Many friends and colleagues have confessed to me over the years that libraries make them nervous. For them, stepping into a library is completely overwhelming because they don’t know how to find what they’re looking for. Furthermore, they’re really embarrassed about the not knowing, which prevents them from asking a librarian or clerk for assistance.
I’m here to tell you that library anxiety is a real thing, and it’s standing in the way of people accessing information every single day.
The physical plants of various libraries (public or school) vary, obviously. Not all school libraries and certainly not all public libraries are created equally. One of the reasons I believe school librarians are so important is that, by teaching them a few tricks, we help students learn not just where the Magic Treehouse or Hunger Games books are, but truly how to navigate any library.
There's really, really, really great news. You aren't expected to know anything when you walk into a library, other than a general idea of why you're there.
You don’t have to know...
- the Dewey Decimal Classification System
- the exact author’s name or book title
- the difference between fiction and nonfiction
- what a genre even is!
You don't have to know any of this to use the library well!
Just remember these three rules and you can beat library anxiety back into its ugly little hole:
Librarians are paid to serve you. It is our job and our pleasure to know how to connect you with what you want in the library. We have taken oodles of courses and earned masters degrees to learn the very best methods of helping you find what you need in the library!
We do not think you are stupid for asking how to find something. We think you are really smart for wanting to find the information you need.
Also, we are trained not to judge you. We may personally hate cats dressed like humans, but if that’s the book you want, we will turn over every stone to find it for you. The honor is in the search, not the material.
Public librarians do not face the same workload as school librarians, and public libraries are more appropriately staffed with multiple professionals and multiple support personnel than school libraries. Many public librarians can devote their entire time at work to pure service (whereas school librarians are administrators, solitary service providers, teach formally and informally, troubleshoot/repair broken equipment, and are responsible for budgeting/ordering/processing new materials...just for a start). Trust me when I say, when you walk into a public library, they are just waiting and hoping for you to ask them to help you. Just ask the librarian.
Rule #2: Ask the computer.
There are some rural libraries that may not be automated quite yet, but chances are you see plenty of computer terminals when you walk into the library. If you don’t want to or can’t ask the librarian, then just ask the computer. Most times it is open to the catalog and all you have to do is type in the information you have (title, author, subject, key word) in order to get some results. The locations of each item will also be given. There are plenty of variations in call numbers, but the basics include anything that start with Fic means fiction, B means biography, numbers usually mean nonfiction, and E means children’s books. If you don’t know how to find Fic Low or 398.2, it’s totally ok! Just see #1.
Rule #3: Wander.
The best way to figure out your library is to spend some time in it. Just walk around, paying careful attention to the signage and making mental notes. Adult fiction is here, Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction is there, Children’s Easy books are yonder.
There are plenty of other keys to the library kingdom, but essentially, these three are the ones to remember if libraries make you nervous.
Ready? You can do this! Let me know how it goes!