Dr. Diane Nahl
Dr. Leon James
ABSTRACT: Learning to use the library is an accumulation on of skills acquired through reinforcement and punishment. Applying scientific principles of learning to librarianship is consistent with a scientist-librarian role. Learning requires motivation, reinforcement or reward, and active responding. Complex behaviors like searching are built up through the reinforcement of simpler responses like arranging alphanumeric sequences, decoding abbreviations, and following instructions precisely. When a search strategy yields wanted information, the Behavior that led up to it is reinforced. Librarians influence much of the reinforcement environment of the library either directly by providing help, social approval and friendliness, or indirectly by the structure and layout of information tools. Punishment is also provided either directly by fines and unfriendly exchanges, or indirectly by regulations perceived by patrons as aversive. Both reinforcement and punishment are natural and necessary conditions for all learning.
Punishment and Reinforcement In The Library
Learning theory has been an active area of research in psychology and has had a strong influence on the fields of education and clinical psychology. Several writers in the field of library science have urged the application of learning theory principles to library instruction.1 Learning theory can provide useful concepts to help librarians provide more effective services. We all operate under our own personal "learning theory," whether implied or explicit, by which we represent to ourselves how learning takes place. This is particularly evident when we teach children or train pets. We use praise and punishment to shape and modify their behavior according to our own view of when and how much reward or punishment should be given. Reference librarians are constantly involved in formal and informal teaching and naturally accumulate experience with the principles of behavior that influence the learning modes of library users. Librarians can gain a better understanding of their implicit theory of learning by examining concepts taken from the experimental literature on learning theory.
The mission to deliver better information services for patrons can be well promoted by the 'librarian-scientist' model. Libraries, like classrooms, are places of learning, and applying scientific learning principles to the library setting would seem to be a rational step for librarianship. The library is in fact a learning lab managed by librarians, who therefore have an intrinsic interest in the learning principles that influence the behavior of patrons. As well, the study of learning principles, when applied to the self, can improve self-management skills in the work place.
Search Behavior and the Conditions of Learning
All library use involves searching for information, whether on a page, in a book, index, or database. Search behavior simultaneously involves the three domains of human action: affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor.2 A patron in the library seeks to meet an information need or interest (affective behavior), and engages in interpreting and memorizing information found (cognitive behavior). These two inner activities give meaning to sensorimotor acts of reading, pressing keys, walking, writing, noting, rehearsing verbally, scanning lists, and so on. Consulting a librarian and describing one's information need is part of search behavior, as is the ability to take notes, think in terms of subject headings, or use a copy machine. Search behavior is thus a complex set of affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor skills arranged in hierarchical order. Some sub-skills like alphabetizing or memorizing continuously enter into all of its aspects; others like negotiating a query at the reference desk, enter into only some of its aspects. Each skill or sub-skill in searching is itself a behavior and thus is acquired through the principles of learning.
Clearly, learning is selective. Three conditions must be present for learning to take place: motivatvion to learn; active responding; reinforcement (or punishment).3
Motivation: Primarily, the learner must have sufficient motivation as manifested by the urge to learn and the desire to acquire some knowledge or ability. Motivation or affective behavior gives direction to activities by selecting the focus of attention and determining salience in relation to one's goal. Motives, purposes, or intentions impose an organizational framework on incoming information, attaching value or relevance to it. Motivation also provides for the reward value of success, since the newly acquired knowledge or skill empowers the individual to pursue and obtain desired life goals.
Search behavior is goal-directed behavior. The patron's purpose for being in the library is the source of motivation for the sub-activities that constitute a search. Every single search act is powered by its own particular motivation or expectancy. For example, the sensorimotor act of looking up and down a page in an index is motivated by the desire to find a particular match between the printed word (subject heading) and a particular word or phrase held in memory. The focused activity will continue as long as the motive persists. Finding a match attains the goal and ends the motive. Changing your mind or deciding to look for another word also terminates the motive. Search behavior is thus governed by a series of hierarchically arranged motives or purposes.
