Why don`t students ask librarians for help?

Illustration of a man with question marks over his headI am currently reading up on some things connected to a project that I just started. I have had a book called “College libraries and student culture: what we now know” on my reading list for months, and so far it has been very interesting.

I remember reading in Head and Eisenberg (2010)`s study that students Google, ask their professors and peers, friends – and even family members before asking librarians for help with their studies. Just now I came across the same thing in Miller and Murillo (2012)`s chapter in the book I mentioned.

Miller and Murillo (2012) suggest some reasons why this happens. Possible reasons for students not seeking help from librarians include:

  • They don`t know what we do, and therefore do not think that they can ask questions regarding academic writing. If they ask librarians about anything, it is usually about the whereabouts of a physical book. (Depressing stuff..)
  • Some have had bad experiences with librarians, and they are saying that librarians appear little approachable and helpful.
  • Librarians use words that patrons do not understand, like “circulation desk” and “reference desk”.
  • Students suffer from “library anxiety”, a feeling of nervousness or of being “lost” in the library.
  • Students and staff feel that librarians often give a lot more information than they needed, and that they feel overwhelmed by it.

I find this very useful. How should we work to reduce “library anxiety” for our patrons? What could I do to make the experience easier to the students? What can I do to be more approachable? How can make the students more aware of what we can do for them?

I do not have the answer to all of these problems, but I think maybe we should rethink our desks (they are too big, and we are harder to approach behind them), our web presence needs to be even more thought-through and we need to be more “plain-spoken”. I personally need to stop giving the students “all the options” when all they asked for was a solution to a simple problem, and maybe we could all do a better job at marketing what it is that librarians really do. We have some work to do here..



Duke, L. M. and A. D. Asher (eds.)(2012) College libraries and student culture: what we now know. Chicago: American Library Association

Head, A. J. og M. B. Eisenberg (2010) Truth be told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age. Washington: The Information School, University of Washington.

Miller, S. og N. Murillo (2012) Why don`t students ask librarians for  help?: Undergraduate help-seeking behavior in three academic libraries. In: Duke, L. M. og A. D. Asher (eds.),  College libraries and student culture: What we now know. Chicago: American Library Association, p. 49-70.

2 thoughts on “Why don`t students ask librarians for help?

  1. Brinxmat says:

    Personal experience from way back when I worked directly with students.

    I quite enjoyed working on the help desk — I would often get repeat visits from the same users, not many, but enough to make it fun to work there. Being quite a lot younger than the other staff helped, I think. Also being a foreigner myself in a community where there were many foreigners and 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants worked in my favour.

    Being approachable and friendly is important; if we were two on the help desk, it was conspicuous for me that I would get approached first because I would look up and smile. As we’d have “actual work” to do while we were stood there was a disadvantage for those that did non-academic librarian jobs that involved processes that needed to be completed before raising your eyes (yes, it only takes three seconds to finish registering an ILL, but that is all it takes to break your contract as a help-desk operative). Luckily, I worked with things that were easy to come back to.

    I think it’s important to enter a role of supervision when helping students; if you’re being held in awe (O! fount of knowledge), it’s a bit difficult to get contact, but if you can work together with the student, it becomes much easier. The weird thing was that this realisation made for a lot of return visits to ask questions about things I think the students should have been asking their teachers (what should I study? How should I study?)


    • Karen Marie Øvern says:

      Yes, I have had similar experiences here, and I wholeheartedly agree to your points. Looking up, showing an interest, smiling – or just saying hello when you pass someone who just entered the library are all good ways of being more open and approachable. Thanks for commenting!


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