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TL v57 n2 Derailing Anxiety in Academic Library Instruction
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 1

 2007

 

Derailing Anxiety in Library Instruction: A Study of Teaching Anxiety in Academic Librarians

Kaetrena D. Davis
Learning Commons Librarian

Georgia State University

 Conference Abstract: The implementation of ACRL's Information Literacy Standards and the integration of academic librarians into content-based, credit-bearing courses mean that academic librarians are increasingly being called upon to teach. If you deal with real and perceived challenges of preparing for the classroom environment, you'll be interested in the results of this study.


Introduction

Millet and Posas’ (2005) study shows many new librarians chose the profession for reasons other than teaching. Even experienced librarians' grievances about their teaching duties takes on many forms of a simple and telling statement: “I didn’t want to become a librarian because I wanted to teach. In fact, the thought of teaching scared me to death,” (Blakeslee, 1998, 73). At the same time, many positions in the field require academic librarians to teach “one-shot” bibliographic instruction (BI) classes or semester-long freshman learning courses, often without formal training. In library and information science (LIS) literature, the librarian’s role is comprised of many roles: computer programmer, Web-site designer, but not “educator” unless it involves a debate regarding tenure or the evolution towards teaching. In education literature, the librarian is overlooked completely, including in teacher anxiety (TA) studies.

The author’s research seeks to explore the area of teacher anxiety in academic librarianship, as well as why the profession of librarianship prompts external and internal disconnections with teaching. The author’s research also presents what symptoms of TA occur in academic librarians, how librarians cope with their symptoms, and offers solutions to dealing with TA.

Teaching Anxiety: Defined?

There is no succinct definition for TA; and this presentation only gives three known descriptions: 1) a result of conflicting values between teachers and their students (Joseph 1975, 166); 2) an experience that involves trepidation with audience interaction (Gardner and Leak 1994, 28); and 3) a trait-state response rooted in biological disposition, learned behaviors from previous anxiety-inducing occurrences, and exposure to threatening classroom situations (Walton 1981, 60).

Why This Study?

There are several reasons a study like this one is needed; the largest one being that academic librarians have increasingly active teaching roles. According to the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), the move towards Information Literacy (IL) in institutions of higher learning means that colleges and universities are creating formal content-based courses (Kasowitz-Scheer & Pasqualoni, 2002); more often than not, library faculty or staff are teaching these courses.

During preliminary research, the author found that TA studies focus on traditional teachers at the K-12 and collegiate levels (Coates & Thoresen, 1976; Johns, 1992; Gardner & Leak, 1994). Because academic librarians also have teaching duties, the author saw a need to explore the different definitions and causes of TA and how they affected this group. Not finding existing studies on TA in librarians also prompted another question: do internal and external perceptions and stereotypes of librarianship have an effect on TA symptoms in librarians? This study attempts to find a link.

Survey Details

The author created a 35-item questionnaire (see appendix) and posted it to Zoomerang, a Web-based survey tool. Participants were requested through a message posted to the Information Literacy Instruction Listserv (ILI-L), which at the time boasted 3700 members. A total of 687 people participated; however due to 30 incompleted surveys and 275 surveys with errors, only 382 surveys were used in final data tabulations. Regardless, a variety of participants took part in the survey.

Demographics

Generally, participants are mostly female (84%) and Caucasian (90%). About 35% are between 31-40 years of age, and over two-thirds have only the MLS or its equivalent. All areas of academic librarianship – from cataloging to reference and public services – are represented.

Looking more closely at the participants, about 29% have been working professionally in academic libraries for at least 10 years. Just over half of participants have faculty status, and over 70% are affiliated with liberal arts colleges and universities.

Career Choice & Perceptions

Are academic librarians glad they chose librarianship? About 43% say they have no plans to leave librarianship before they retire; only about 5% are considering leaving the profession. Librarians also have definitive reasons why they chose librarianship – the Samaritan nature of many librarians is highlighted in the most frequently chosen answer: because they enjoy helping people. Other popular answers include a love of reading and literacy (52%) and the fact that many others “just fell into” the profession (35%). Librarians also believe that their duties are different from paraprofessionals – a little less than half completely agreed with the questionnaire statement. However, all is not well in academic librarianship – some are annoyed with general stereotypes of librarians, and just under half of the participant group is concerned that teaching faculty don’t understand librarians’ teaching role. Beyond dealing with teaching faculty misperceptions, some academic librarians are also put off by their academic librarian colleagues – just over a third of participants have defended their teaching roles to other librarians.