A concern for providing effective information services includes in its purview an interest in influencing the motives of patrons. We presented a slide show on book conservation, originally prepared for student helpers in the library, to an undergraduate class in social psychology. A number of students later mentioned the slide show in their term paper, stating that it had affected them greatly and had changed their attitudes toward books. What was earlier just a bunch of books, suddenly became to the students a vulnerable public treasure to be protected for the common good. Books could be damaged by pulling them off the shelf by their spine cap or by pressing them down against the plate while copying a page. Books are repositories of important ideas. It is expensive and tedious to replace a book damaged by food, liquids, and vermin. A number of students resolved to treat books more carefully. These cognitive re-appraisals and affective changes are evidence that librarians can influence the motives of library users in directions beneficial to them by taking motives into account when engaged in reference and information desk service, library orientation, bibliographic instruction and other patron oriented efforts.
Responding: Second, the learner must be sufficiently active in responding externally and internally. In the sensorimotor domain, new hand-eye coordination habits may be required, involving skills in copying accurately, or noticing clues on a sign, page, card, or screen. In the cognitive domain, information is to be processed in a certain sequence, related to existing information in the memory, and stored for later retrieval when needed. In the affective domain, new personal adjustments are called for, variable attitudes, a willingness to explore in new directions, patience in the face of frustration, and trust in the wisdom of experts.
Reinforcement: Third, the learner must be provided with appropriate rewards. A reinforcer or "reinforcing stimulus" is defined by its effect, namely, that it increases the probability of the wanted behavior. For example, the act of finding a book at its call number location is a rewarding stimulus or experience which reinforces the behavior that led up to it: consulting a floor map, following range numbers, reasoning with alpha-numeric sequencing, comparing and matching, identifying, and so on. The source of power for the reinforcing effect is dependent on the strength of the individual's motive. Finding reinforces future seeking when the same motive is present. A smile or friendly acknowledgment by a reference librarian is a social reward that reinforces the behavior of consulting a librarian. The desire for social approval is the motive that gives rewarding power to the smile. The effectiveness of a reinforcer thus depends on its relevance to the patron's current motive.
Thus, the three necessary conditions for learning a wanted behavior are sufficient motivation, active responding, and contingent reinforcement. Punishment is applied to unwanted behavior and is therefore theoretically not a necessary condition for learning a wanted behavior. However, practically it is difficult to eliminate the occurrence of aversive stimulation while learning and practicing complex tasks. Negative feelings such as frustration or anger are a natural punishing outcome of committing errors. Fortunately, errors also provide a good opportunity for learning wanted behavior by giving feedback on how close the behavior is to the standard or target. The educative function of punishment is discussed below.
The Concept of Reinforcement in the Library
Information seeking is a complex set of behaviors acquired through learning or the laws of conditioning. The chief of these is that a habit is formed through rewarded repetitions. When a decision is made in the process of searching, the outcome determines the reinforcement. If it's a good decision, Success of a sub-goal is attained and one feels rewarded. The decision is reinforced. It will occur again at a similar choice point. This means that it has been added to one's search behavior repertoire of skills. Learning has taken place. This process occurs again and again, dozens of times in a single search. Without the presence of reward behavior is not reinforced and learning does not take place. Complex behaviors like searching are built up through the reinforcement of simpler responses. These include paraphrasing key phrases, reasoning with alpha-numeric sequences and filing rules, decoding abbreviations, differentiating types of library resources, analyzing a problem into a decision tree or guided design, matching subject headings to keywords, following instructions precisely, and so on. The simpler skills were originally built up through reinforcement, and now they are grouped together into search skills also through reinforcement.4
Reinforcement derives its power from the enjoyment or happiness of a fulfilled desire, need, motive, or goal. External positive reinforcers like food, money, privileges, or social approval operate
to satisfy physical and interpersonal needs. The presentation of one of these reinforcing agents strengthens the wanted behavior to which they are contingently applied. Children learn early that they can obtain money and privileges for tasks well accomplished. Students rarely study unless rewarded by the grades they know are contingent on their performance. Similarly, external negative reinforcers like disapproval, threat, restriction, pain, or deprivation act as aversive stimuli whose removal strengthens the wanted behavior to which they are applied. A child laboring under threat of parental disapproval cleans up the bedroom and thus removes the threat. The cessation of threat is rewarding and the behavior of cleaning up is strengthened. As the child gets older and the threat less threatening, the power of the negative reinforcer weakens. Parents and authority figures are always challenged to provide just the right kind of negative and positive reinforcers that fit the motivation and orientation of their charges.
