sealPurdue News

November 2000

Librarians have prescription for 'techno-stress'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The symptoms sneak up slowly – the furrowing brow, the clenched fists, the tiny beads of perspiration across the forehead – followed by the inevitable look of panic that Purdue University engineering librarian Leslie Reynolds has seen so often.

The condition is known among information literacy specialists as 'techno-stress,' and fortunately for college students across the country, it's not terminal (although it can be caused by one).

"Techno-stress is the frustration, confusion and fear that comes from being bombarded with too much information that is not obviously relevant to the task at hand," Reynolds explains. "We recognize it in our students – and our faculty and staff for that matter – just by the way they hold their shoulders while sitting in front of a computer terminal."

The technology explosion of the last five years has allowed libraries to "go digital," making more information available in more ways than ever before. Most students arrive on college campuses having some notion of how to use the Internet to search for information on the Web, but they are far less knowledgeable about how libraries are networking their collections with the technology. Purdue has been offering information literacy courses since 1994, and librarians are often invited into classrooms by faculty to help students understand how to research assignments, but even then the vast amount of resources available can be overwhelming.

"It's not unusual for students to come to us after having wasted hours of time searching the wrong databases and not realizing it," Reynolds says. "Too often they'll settle for whatever they stumble into even if the information doesn't apply directly to the topic they're researching. The librarian can help them identify what kind of information is good, what is not good and where to go for better material. The trick is to ask for help before you become totally stressed out."

Reynolds, who is also a professor of library science, is an advocate of the "Fifteen Minute Rule."

"If you've spent 15 minutes looking for something and you haven't found anything relevant to your subject, that's the perfect time to stop and ask for assistance," Reynolds says. "At this point, you're not completely frustrated or angry, but you've spent enough time to know that the way you're searching for it isn't working."

Reynolds currently is investigating Purdue's options for developing a real-time online reference service that would bring the librarian right to the user's desktop, wherever they happen to be working.

"The technology exists that would allow a librarian to essentially share the same screen with the student and even control it, making it possible to lead the user right to where he or she needs to be for the specific assignment," Reynolds explains. "It's being used a lot in e-business, and libraries are just now starting to look at ways it can be adapted for the kind of information-sharing we do."

Source: Leslie Reynolds, (765) 494-2870,

Writer: Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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