Teaching & Instruction

When it comes to teaching, an overwhelming majority of participants (74%) indicated that they love the instruction role of their position. Those who enjoy teaching most often cited that they feel the course material is important and they feel very prepared to teach. Those who do not enjoy teaching (26%) most often cited their concerns regarding student engagement and a dislike of public speaking.

Librarians are very limited in their teaching roles – more than half don’t teach full semester or quarter courses; however, librarians are busy. About 99% of participants indicated that their institutions offer “one-shot” bibliographic instruction classes, and about 43% of participants teach these one-shot classes 15 or more times a semester or quarter.

Symptoms

Physical symptoms. Overall, participants indicated they are generally nervous before teaching a class. About a third noted that their TA symptoms decrease while they are teaching a class, and 54% of participants said after they have finished teaching a class, their symptoms completely disappear.

Looking more closely at symptoms of TA, about 60% experience some combination of physical discomfort. Sweating was the most frequently indicated symptom (31%), followed by other aches, pains, and cold-like symptoms (25%). Upset stomach, myriad symptoms (dry mouth, shaky hands/voice), and heart palpitations were also popularly experienced physical signs of anxiety. To cope with the physical symptoms, many participants have their own cures, with various ideas of “just dealing with it” the most popular. Almost a quarter of participants exercise to mitigate their physical symptoms, and meditation is also a coping tool. Just under 10% use over-the-counter (OTC) medications to lessen their physical symptoms of TA.

In terms of how often participants experience physical symptoms, a breakdown of those in the 60% majority shows that only 10% rarely have symptoms, and 7% always have symptoms. Just under a quarter of participants have physical symptoms at least some of the time.

Mental/Emotional symptoms. It seems that the mental and emotional effects of TA are a slightly heavier load than physical symptoms -- more participants (65%) experience mental/emotional symptoms of TA. The data imply that academic librarians are loath to appear mentally or environmentally prepared for instruction; the majority of participants indicated that “tough questions” and being prepared was the largest cause of mental or emotional TA symptoms. A fear of public speaking (27%) and negative self-talk (15%) also were mentioned frequently. Coping with these symptoms are similar to dealing with physical symptoms – many participants had their own personal coping mechanisms, from performing breathing exercises and overpreparation to praying and visualization techniques. Exercise, meditation, or OTC medications were also used by 25% of the participant group.

Within the realm of the occurrence of mental and emotional symptoms, a closer look at those in the 65% majority shows that 8% rarely have symptoms, and 12% always have symptoms. Over a quarter of participants have mental/emotional symptoms at least some of the time.

Other Results

As stated at the beginning of this paper, the author’s study also seeks to find a link between internal and external perceptions of librarianship and symptoms of TA. The data show that there is a link between stereotype concerns and heightened occurrences of TA. Almost a quarter of participants who are somewhat concerned with librarian stereotypes are more likely to experience physical symptoms of TA than their colleagues who are not worried about librarian stereotyping at all, but still experience symptoms (4%). Similarly, just over a quarter of participants who are concerned about librarian stereotypes are more likely to experience mental or emotional symptoms of TA than their colleagues who are not worried about stereotypes at all but still experience symptoms (3%)

The data also present a link between faculty perceptions of academic librarians and librarians’ TA symptoms. Twenty-five percent (25%) of academic librarians who are somewhat concerned with how teaching faculty perceive librarian teaching roles are more likely to experience physical symptoms of TA than their colleagues who are not concerned with faculty perceptions but still have physical symptoms. Furthermore, 30% of academic librarians who are concerned with how teaching faculty perceive librarian teaching roles are more likely to experience mental or emotional symptoms of TA than their colleagues who are not concerned at all with faculty perceptions but still have symptoms.

The data also provides a null hypothesis on internal perceptions of librarianship and TA symptoms. Only 35% of academic librarians who have defended their teaching roles to professional library colleagues experience physical symptoms of TA compared with 64% who have not defended their teaching roles and still experience symptoms. Concomitantly, only 34% of academic librarians who have defended their teaching roles to librarians have mental or emotional symptoms of TA compared to 65% who have not defended their teaching roles and still have symptoms.

Finally, the data confirm that career length does not affect TA experiences. While newer librarians are more likely to experience physical symptoms and experienced librarians are more likely to experience mental or emotional symptoms more frequently, all librarians have mental or emotional symptoms throughout their careers.

There are other topics discussed in the author’s larger paper, slated to be published in 2007 in College & Undergraduate Libraries, including:

Solutions

There are several ways to help academic librarians alleviate their TA symptoms, starting with training. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Institute for Information Literacy is an excellent starting point. Librarians who are interested in honing their instruction skills can apply for the Institute’s Annual Immersion Program.

There are also excellent Web sites with great information: ACRL’s Instruction Section, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT), and the Library Orientation Exchange (LOEX) are all great starting points for bibliographies and other helpful materials. For librarians who are already in the teaching environment, consider sharing experiences, techniques, and other tips with other professionals via traditional channels (staff/faculty meetings, emails, etc) and new communication technologies (wikis, blogs, podcasts, etc.)

By far, the best way to lessen teaching anxiety is to promote academic librarianship as a teaching profession. As the data show, external perceptions of librarianship (a quiet, misanthropic person – usually an older woman - who wants everyone else to be quiet, too) is contrary to who modern librarians are and what they do. The author hopes that this study prompts Schools of Library and Information Science to consider reforming or expanding their curricula to include pedagogical training for all aspiring librarians and underscores the importance of continuing education for currently practicing LIS professionals.

References

Association of College and Research Libraries. 2005. A guideline for the appointment, promotion, and tenure of academic librarians. [updated 22 March 2007; cited 10 April 2007]. Available from http://www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlstandards/promotiontenure.htm

Blakeslee, S. 1998. Librarian in a strange land: Teaching a freshman orientation course. Reference Services Review 26:73-7.

Coates, T. J., and C. E. Thoresen. 1976. Teacher anxiety: A review with recommendations. Review of Educational Research 46:159-79.

Gardner, L. E., and G. K. Leak. 1994. Characteristics and correlates of teaching anxiety among college psychology teachers. Teaching of Psychology 21:28-32.

Hill, J.S. (2005). Constant vigilance, Babelfish, and foot surgery: Perspectives on faculty status and tenure for academic librarians. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(1), 7-22.

Johns, K. M. 1992. Lowering beginning teacher anxiety about parent-teacher conferences through role-playing. School Counselor 40:146-52.

Joseph, P. 1975. Value conflict in law-focused education: The problem of teacher anxiety. Social Education 39:165-69.

Kasowitz-Scheer, A. and M. Pasqualoni. 2002. Information Literacy Trends in Higher Education:Trends and Issues. ERIC Digest. [cited September 1, 2006]. Available from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2/content_storage_01/0000000b/80/2a/35/c8.pdf

Millet, M. S., and L. Posas. 2005. New academic librarians project. [updated 9 May 2005; cited 19 June 2005]. Available from http://www.trinity.edu/mmillet/professional/NewLibProject.htm.

Showalter, E. 2003. Teaching literature. Malden: Blackwell.

Walton, J. M. 1981. Biofeedback: A proposed model for the treatment of teacher anxiety. The Personnel and Guidance Journal 60:59-62.


Appendix A: Librarian Anxiety Questionnaire

Personal Characteristics

1. Please choose the range where your age falls:

  • 21-30
  • 31-40
  • 41-50
  • 51-60
  • 61-70

2. You are (choose one):

  • Male
  • Female

3. What is your ethnicity?

  • African-American, Black (non-Hispanic)
  • Asian
  • Caucasian
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Native American/Alaska Native
  • Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander
  • Other (please specify):

Librarian Characteristics

4. What is your job title? ____________________________

5. Do you have another graduate degree (besides or beyond the M.L.S./M.L.I.S.)?

  • Yes - another Master’s Degree
  • Yes – a Ph.D. (or other doctoral equivalent)
  • No

6. Do you have faculty status?

  • Yes
  • No (skip to question 8)

7. If you have faculty status, what is your track?

  • Tenure
  • Non-Tenure (but on a Tenure track)
  • Non-Tenure Track

8. How long have you been working (professionally) in academic libraries?

  • Less than 1 year
  • 1-3 years
  • 4-6 years
  • 7-10 years
  • More than 10 years

9. Have you had training in teaching or public speaking (select all that apply)?

  • Yes – formal training (classes, seminars, etc.)
  • Yes – informal training (by classroom observation or experience)
  • No – formal training
  • No – informal training

10. Your institution is a:

  • 2-year community/technical college
  • 4-year liberal arts college/university
  • 4-year agricultural college/university
  • 4-year technical college/university

Career Choice and Perception

11. You chose librarianship because (select all that apply):

  • Of your love for reading and literacy
  • You like technology
  • You want to teach
  • You want to do research
  • You want to help people
  • You want a career change
  • You “just kind of fell into it”
  • Other (please specify) __________________________

Choose your level of agreement with the following statements:

