Library Anxiety and Pop Culture

While looking for a blog-post last week, I stumbled upon a library e-journal called “Library Philosophy and Practice.” Upon entering, you are greeted with the e-journal’s seemingly low budget home screen. Here, you can search by key-word for the article you are looking for or you can look over the articles downloaded to the website by year. This year, 2015, yielded results about knowledge sharing programs across the globe, titles that included places like Dublin, Ghana, Iran, and Nigeria. To add to idea of the websites global affiliations, included was a live map of who was on the site, where they were browsing from and what they were reading.

While some titles seemed almost cryptic in their titles, “ AN AUDIT OF RECORDS AND INFORMATION MANAGEMENT PRACTICES AND ICTs UTILIZATION AMONG SMEs IN NORTHERN UGANDA.” others were reassuringly simple, “Use of Information Resources by Student Nurses.”

The thing that really made me fall in love with the e-journal though was the true variety of the website. One article that I read rapt with interest was the insightful and engaging article entitled “‘Punk-Ass Book Jockeys’: Library Anxiety in the Television Programs Community and Parks and Recreation” by Eamon Tewell.

The article delves into the study of library anxiety, quoting Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Qun G. Jiao who literally wrote the book on the subject in 1997: Library Anxiety: Theory, Research, and Applications and Constance Mellon who did the studies on it in 1986 : “Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development.” Before reading the article I had no idea such an anxiety existed in the real world, let alone how media permeated it.

That is what Tewell’s article is about. In it, he explains “ The concept of library anxiety theorizes that being in or using a library poses a psychological obstacle that results in potential patrons being unable or unwilling to use the library and its services” and “ feelings of library anxiety result from one or more factors: (a) the relative size of the library, (b) lack of knowledge about the location of materials, (c) lack of knowledge about how to initiate library research, or (d) lack of knowledge about how to proceed with a library search” (3). What I think was most striking about the article is that these were feelings that I could relate to at one one point or another. Still, here I am a senior in college going for an English degree. This anxiety cannot be so smothering that it affects more than a few people. Certainly this is all exaggerated by the media.

Alas, it is not: “75% to 85% of students from Mellon’s 4 study described feeling ‘fear or anxiety’ or being ‘lost’ regarding a research assignment requiring library use. More importantly, the students assumed that their classmates did not share a library skills deficiency, resulting in a feeling of ineptitude they were unwilling to reveal by requesting assistance” (3). This is a was a major news flash to me. But still, what did it have to do with pop-culture?

According to Tewell, the librarian has been portrayed negatively for years with such prevalent tropes such as “ the old maid librarian, the incompetent librarian, the policeman librarian, the hero/ine librarian, and the librarian as parody” (5) and the library has been depicted as “ being a repository of dead discourse, the library combines the grandeur of the church and the loneliness of the crypt and is understood through metaphors of control, tombs, labyrinths, morgues, dust, ghosts, silence, and humiliation” (6)

However, shows like Community and Parks and Recreation have explored the darkest corners of these ideas but also turned these ideas on their head, Parks and Rec. with the irony of what the Parks department deem the library to be vs what the library is and Community with setting key figures Troy and Abed as so familiar and at home in the library that they literally live in it for an episode or so (15).

The articles was long and referenced many pop-culture librarians and knowledge seekers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Giles to The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Overall, the article is worth a read the e-journal is worth a gander if you know what you’re looking for.

The whole article can be found here: