Relieving Library Anxiety with Anonymous Engagement

Written by Zach Walton, Reference and Instruction Librarian at The Ohio State University at Lima


Something that is constantly on my mind as I design my library one-shots is the role that library anxiety plays in students’ ability to learn and retain the knowledge they’re being presented with. The fact that some students feel anxious about entering a library at all, interacting with library resources, or even asking a librarian a question for fear of judgement or humiliation is deeply troubling. Sometimes, if I’m working with a particularly quiet class, I worry that some students may not be asking questions or participating as a result of library anxiety. Over the course of the past fall semester, I pursued more anonymous in-class activities in order to give a voice to the apprehensive student.

While I’ve explored multiple modes of communication to better engage students anonymously, both low-tech and beyond, the two tools I use the most frequently are Kahoot! and Mentimeter. I was introduced to these teaching tools by several colleagues (most notably Hanna Primeau, who wrote an earlier post on this blog). Kahoot! is a teaching tool that allows you to create games which students can engage in using their phones or another device, and Mentimeter is a teaching tool that allows you to create interactive slides which students can similarly engage with. Both of these tools allow for anonymous engagement in the classroom. For example, beyond functioning as a fantastic ice-breaking activity, Kahoot! gives students the option to play under any name they’d like. I even encourage students to use emojis in place of their name when playing Kahoot!, so that students don’t have to worry about judgement from their peers if they answer a question incorrectly.

While I find Kahoot! immensely useful, I typically use Mentimeter more when visiting classes. I try to frame any class I visit with two slides I’ve developed. The first question is typically fairly low stakes, something along the lines of “have you ever visited the library on campus.” I use this as an introduction to the tool, so that students can see the answers they typed into their phone or another device appearing on the screen anonymously. I then introduce them to my second slide, a Q&A slide where I encourage students to ask me anything. I then explain that, while I enjoy conversation in my one-shots and that I encourage students to interject or ask questions as they come to them, I recognize that some students may feel more comfortable asking questions anonymously and let them know that I’ll be visiting this slide frequently in the class. Because I deliberately word this slide to encourage students to ask me any question they might have, I receive content focused questions as well as not so content focused questions (i.e. what’s your favorite book). I welcome these questions as a chance to show that librarians are people too, that we have our own unique interests, just like the students we work with. By humanizing our profession, and by encouraging communication and engagement through anonymity, I saw an increase in students visiting me for help. Students saw my willingness to answer any questions, content focused or not, and I believe that helped to mitigate anxieties they may have felt about the library.

I’m sure that many of you have different ways of engaging your students, and I’d love to hear about how you’ve provided multiple modes of communication while teaching in the comments section, or give this Menti page a try and see the results below!


An 8 am Class: Good or Bad

By Pat Wood, Interim Head Librarian of The Ohio State University at Marion regional campus library


“I did it! I’m still alive!” These are my thoughts sometimes after teaching an 8 am library instruction class to college students. Although this is one of my favorite times to teach, students don’t always arrive with the same sunny disposition as me.

When I first started doing library instruction, I fell into a false sense of security by thinking that if students were looking at me, I had captured their attention. However, I have learned that students’ faces, and body language are not a good indication of that.

Over time, after experiencing blank stares, bobbing heads, or side conversations while trying to capture students’ attention, I have tweaked my sessions using comments and suggestions from surveys that I have students do at the end of any teaching session.

Here are some things that have worked for me from a sample teaching session:

When asked to teach library instruction at 8 am with a time-frame anywhere between 60-90 minutes, I usually arrive to the class instruction session 20 minutes early to set up the room based on the instruction requests of the professor and put out any handouts. This also gives me the opportunity to greet students with a friendly smile as they arrive.

As I am introducing myself while walking around the room, I’m aware of the importance of capturing their attention so I usually add a fun fact about myself that sometimes gets a few laughs which lets me know they haven’t fallen asleep yet. Time for the ice breakers!

Some ice breakers that I have used include Kahoot, which, for those who aren’t familiar is an interactive computer game where you create questions based on a subject (library information) and students answer using an electronic device (I always have a spare or 2 just in case the room doesn’t have technology or a student doesn’t have any). This can be 2-3 questions that can be fun stuff, or information they may not know regarding the library and its services. This is usually 5-7 minutes in length.