The power or effectiveness of a reinforcer thus depends on its relation to the learner's motivation or affective state. When a situation is delightful, either because of the presentation of something good or the removal of something bad, it acts as a reinforcer to whatever behavior led up to it. The behavior is strengthened in probability; it is more likely to occur again. If repetition of the behavior is met with delightful consequences again and again, the behavior becomes an ability, a habit, a skill. It becomes a learned behavior and is added to the individual's behavior repertoire. Reinforcement is thus the key, the sine qua non, of learning. While an undergraduate at McGill University, one of us had the pleasure of frequenting Redpath Undergraduate Library. An inscription near the entrance read, "Beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies." This thought, which Bartlett attributes to John Milton (Introduction to The Reason of Church Government, Book II), filled me with a feeling of relaxation and excited anticipation. It set up in me the expectation of entering a place of charm where I can make contacts across time, place, and generation. Each time I passed by, I read the inscription, was motivated to enter the library, and felt reinforced for doing so. Other libraries might consider this type of influence on patron motivation.
Managing the Library's Reinforcement Environment
A patron using an online public access catalog receives a continuous stream of reinforcers for every key stroke. The face or speech of the person may reflect this: happy when the news on the screen is good, and unhappy when disappointing or confusing. Good news strengthens the behavior of online searching; the skill continues to improve with practice to expertise. Bad news has two effects: it fails to relieve aversive stimulation in searching, and it punishes by precipitating new aversive stimulation (frustration, disappointment, anxiety). Both effects weaken the behavior.
The organization of libraries provides positive and negative reinforcers, as well as punishment. A librarian answering a question satisfactorily for a patron positively reinforces or strengthens the behavior of consulting a librarian for an information need. Finding a citation in an index reinforces the search strategy that lead up to it. When some new information is reassuring, say about one's health, it reinforces the behavior of seeking information as a coping strategy. Anxiety or worry acts as a negative reinforcer: it strengthens behavior that causes the removal of the anxiety. For instance, anxiety about a new job or geographic location can be relieved by reading up on it; the particular information seeking behavior that netted the new information that reduced the anxiety will be strengthened. A negative reinforcer thus works by the removal of "aversive stimulation" (fear, anxiety, pain, dissatisfaction); the behavior that removes the unpleasant stimulus is strengthened. Thus, a patron may feel anxiety when needing say 10 references right away for a project. By following a productive research strategy the 10 references are found and the anxiety is relieved. This reduction in aversive stimuli is contingent upon particular search acts correctly performed, such as selecting appropriate subject headings, looking them up in the catalog or periodical index, keeping appropriate notes, finding call number locations, and retrieving content. These search acts are all reinforced by the outcome of finding the wanted references.
Library management requires the use of reinforcement. Workable search strategies are rewarded with success. Good patron behavior is rewarded with approval, either directly in face to face exchanges with librarians, or indirectly through a sign (e.g., "Thank you for returning the periodical to the self" or "Thank you for not talking in quiet areas"). Sending notices to faculty about new books or facilities is rewarding to the recipients and reinforces their library related behaviors such as noting the existence of the service, thinking about using it, feeling reassured that librarians want to serve professors, and so on. The use of reinforcement through written communications to patrons needs to be fully applied in librarianship. The following are some examples: sending a thank you note for books returned before their due date; "thank you" signs or notices for good patron behavior such as not forcing the book down while copying a page or working fast when there's a line for a service; congratulating or encouraging the online searcher with rewarding remarks on the screen at appropriate times; having a sign on the Reference Desk that says, Congratulations. You have found the Reference Desk; having another sign that says, Thank you for consulting me.
