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Mellon's theory of library anxiety

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In 1986, Constance Mellon, a professor of library science in North Carolina, USA, coined the term “Library Anxiety”. She published: “Library anxiety: A grounded theory and its development” in the College & Research Libraries journal and the term subsequently evolved into a widely accepted concept. At the time, the term was new but the phenomenon had long been observed by librarians.

Mellon’s landmark two-year qualitative study, which included 6,000 students at a Southern university in the United States, found that 75 to 85 per cent of the students described their initial response to library research in terms of fear. Mellon used the term “library anxiety” to describe the feelings of discomfort and fear a group of undergraduate English composition students described when they were starting an information search that required using the academic library. The study revealed four primary reasons to explain feelings of LA. The students:

  • were intimidated by the size of the library,
  • lacked knowledge about where everything was located,
  • lacked knowledge about how to begin the research process and
  • lacked knowledge about what to do.

Mellon further discovered that these negative feelings often overwhelmed students to the point at which they could not function effectively in the library. It was found that the students had a feeling of inferiority when they compared their library skills to those of other students and these feelings of inadequacy were a source of shame that made them hesitant to ask library staff for help. Mellon alerted faculty outside the library that these behaviours constituted problems that needed to be addressed. She likened library anxiety to maths anxiety and test anxiety. She suggested library anxiety should be recognised and the anxious person provided with experiences in which they could succeed.

Mellon advocates the use of qualitative research as she reasoned it provided a deeper insight into information behaviour. She comments that her study applied the rarely used methods of qualitative research to a library problem and states that while the study was important, the implications of the research technique were far greater. Mellon used the technique of “personal writing” or “journal writing” to collect data in which the writer is “talking on paper” with no concern for audience, style, grammar or spelling which allows the writer to tap into a stream of consciousness. The students’ personal writing was analysed for recurrent themes

ReferencesEdit

  • Mellon, Constance (1986), "Library anxiety: A grounded theory and its development", College & Research Libraries 47: 160-165 
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