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
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.
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.