Token Economy System in the Library
Research is needed to identify effective social reinforcers in the library environment. It is widely held that American industry owes its success to effective incentive systems for workers, managers, and investors. Psychologists have demonstrated the effectiveness of "token economy systems" as reinforcing agents in learning and behavior modification.5 Libraries can adopt a system whereby patrons can earn various points for performing wanted behaviors which they can exchange for predefined privileges. A punch card system similar to that used in some libraries for copy machine credits, might also be workable for assigning and keeping track of library points. A posted schedule of points earned for designated behaviors may be kept at a library desk where the patron comes to claim the points. The librarian would hear the explanation and punch in or add the requisite points, and alternately punch out or subtract points when the patron is redeeming a privilege.
The following are some examples of privileges that might be handed out:
(i) access privileges to study carrels, cubicles, lounging areas, and to special equipment such as limited access to printers and databases; (ii) special or additional rights such as renewal of books, longer borrowing time, higher maximum of simultaneously borrowed books, use of restricted reference sources, and selection of new acquisitions; (iii) special services such as free online searching, free copying, term paper consultation, and others.
Points could be given by librarians as a form of reward for all sorts of wanted patron behaviors. The following are examples: returning a book before its due date; consulting a librarian; mastering a new technology; being quiet and considerate of others; being warmly dressed; helping someone with a search problem; completing the library research part of a term paper; using a particular reference tool; finding a misplaced book on the shelf; memorizing main classes of the classification system; enrolling in an orientation or bibliographic instruction program; passing a library skills test; filling out a library survey form; contributing a library self-report to the librarys archives on instructional materials; noticing and reporting an error in the catalog, or elsewhere; accumulating a predetermine number of hours in the library; devising and keeping up to date a personal bibliographic database of cards or computer files; contributing an annotated bibliography on a subject; knowing and understanding the contents of a particular library guide; and others. Library and information centers vary a great deal in terms of background of patrons and extend of facilities offered, two factors which significantly affect the nature of a workable system.
The Concept of Punishment in the Library
Punishment is the addition (not removal) of an aversive stimulus; the behavior that led up to the unpleasant stimulus is then suppressed. Having to pay a fine for returning an overdue book is a punishment since the patron is exposed to an aversive stimuli, that is, parting with money and being associated with a misdemeanor. Note that the presentation of a positive reinforcer and the removal of a
negative reinforcer operate on strengthening a wanted behavior. Punishment on the other hand operates on unwanted behavior.
Punishment is the administration of negative sanctions to an unwanted behavior. This is done in either of two ways: withdrawing a rewarding event (money, approval), or presenting an aversive one (reprimand, loss of privileges). Punishment works by suppressing unwanted behavior. The threat of a fine is an aversive stimulus constantly present and acts as a deterrent. The patron is motivated to avoid the aversive stimulus contingent upon returning an overdue book. Similarly, when the alarm buzzer at the exit goes off, it acts as an aversive humiliating stimulus. This is plainly seen on the pained faces of those caught (justly or unjustly) in the turnstile by the buzzer. The punishing sound of the buzzer, together with its denigrating implications, act to suppress the unwanted behavior of taking books out improperly. Giving a loud patron the "Shh!" treatment acts as a punishment which suppresses the unwanted talking behavior (though maybe not for long). Accidentally tearing a book is a punishment to those who possess socialized guilt feelings about public property, and results in suppressing the careless behavior that led up to it. Think of a patron who writes down an incomplete or incorrect call number, then has to go back to the source for verification. Having to go back is aversive and thus acts as a suppresser of the erroneous behavior.
A malfunctioning printer on the online catalog, a burned out light on the microfiche reader, or an "out of order" sign on a needed copy machine act as punishing agents by denying a patron access to an expected service. Librarians are familiar with many recurrent complaints in the "Suggestions Book" concerning library hours, missing books, noise, or restricted access. In every case some library restraint is felt as punishing by a patron whose expectations are not met. The librarian's attempt to either correct the situation or justify it in reasonable terms, is responsive to the principle that patrons' dissatisfactions can be eased through their cognitive re-appraisal of the situation in the light of an explanation. It is important to see that there is a relation between people's expectations and their motivations, irrespective of whether or not the expectations are rational, realistic, or reasonable from the perspective of librarians. Failure to fulfill a patron's expectation is aversive and the event functions as a punishment. When this happens it is desirable to compensate the patron with positive reinforcers including expressions of regret, explanations that reduce dissonance, and offers for workable alternatives.