I also have done an activity where I write one word on the board (example: baseball) and then I have students make a list of keywords that relate to it. My word selection is usually related to the discipline of the class (example: History course). This activity usually has students talking amongst themselves, which is perfect. I usually give them 3-5 minutes for this activity. We then talk about the importance of good keywords and how they play a role in creating search statements

Now that I have their attention, the real work starts. Here is where I show students how to do academic research related to their assignment. This includes websites such as Google and Research databases from the library catalog. Students get to see the differences in searching and what features each resource must assist with their selections. They also learn how to construct good search statements through trial and error.

Once finished with this task, usually 20 minutes, the students then start doing research on their chosen topic while I wander around the room to answer questions and assist with anything else they need. This type of instruction also includes handouts on the three types of sources as well as the different types of periodicals to choose from. The time frame for this part is usually 30-45 minutes. The wrap up includes a survey of two questions: what information was helpful and what information was confusing.

The above activity is one of my favorites because students learn the difference between using Google and a research database while getting a good understanding as to the benefits of each type of search. Many good talking points have come from these sessions because most students are freshmen and they really don’t know what a database is. Google has been their best friend up to this point, so learning there is something better is sometimes a shock.

Lessons learned from 8 am library instruction sessions include:

Greeting students as they come into the class works well. This seems to help with interaction during the instruction session.

Make sure that you confirm exactly what the instructor is looking for from the session. Asking them detailed questions about what they want from the library instruction session is also very helpful. I once had a professor send me their syllabus in an email that said teach from the first lesson on the syllabus. My response was “WHAT?” We then exchanged many emails to determine what was needed.

Teaching search strategies from multiple sources, and showing students how to verify scholarly information has been a huge success, because today’s assignments seem to be giving students more freedom on their source selection. From my experience on our campus, depending on the course, students’ assignments aren’t requiring a lengthy list of scholarly sources as in the past.

The bottom line is that 8 am library instruction is not the worst thing in the world. Yes, it is true that in some cases no matter how you begin the session or what you plan to teach, you will have disengaged students. The goal is to be successful, sharing great research strategies so that students can complete their class assignments to the best of their abilities.

Resource Links:

How on Earth do I Incorporate Active Learning into a 50-minute One-Shot Session?

By Stephanie Schulte, Head of Research and Education Services at the OSU Health Sciences Library


Have you ever had a request for a one-shot session where the course instructor wants you to teach their students everything you know in less than an hour? If you are like me, of course you have had this experience. Time is precious, and having worked primarily in the health sciences, accreditation often dictates what topics have to be covered, leaving less than ideal bits of time to cover literature searching or other pieces of the scholarly publishing world that are pertinent to these students. We often feel the pressure to make sure students are at least aware of everything they have available to them and cover many topics in a superficial manner. They can always follow up with an individual appointment, right? And who has time for active learning in this situation?

Well, if you’re at a large institution, you may not be able to scale individual consults for everyone who wants one, at least without losing your sanity. But, do not lose hope! You are a professional who can both negotiate what should be covered in a session and also provide opportunities for students to facilitate their own learning for the course at hand and in the future. Active learning can be a tool, even in a small amount of time, that can make the most of the learning opportunity at hand.

At the Medical Library Association’s annual conference in May, I was a member of a panel who discussed active learning. Active learning can take many forms and involve different aspects of librarianship, including getting on curriculum committees, acquiring collections that play a role in active learning, participating as a small group facilitator, and being an instructor who uses active learning. So, as an instructor, how can you use active learning in a one-shot?

The concept of backward design can be a useful framework when planning a one-hour’ish one-shot. What I suggest below is a rather simplistic way of thinking about this, but it can work!

  1. What do your students need to be able to do at the end of the session? Don’t overthink this. What are 2 or 3 things that they need to do to be successful in the course or with the assignment at hand?
  2. How will you know they can do these things? What evidence would demonstrate they learned to do these 2 or 3 things?
  3. Based on this, what teaching methods – including active learning – could/should be utilized so that they learn how to do these 2 or 3 things?
  4. What content needs to be covered in order to do these 2 or 3 things?

Notice how I point out 2 or 3 things.  That’s to emphasize that we cannot and should not be teaching these students everything we know in such a short period of time. Think hard about the idea of must know, nice to know, optional to know.

To help you conceptualize how you might incorporate active learning into even a short session with students, I developed a handout based on backward design principles to take you through the thought process as well as a handout that identifies some simple active learning activities by the amount of time and effort they might require. This is by no means an exhaustive or prescriptive handout! There are many resources out there. I’ve included links for a couple of my personal favorites in the handout too, but I’m including them here for your quick reference.

Now, go forth and teach! I’ll be putting my own advice to work in a couple of days. Stay tuned.



Active Learning for a OneShot

Active Learning by Complexity