Welcome...to Library Anxiety

Hatcher Library, north lobby

It is very, very easy to feel intimidated walking into the Hatcher Graduate Library. The front steps are right off the ever-bustling Diag, and they lead to a grand lobby filled with mosaics and elitist Latin proverbs without a book in sight. Hatcher is undoubtedly an academic library (and, as anyone who has set foot in the stacks can attest to, the space is not exactly a user-friendly one). Nonetheless, students engage with the library in a multitude of ways—either by physically occupying the study spaces within it or by using the digital services the Library curates. It has been said before and it bears repeating now: students cannot graduate without interacting with the library in some way.

And yet, students often find themselves at a loss for how to walk into a library and ask a person for help, which, in turn, prevents them from learning about the wonderful faculty who are hired to help them. For example, the library employs major-specific subject specialist librarians—people who are paid to help you answer your research questions!

While I could dedicate an entirely different post to the under-utilized resources the library offers for undergraduates, I will return to the root problem: library anxiety. This term was first coined by Constance Mellon in the 1980s, where she neatly outlined students’ fear: students feel that their research skills are not on par with other college students, and then believe this inadequacy needs to be hidden rather than resolved, and, finally, that this shame will be revealed if they ask questions. And this is a completely fair and legitimate fear; no one wants to look stupid, especially at this university, and especially at the library—the heart of knowledge on campus.

I want to begin to dismantle this idea by attempting to chip away at the pervasive, sensationalized idea of what a library looks and acts like. We have all seen the movies of the unpleasant, elderly librarian shushing patrons from behind the reference desk. However, that picture is incongruous with the reality of our campus libraries. Want a place to study in silence? Head to the stacks. Need to find a research guide? Use the online “Ask A Librarian” feature or sit down at the desk, located on the second floor of the Hatcher North building. I write all this to say that libraries house spaces for dialogue, solitude, and innovation because that is what libraries have evolved into.

Finally, I will close this post by quoting the library’s mission statement:

Our mission is to support, enhance, and collaborate in the instructional, research, and service activities of the faculty, students, and staff, and contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.


Meghan Brody, B.A. History & Writing - anticipated 2019, is Education Chair at HeForShe, Associate Editor of the Michigan Journal in History, Peer Advisor for the Michigan Research Community, and Fellow in Communications & Marketing at U-M Library.