The Function of a System of Fines
Levying fines for overdue books is a visible and controversial issue.6 Concepts from learning theory can help objectify the issue which otherwise remains an emotional subject. Learning theory gives us the concept of punishment as a deterrent. It operates as a threat similarly to the way a sand trap operates in golf. Paying a fine is parting with money without a visible product. It is similar to loosing money or having it stolen. These are aversive stimuli and people try to suppress the behavior that leads up to them such as carelessness or mismanagement. Objectively considered, punishment is a positive management tool having the same administrative status as reinforcement or reward.
Punishment considered subjectively is objectionable on many grounds as shown in the dramatization of a fine story by Anderson.7 Two hypothetical librarians are arguing about the appropriateness of denying borrowing privileges for failure to pay overdue book fines. The librarian with the tough stand says, "...if we didn't have any fine system, we'd have kids keeping books out for ever I'd like to see us increase our fine from 10 cents a day to 25. You've got to teach kids responsibility. Now don't get me wrong, most kids are responsible. But there has to be some way to punish those who aren't." This is not the expression of an objective view on punishment. In the subjective view expressed by this hypothetical librarian, punishment is to punish the irresponsible for their irresponsibility so as to teach them responsibility. This subjective view is seen and felt as prejudiced and undesirable by some librarians, as is evident from the reactions of the three guests invited to analyze the Anderson story.8
In the story, the other librarian who objects to fines on philosophical or personal ground, "felt like a schoolgirl. She shook her head gloomily. 'I'm sorry, but I can't bring myself to turn the kids away,' she said." This too is a subjective point of view, but on the soft rather than the tough end of subjectivity since it classifies the enforcement of the fines system as turning the kids away. This classification is subjective.
The objective view however is not objectionable on the same philosophical ground. It says that having a system of fines in place acts as a helpful deterrent to the responsible. It provides a motivational incentive to responsible patrons, helping them to suppress their unwanted tendency to forget or mismanage a contractual obligation. The system of fines teaches responsibility to all borrowers, including those responsible borrowers who never forget to return a book on time. Even after responsibility has developed, a system of fines in place helps maintain that responsibility intact. If research on this were done, we predict that patrons who never have to pay fines do not object to the principle of fines in the library, and they represent the vast majority of borrowers.
Perhaps it is the manner in which the fines system is administered that is most objectionable in the story, namely without sympathy for the hapless patron.9 To feel sympathy or compassion one must be able to empathize with the thoughts of the person, which requires an objective psychological view. One of the analysts of the Anderson story takes the position that "it is not the librarian's duty to teach responsibility."10 This may be so from a subjective point of view. But in the objective point of view as seen from learning theory, the library environment is so arranged that it continuously teaches responsibility through the management of reinforcement and punishment contingent upon patron behavior.
Library Searching: A Punishing Experience at First
Clearly, the concept of punishment has broad implications for the library. It is important to realize that the library experience is frequently punishing in less visible ways than fines. These are equally if not more important from the patron's perspective. Many of our students report that they regularly experience emotional disturbances when in the library. These include the following: general anxiety at the thought of having to go to the library; awe and paralysis upon entering the library and sensing its "vastness;" fear of not finding a wanted book on its shelf, and depression when indeed the book isn't there; intimidation and panic when considering talking to a reference librarian, and confusion and hysteria afterwards; phobic avoidance of online technology; dejection upon discovering the library does not subscribe to the periodical in which the just found citation is published; self-ridicule when realizing a particular search strategy was faulty; and others. None of these aversive events are directly caused by librarians. Yet librarians are indirectly linked to these aversive events because they exercise control over the organization and availability of information. Understanding the contingencies of punishment in the experience of patrons puts librarians in a better position to arrange the information environment in the library in ways that reduce the user's aversive experiences.