 

Completely Agree

Somewhat Agree

Neither Agree nor Disagree

Somewhat Disagree

Completely Disagree

12. There are a lot of differences in the roles/duties of the library professional and paraprofessional.

13. I feel most teaching faculty don’t understand my teaching role at my institution.

14. I plan to change my career (leave librarianship) before I retire.

15. Librarian stereotypes bother me.

16. I have defended my teaching role/duties to other librarians (academic, public, special):

  • Yes
  • No

Teaching/Instruction

17. What kind of library or bibliographic instruction (BI) formats does your institution offer?

(select all that apply)

  • Curriculum-based (semester or quarter-long credit-bearing courses)
  • “One-shot” (30-90 minute sessions upon faculty request)
  • Consultation (one-on-one sessions upon patron request)
  • Virtual or Web-based
  • Other (please specify):

18. On the average, how often do you teach BI courses?

  • 1-5 times a semester/quarter
  • 6-10 times a semester/quarter
  • 11-15 times a semester/quarter
  • 15 or more times a semester/quarter

19. Have you ever taught full semester or quarter classes in any topic or subject? 

  • Yes
  • No

Teaching Anxiety

20. Generally, do you enjoy teaching?

  • Yes (continue to question 21 and skip 22)
  • No (skip to question 22)

21. Why do you enjoy teaching (select all that apply)?

  • You feel prepared
  • You know the course material is important
  • You like public speaking
  • Other (please specify): _________________________

22. Why don’t you enjoy teaching (select all that apply)?

  • You weren’t trained to teach
  • You weren’t originally hired to teach
  • You don’t like public speaking
  • You're concerned about what the students may ask/think of you
  • You're not sure how to engage your students
  • You're concerned about faculty expectations
  • You don't like dealing with grading issues
  • You're not sure how to assess/test your students
  • You're not sure you're adequately covering material
  • Other (please specify): ___________________________

23. Choose the best description of your feelings before you teach a class (select all that apply):

  • Nervous
  • Nauseated 
  • Worried
  • Excited
  • Calm
  • Resigned
  • Other (please specify): ___________________________

24. Are the feelings you selected (choose one):

  • Comfortable
  • Slightly uncomfortable
  • Uncomfortable
  • Significantly uncomfortable
  • Extremely uncomfortable

25. While teaching class, your feelings of anxiety:

  • Increase
  • Decrease
  • Stay the same
  • Some feelings go away
  • All feelings of anxiety disappear  

26. After teaching a class, your feeling of anxiety:

  • Increase
  • Decrease
  • Stay the same
  • Some feelings go away
  • All feelings of anxiety disappear

27. If you experience physical symptoms of teaching anxiety, what are they? (select as many as apply):

  • I don't experience any physical symptoms (skip to question 30)
  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach or gastrointestinal distress
  • Headache
  • Dermatological (hives, itchiness, “goosebumps,” etc.)
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Cold or flu-like (coughing, sneezing, sniffles, stuffiness, etc.)
  • “Nervous tics” (eye-twitching, fidgeting, etc.)
  • Hyperventilating/changes in breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Other (please specify): __________________________

28. How frequently do you experience physical symptoms of teaching anxiety?

  • I always have physical symptoms of anxiety
  • I often have physical symptoms of anxiety
  • I sometimes have physical symptoms of anxiety
  • I rarely have physical symptoms of anxiety

29. How do you cope with your physical symptoms of teaching anxiety? (select as many as apply).

  • With over-the-counter medications
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Other (please specify): ___________________________

30. If you experience mental/emotional symptoms of teaching anxiety, what are they? (select as many as apply):

  • I don't experience mental/emotional symptoms of anxiety (skip to question 33)
  • Negative self-talk
  • Fears about public speaking
  • Worries about being prepared/"tough questions"
  • Other (please specify): ____________________________

31. How frequently do you experience emotional/mental symptoms of teaching anxiety?

  •  I always have emotional/mental symptoms of anxiety
  • I often have emotional/mental symptoms of anxiety
  • I sometimes have emotional/mental symptoms of anxiety
  • I rarely have emotional/mental symptoms of anxiety

32. How do you cope with your mental/emotional symptoms of teaching anxiety?

  • With over-the-counter medications
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Other (please specify): ______________

33. Do you have a routine that you perform prior to teaching (i.e. playing a certain song, repeating a phrase or mantra, certain physical movements, etc.)?

  • Yes
  • No

34. If you have a routine, please briefly describe it below:

 

35. Share any additional and brief comments below:

 


Appendix B

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