Anne Dempsey has been a librarian for years, but she admits that walking into a big library she’s never been to before can still trigger a little nervous energy. If you can relate, you might be relieved to know that such a phenomenon is actually really common, especially among college students. It even has a name — library anxiety — and it’s been a subject of research for decades. Dempsey says students can experience library anxiety in all kinds of ways. It could be a feeling that the library is “not a place they belong,” or a fear about asking for help, or a sense that they should already know how to use a library. Even the worry that you have to be absolutely silent or a librarian might come shhhhhhhh you — that misconception is still hanging around too. For what it’s worth, she finds that most librarians are welcoming people who resist the stereotypes. Plus, the post-midnight crowds at her previous post at a college library in Ohio were anything but quiet.
It’s helpful that Dempsey can empathize with some of these feelings students have. As the Mardigian Library’s new student engagement librarian, it’s a big part of her job to help students get comfortable using an academic library so they can take advantage of all the resources that libraries offer. In general, she takes a pretty straightforward approach to that challenge: Instead of making assumptions about what students' needs, fears, expectations or misconceptions might be, she generally just asks. For instance, just a few weeks into her new job at UM-Dearborn, she jumped right into some workshops at Wolverine Welcome Day, where, along with some of her colleagues, she was able to chat with students and answer their questions. To her point, what they were curious about went beyond things she was already thinking about. “Several students wanted to know whether there were fiction books they could check out and read, just for fun,” Dempsey says. “I mean, my first semester being a college student, that wasn’t even on my radar. I was just worried about books I needed for class.”
Dempsey says a question like that shows students are thinking about the library as a resource that transcends their class work. Similarly, she was surprised by the students who had questions about very specific databases. And conversations with some international graduate students tipped her off that she’ll have to help acclimate students who are used to libraries with so-called closed stacks, a system where materials aren’t immediately accessible to the public and have to be retrieved by a staff librarian.
One of Dempsey’s biggest priorities is to make sure students know about the wide variety of services the library offers. Even though libraries have become dynamic multimedia and community resources, she says the idea that a library is “just books” is still super persistent. If you don’t know that the library also has Chromebooks, lab goggles and graphing calculators you can check out — or that your library account gives you access to a bunch of streaming videos — you’d definitely be missing out.
Dempsey comes to UM-Dearborn after spending several years in a similar role at the College of Wooster, a small liberal arts college about an hour southwest of Cleveland. She says her new home campus is already making a good impression, from its natural beauty (Dempsey is a big outdoors person) to the much more diverse student population. So far, Michigan has made a strong impression too. She’s already been to Sleeping Bear Dunes, where the wild coastline made her feel “betrayed by Lake Erie.” And she says her Detroit neighborhood is packing all kinds of perks she wasn’t expecting. “Detroit is amazing,” Dempsey says. “Any day of the week, I feel like I can go walk somewhere and there is live music. The restaurants are great, and there are people from all over the world. For sure, my family and friends in Ohio, sometimes they're, like, ‘Oh, you’re living in Detroit?’ But when they come and visit, I’m sure they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Anne Dempsey is the new student engagement librarian at the Mardigian Library. Want to connect with Dempsey? You can email her at email@example.com. And by the way, the answer to the student’s question: Yes, the Mardigian Library does indeed have a lot of great fiction books just for pleasure reading.