The Educative Function of Punishment in the Library
There is a controversy in the learning literature about the relative effectiveness of positive or negative reinforcement versus punishment. Il In principle, positive or negative reinforcement is considered more effective than punishment. This is attributed to the fact that reinforcement is applied to strengthen a wanted behavior while punishment is applied to suppress an unwanted behavior. The suppressed behavior tends to rekindle with time, or as soon as the threat of the aversive stimulus is no longer salient. On the other hand, reinforced behavior continues to occur without loss of strength or probability as long as some reinforcement continues to be provided as an outcome of the behavior.
Another difficulty with punishment is that its aversive quality tends to generalize. For example, having to pay a fine at the circulation desk results in an association between the circulation desk and aversive stimulation; or between the librarian and negativity; or between the library as a whole and fear or unpleasantness. "Gradients of generalization" spread out from the punishing location to related areas. For instance, during the reference interview, the behavior of the librarian can be a source of aversive stimulation or punishment for the patron, which then spreads to the reference section so that it is avoided in the future. By the same token, positive reinforcement generalizes. Friendly behavior, non-threatening exchanges, praise, and a smile can all act as positive reinforcing stimuli that transfer to other aspects of the library.
The undesirable generalization effect of punishments to socially desirable patterns can be reduced by providing clarifying explanations. Maintaining a friendly attitude while administering punishment inhibits activation of avoidance of the punishers. Avoidance of librarians is clearly undesirable since interpersonal avoidance reduces opportunities for constructive influence and instruction. Research is needed to investigate the differential effects of negative sanctions in the library. The reduction of aversiveness during the search experience is a highly desirable goal for information services. For example, with regard to fines, provisions could be made to return all or portions of the money when the patron demonstrates continued good behavior by returning books on time.
The educative function of punishment is promoted by a policy that provides for restoration of rewards contingent on appropriate conduct. This provides not only positive guidance but also further opportunities for learning. Social sanctions can help raise awareness of personal responsibility for the effects of transgressive behavior. This principle suggests that overdue notices might contain reminders of the effects upon others of unreturned books. This is intended to activate a sense of responsibility in the patron. In a similar vein, library membership cards might inscribe a code of ethics or library user creed. Evidence shows that negative sanctions couched in terms that arouse empathy for others promotes stronger self-restraints than does the emphasis on punishment for the transgressor.12 In other words, the stick is resented less if the carrot is also dangling. To a socialized person the aversive effects of self-restraint ("the stick") are neutralized by the rewarding effects ("the carrot") of feeling solidarity with others through empathy.
The effectiveness of punishment is enhanced when wrongdoers are required to undo the damage and make reparations. This suggests that patrons might be given an alternative to fines, like serving as a temporary volunteer for useful tasks in the library, or agreeing to enroll in bibliographic instruction programs. As to the issue of whether a small or larger fine is better, one school of thought advises that "self-control is best developed by using the minimum social pressure needed to gain compliance."13 In other words, the smallest fine that is effective is best. Research is needed to discover how small the fine can be and still be effective in producing a high rate of compliance. As well, we need to discover the effects of punishment in other areas of the library experience where patrons are exposed to aversive stimulation, such as restrictions to access, malfunctioning of equipment, unavailability of periodicals, or deprivation of bibliographic instruction. The immediate and indirect effects upon patrons of these aversive stimuli need to be studied.
External and Internal Restraints
Social restraints depend on the administration of punishment through external threat. When a system of punishment for transgressive behavior is in place, people are regulated by the anticipation of negative consequences. A greater percentage of patrons would take out books in an unauthorized way if the checking procedures were not in place. More people would fail to return books if there were no sanctions for such behavior. As behavior matures it comes under the control of internal restraints which operate through self-censure or self-reprimand for behavior that violates one's standards. Our democratic ideals eschew external surveillance of routine behavior; we uphold the concept of the mature person who substitutes internal control and direction for external sanctions and demands.
