Gillian S. Gremmels still remembers the aha moment she had when, as a reference librarian at DePauw University in Indiana, she first read “Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development” by Constance A. Mellon in the March 1986 issue of College & Research Libraries.
“The resonance I felt when I read about library anxiety was powerful,” she wrote in the same journal nearly 30 years later. “[Y]es, I thought; this is what I’m seeing in my students, who seem overwhelmed by the library, in need of librarians’ help, yet reluctant to approach us.” That term—library anxiety—is hardly a household name among students, but say it to a college librarian, and he or she will know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s the feeling that one’s research skills are inadequate and that those shortcomings should be hidden. In some students it’s manifested as an outright fear of libraries and the librarians who work there. To many librarians it’s a phenomenon as real as it is perplexing.