"Attributions and Attitude Change When Consulting a Reference Librarian: a Self-Witnessing Report"

by Steven E. Mendes



Within the realm of social psychology there are several important concepts which are consistently applied in the everyday interactions among people. In the first two chapters of Krupat's Psychology Is Social we learned a couple of these concepts which come under the chapter headings of "Perceptions and Attributions" and "Attitudes and Attitude Changes." These concepts or theories each contain within themselves smaller theories which only when collectivized produce a fuller understanding of the major concepts.

Some of the ideas behind the concept of attribution may include: our perception of social events, causal attributions, misattribution, and title attributions. In brief the perceptions of social events are influenced by first impressions, attitudes, reputations and stereotypes; causal attributions are the assigning of a dispositional or situational cause for a person's actions; misattribution is the event where one wrongly blames the actions of someone on their disposition rather than their situation; and titled attribution is the labeling or stereotyping of someone's actions. All of these fall under the general heading of attribution.

Ideas behind the concept of attitude change are: attitudes fear arousal, and dissonance theory. In brief attitudes are a consistent way of feeling toward your environment or yourself; fear arousal has to do with the preconceptions or imaginings of a certain situation or person; and dissonance theory is based on the belief that whenever we are faced with situations of conflict we experience cognitive dissonance--- in other words we are faced with the problem of explaining our actions(to others as well as to ourselves).

For the understanding of attributions and attitude changes when consulting a reference librarian one must do a bit of self-witnessing in the analysis of one's automatic-self(the things we do which are "forced"on us by others---conforming attitudes) and of our inner thoughts or discourse thinking. Thus a scenario of first our imagining of a reference librarian and second the actual dialogue with one is required.


The task of understanding attributions and attitude changes when consulting a reference librarian must be divided into two parts. The first part will be my own imagined dialogue between myself and the librarian. Along with the dialogue my discourse thinking is written as well as my imagined librarians discourse thinking. The second part of the assignment is the actual dialogue which took place between myself and a reference librarian at Hamilton library. For the second part no discourse thinking is written in the discussion following the results.


TABLE 1: An imagined dialogue with a reference librarian (with inclusion of discourse thinking).
1. Me: Uh...excuse me...uh...hello...

2. L: Yes?...One moment please. (busy, busy, busy)
3 minutes later---
3. L: Sorry to keep you waiting. What can I do for you?
4. Me: Uh...yeah...can you help me find something? I'm doing
a research paper on the literary works of the 15th and 16th century and I can't seem to find any thing about it in the card catalogue. That do you recommend I do?
5. L: Have you tried locking under literature: The Renaissance?

6. Me: Uh, no. Thanks.

7. L: Uh huh. (busy3 busy, busy)


1. Well there's the librarian. Gee, she looks terribly but
...maybe I should just come back later. Oh hell I gotta get this done---here goes nothing.

2. I knew I should've waited. Well at least I got her attention.

3. Jesus, it's about time! I should've known something like would've happened. Very typical.


4. Boy, I bet it's gonna be a silly question to her but...

5. I knew it. She must think I'm a real dunce.

6. I'm so embarrased. Gotta scram.


2. I have to get this stuff filed away by 5:00, I hope this guy can wait a couple of minutes.

3. I hope he's not upset.

4. I enjoy helping, especially the undergraduates who are still feeling their way around.

7. Well back to the tedious stuff.

TABLE 2: An actual dialogue with a reference librarian(no discourse thinking)
1. Me: Excuse me...I'd like to find where the magazines
are kept.
2. L: Are you looking for back issues or current issues?
3. Me: A current issue.
4. L: Okay you see that room(she points) there? That's
where current magazines are kept. On the front desk there, there should be a book with a listing of the magazine your looking for, If you have any problems there should be some one at the desk to help you.
5. Me: Aliright, thanks.
6. L: (smiles)


It appears from my observations that the fears that had evolved in my imagined dialogue were unfounded. There was no thing in which suggested any annoynce or criticism of myself for not knowing something that was quite obvious. The fact that I had attributed some less than desirable qualities to librarians in general had colored my opinion of what a specific librarian would actually be like. It is possibly due to the stereotyping of librarians as bent-over, old hags who are enraged at the sound of a human voice within the library and who persist in shushing any one who even breaths too loud.

In the true situation the reference librarian was help as well pleasant about the whole matter. Assuming that this particular instance is in accord with normal librarian/student relations then there is no reason for avoidance of consulting the reference librarian, other than misattribution and an unhealthy attitude towards approaching them for help.


Situations like the approaching of a reference librarian are all to common with people in everyday life. The concept of attribution plays a powerful role in lives of all people. It's not that we should mark this concept as bad, but rather that we realize the dangers of misattribution. There must be a balance between dispositional and situational attributes and this can be accomplished only if we can see things through the other persons viewpoint.

Attitudes must also be changed. The idea of institution al depersonalization reflects more unhealthy attitudes that people have towards others. A mentally unbalanced person must be treated like other people---only with more care and more understanding. Only after one takes into consideration the ideas and differing thoughts of others can a healthy attitude be developed towards human relations. Unfortunately you can lead a person to knowledge but you can't make him think. This is where the concept of self-wittnessing comes into play--- by first understanding oneself it is so much easier to under stand others. Attitude change is slow to come about but with self-witnessing the process is much easier and more likely to happen.

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