Fear of reference

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A phenomenon where library users are afraid to ask reference questions.

In some cases librarians may contribute to this situation. A user may have had or have heard of past reference transactions where the librarian was unhelpful or somehow disdainful of being asked for help. The perceived image of librarians and approachability of reference desk staff may also be factors. That librarians regularly trade stories of "stupid questions" in public discussion groups may not help such situations.

There is also an inherent psychological sense of vulnerability that many people feel when asking for help, or in a sense, admitting that they are lost (cf. why some people have problems with asking for directions). In such cases library users may be content to explore more inefficient means of searching for what they need, and forego library instruction in favor of what's familiar (e.g., searching Google).

One of the selling points of virtual reference is that it can alleviate the fear of reference, although in some cases the online disinhibition effect goes too far and librarians find themselves dealing with virtual problem patrons.

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