburn references examples from U.S. LIS literature which support the inclusion of cultural competence in navigating interactions with diverse populations. Not all libraries in the United States practice cultural competence within their community, with whiteness being privileged in library and information spaces, making it especially important that LIS professionals in the country work to better serve the diverse populations of their community and nation. Based on Blackburn’s examples, U.S. libraries could potentially promote similar services to Native Americans, although regional differences would require more contextual adaptation. By practicing cultural competency by way of awareness of whiteness and privilege in ourselves and our libraries, libraries in the United States can better serve their culturally diverse communities beyond the basics.


Blackburn, F. (2015). The Intersection between cultural competence and whiteness in libraries. In the Library with the Lead Pipe, December. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/culturalcompetence/

Overall, P. M. (2009). Cultural competence: a conceptual framework for library and information science professionals. The Library, 79( 2), 175-204.