The library, like other service providing facilities, is managed by regulations and routines enforced by sanctions set by policy and custom. Examples include hours of operation, selection of collections, availability of technical services and equipment, borrowing privileges, presence of signs and maps, quiet policy, and many others. It is important to realize that a regulation set by external rewards. For example, we work all week without receiving a paycheck. We can apply for job after job, keeping up the behavior despite lack of success or reinforcement. Similarly, we can study a foreign language for months or years without being able to use it and thus being rewarded for it. A searcher may spend many hours and days in the library without visible successes. In all these situations external physical reinforcers give way to internal symbolic reinforcers. Self-talk is a powerful mental method a person uses to administer self-reinforcers symbolically.
Search behavior continuously operates to overcome the aversive stimulus of the unfulfilled information need. Every sub-activity is accompanied by affective and cognitive reactions. Success builds self-esteem; failure engenders depression. Part of bibliographic instruction ought perhaps to be to teach how to self-reinforce during searching. Many patrons are ill equipped to deal with the emotions that are aroused during searching. They may have habits of self-punishment by which they depress themselves using aversive self-talk such as, "You stupid fool. Why did you forget to write that down." or, "I'll never get this done on time." These damaging habits can lead a person into "learned helplessness," which is the loss of the motivation to master a task.
Learned Helplessness in the Library
Psychologists have observed that when people's environment is arranged in such a way that outcomes are independent of their responses, people acquire the belief that responding is useless; they have acquired learned helplessness.14 We have observed this phenomenon operating in the library. Student self-reports on library use reveal the following symptoms:
(a) negative anticipatory fantasies regarding the library or search behavior such as, pessimism ("The library won't have anything on this topic"), intimidation ("If I ask that librarian he'll think I'm stupid"), irrationality ( "It's a waste of time to go to the library"); (b) library abulia, or total absence of information seeking drive such as, procrastination in scheduling library visits ("I know I should be going to the library but I just keep not doing it"), avoiding a search ("I've been wanting to look that up for such a long time, but I just never get around to it"), reluctance to write down call numbers or citations accurately and in full ("I don't need to write it down cause I'll remember it"); (c) technophobia, or avoidance of the unfamiliar or complex in information decoding (e.g., "I avoid anything that has to do with computers" or "I don't like to use SSCI [Social Science Citations Index] because it's too much trouble figuring it out").
Habits of learned helplessness are difficult to extinguish because, by not responding, the individual is cut off from receiving reinforcement for new, more adaptive behavior. For instance, the false persuasion that time consumed in searching is wasted, is a constant negative force acting upon the searcher, putting pressure on the person to avoid performing or completing the task. As a result, the individual is barred from discovering success and its rewards. Hence no learning takes place except further helplessness. Freedom of access to information is limited or cut off.
Teaching Self-regulation in the Library
Psychologists have shown that people can be taught better self-control through the use of "self-regulatory sentences".15 Self-observation shows that we tend to use these naturally, as when we caution ourselves while engaged in some delicate task: "Be careful now. This is a touchy part." Providing patrons with self-reinforcing "speech acts" while searching is part of encouraging independent learning skills: the librarian's sentences, if not the librarian, are present to guide and regulate the person's search behavior. We asked students to write down the sentences they think while engaged in search behavior in the library. They reveal that search behavior is a matter of constantly overcoming negative forces. In other words, it is stressful.
Two particular forces loom large, negative fantasies and the law of least effort. In terms of negative fantasies, library users are their own worst enemy. Many seem to carry on a continuous stream of scary or depressing daydreams -- the library is too big; there are too many machines; it takes forever; the librarian thinks I'm stupid; it's never open when I need it; you never can find anything; I don't need to use the library; that reference book is too hard to figure out; it's not there; it disappeared; I can't think of another keyword for it; I can't figure out how this works; and so on. In terms of the law of least effort, library users are just people after all, which means that many will experience forced problem solving activity as unpleasant. Everything that's not already in one's repertoire is hard. It takes mental effort for patrons to adopt a librarian's way of thinking and deciding, without which they are denied access to wanted information. It takes efficient time management to allocate sufficient time for visits to the library, without which searching becomes hurrying. It takes a difficult to maintain saintly attitude to search with patience, persistence, flexibility, graciousness and humor in the face of simplistic errors, dead end routines and the blind hope for serendipity of finding something relevant in an unexpected way.
