Do You Have Library Anxiety?

When I hear ‘library anxiety’, I think of a few things. Anxiety over the abundance of wonderful books to choose from, anxiety that I may never get to read every single book in the library, anxiety that the books I want to take out aren’t available… the list can go on. But this is my personal library anxiety. In her 1986 paper “Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development”, Constance A. Mellon posited that college students are overwhelmed by libraries when it comes to research. “It all seems to vast and overpowering,” stated one student from Mellon’s study.

While her research is 30 years old, ‘library anxiety’ is still a very real thing. In an article detailing what exactly this phenomenon is, and how librarians combat such anxiety, Atlas Obscura’s Ella Morton pointed out that students are still anxious when it comes to doing research in libraries. “This presents a problem for libraries,” writes Morton, “especially as the increasing availability of digital resources from home has contributed to the image of libraries as fusty, inaccessible warehouses.”

In the 1980’s, students generally feared libraries because they felt their research skills were “inadequate”, and they were too “ashamed” to ask a librarian for help. While students today have similar fears, the bigger issue for libraries and librarians is how accustomed students are to using the internet from the comfort of their own bedroom. Columbia University librarian Anice Mills commented that scholarly research can’t be done on Wikipedia, which prompts students to step into their vast school library. 

“It’s such a change from most high schools,” with small libraries and signs indicating subjects, says Mills. She says students often have the overwhelming thought, “Oh my God, how am I ever going to figure this place out?” Issues also arise when students can’t find librarians. Morton pointed out that even though library anxiety is most common amongst college freshmen, it still exists in graduate students.

So now we know that ‘library anxiety’ is a real thing. The question is, how are librarians trying to help? “I try to be as accessible and empathetic as possible,” says Mills. Senior Librarian at Colombia University’s graduate Teachers College Allen Foresta says he visits classes and urges students to seek help from librarians, as does Mills. The key is to understand why someone is feeling anxious in a library and to work with them.

Columbia’s Teachers College also created a ‘Learning Center’, a space in their library meant to make it more accessible. 

Image courtesy of

The center sounds pretty crazy- “The “black box” space is a canvas for users in which mobile space dividers, robust AV technologies, and wirelessly controlled theatrical lighting let them create a wide range of simulation environments.” The goal is simple however. Make library space less intimidating and more comfortable. Get students to interact with all tha libraries have to offer in a productive, helpful manner. Sounds like a nice idea to me!

Featured image, ‘The Endless Library- Babelia’ courtesy of