Information overload or anxiety is a concept that we, as librarians, have to overcome on a daily basis. What exactly is information anxiety? From a librarian’s point of view, the term can refer to our users feeling overwhelmed by information. The digital world we live in lends itself to users feeling stuffed with information, consumed by an overload of information that is being presented to them at every moment. Our users are constantly surrounded by information via the Internet, phones, tablets, work and home computers, TVs…and much more. It is difficult to turn off this information, even when we want to.
Nonetheless, information should not be seen as a hindrance. It should be seen as helpful. Having information aids us in nearly all decisions. Within the legal setting, our users use information everyday, no matter if they are a law student, reference librarian or a lawyer. While yes, too much information can sometimes weigh us down, in general, having access to information at all times is usually a positive thing.
Reference librarians are faced with walking a fine line between presenting users with useful rather than too much information. If we present our users with too many results or too many choices, they will be overwhelmed and not know where to turn. Instead, reference librarians need to provide users with practice-ready information that synthesizes research results for instant use. In turn, this will aid users in effectively executing their legal tasks.
If librarians are unable to successfully balance this need, information could cause users to feel anxiety. If reference librarians cause users to feel overwhelmed, users will not use the research results provided and, in turn, will feel defeated. If users needs are not met, they will not see the true use and potential of the reference desk. If this happens, these users will be unlikely to return to the reference desk in the future.
Why is this important? As librarians, we need to make sure the information that we are providing our users is neither overwhelming nor a hindrance and certainly does not cause users the feeling of anxiety. Our goal as reference librarians is to provide our users with helpful information that allows them to execute their given legal task effectively. We can do this by helping our users narrow down search terms and results in order to avoid producing too much information, which will lead to anxiety. As always, our role as librarians is ever important in providing a helpful service for our users.