Teaching self-regulatory techniques in the library will address the standard individual problems, both emotional and cognitive. Patrons may be alerted to an inventory of errors that frequently occur with the use of a particular information tool or service. Our students report they are greatly relieved and encouraged when reading other students' library self-reports. They discover through this that anxiety, depression, and paranoia are common feelings to other library users as well. They see that they are not crazy or dumb after all. Research is needed to discover whether observational and vicarious learning can be effective in teaching search behavior. We are currently experimenting with the use of self-witnessing tapes produced by searchers talking into a tape recorder while searching. Tapes of this sort could be used in library orientation or bibliographic instruction as models of successful search protocols and strategies.
The affective intensity of the library experience also has a very important positive side. According to our students' self-reports, doing required course-integrated library research is ultimately a deeply rewarding experience in several dimensions. They end with a healthy sense of self-esteem and an enlarged conception of their capacity. They enthusiastically recommend that future students be required to go through with it for the sake of the amount of learning they would acquire as a result of it. They are awed and charmed by online catalogs and indexes, once they overcome their fears of learning how to use them. They laugh at themselves for being intimidated by librarians whom they find very nice and helpful. They are amazed and delighted that so much information exists on any one topic and gain an entirely new perspective on the information age and its vast industry. They make resolutions to learn more about the library, to use it regularly, and to promote it.
References and Notes
1 Rao Aluri and Mary Reichel, "Learning Theories and Bibliographic Instruction" in Carolyn A. Kirkendall, ed., Bibliographic Instruction and the Learning Process (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Pierian Press, 1982) p.15-27; Rao Aluri, "Application of Learning Theories to Library-Use Instruction," Libri 31(2): 140-52 (1981); Pamela Kobelski and Mary Reichel, !'Conceptual Frameworks for Bibliographic Instruction" The Journal of Academic Librarianship 7(2):73-77 (1981); Harold W. Tuckett and Carla J. Stoffle, "Learning Theory and the Self-Reliant Library User" RQ 24(1):58-66 (1984).
2 Leon A. Jakobovits and Diane Nahl-Jakobovits, "Learning the Library: Taxonomy of Skills and Errors" College & Research Libraries 48(3):203-14 (May 1987).
3 Albert Bandura, Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1986; Gordon H. Bower and Ernest R. Hilgard, Theories of Learning 5th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981); Robert M. Gagne, Essentials of Learning for Instruction (Hinsdale, Ill.: The Dryden Press, 1975); Arthur W. Staats, Social Behaviorism (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1975).
4 Arthur W. Staats, Learning, Language and Cognition (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968).
5 David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp, Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment 4th ed. (Monterey, Ca.: Brooks/Cole, 1985).
6 A.J. Anderson, "You Must Teach Kids Responsibility," Library Journal (May 1, 1984) 867-8. Michael Cart, "Shades of Les Miserables," Library Journal (May 1, 1984) 868. Mary K. Chelton, "What Are Fines For?," Library Journal (May 1, 1984) 868-9. Jean H. Galloway, "Responsibility and Reaction," Library Journal (May 1, 1984) 869.
8 Michael Cart, "Shades of ~OS M~se~&b~es," Library Journal (May 1, 1984) p.868.
9 Chelton, "What are Fines For," p.868.
10 Galloway, "Responsibility and Reaction," p.869.
11 Bower and Hilgard, Theories of Learning, p.31, 187.
12 Bandura, Social Foundations of Thouqht and Action, p.267.
13 Ibid, p.268.
14 Martin E.P. Seligman, Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death (San Francisco:
W.H. Freeman, 1975); Bower and Hilgard, Theories of Learning, p.284-7.
15 Donald H. Meichenbaum, Cognitive Behavior Modification: An Integrated Approach (New
York: Plenum, 1971).