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This was an assignment for a youth and new media class.

From 1988-89, Frances F. Jacobson conducted a study examining gender differences in computer anxiety and library anxiety among secondary school students. Jacobson is a Librarian at University Laboratory High School and a Professor of Library Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Jacobson noted in her lit review that previous to her study there was significant discussion of the gender gap in computer anxiety, both among students and in society at large. These studies routinely found that women had more computer anxiety and a greater degree of negativity towards computers and technology than men did. She noted that the library literature was beginning to examine the relationship between gender and computer use in libraries, but largely as related to library staff. Jacobson also examined a recent study on library anxiety, noting that gender was not specifically examined as a factor in the study.

Jacobson identified gaps in the research that can be summed up as follows:

  1. What happens when computers (a cause of techno anxiety) are introduced into libraries (not a place of techno anxiety, but of research anxiety)?
  2. Is library anxiety gender based?
  3. What is the relationship between library anxiety and computer anxiety?
  4. What are the implications for libraries?
  5. What can be done to deal with these anxieties?

Jacobson designed and conducted a study for 1988-89 academic year at a laboratory school for the academically gifted which is associated with the University of Illinois. The participants were high school seniors who were taking on their first major research project in the library – a year long formal debate project. For this they had access to the U of I’s 7,000,000 volume library, their school library, periodicals and indexes on CD-ROM and online searching through Dialog. These students had taken a one semester computer literacy course during their freshman year and had access to the school computer lab. The 49 students were divided into 11 teams of 4-5 students each and had to submit their debate research periodically through the year, including citations. At the commencement of the project 98% of the students (all but one) had previously used an online library catalogue.

The study was quasi-experimental, consisting of a pre-test attitude survey, classroom instruction on online searching, then a post-test to measure the changes in computer and library interest and anxiety. The attitude survey was 16 items divided into four equal categories;

  1. Library Anxiety
  2. Computer Anxiety
  3. Using Computers for Library Research Anxiety
  4. Interest in Using Computers for Library Research

The sixteen items were rated on a Likert scale by the participants. In the pre-test the participants also supplied age and sex and answered questions about their proficiency with the online catalog, online searching and CD-ROM periodical indexes. On the post-test, the participants were asked about their satisfaction with online searching.

The study showed that in both the pre- and post-tests females felt more anxiety about using computers, and using computers in libraries, while males felt more anxiety about using libraries in general. Both males and females felt less anxious in the post-test than they had in the pre-test about using computers and using libraries. Jacobson reported that libraries were “friendlier” for the females, while computers were “friendlier” for the males, which was consistent with the studies discussed in the lit review.

Females felt slightly more anxious about using computers in libraries in the post-test than they did in the pre-test, however Jacobson deemed this not statistically significant. Strangely, Jacobson notes in the text that the apparent decline in interest in using computers among the female participants from the pre-test to the post-test was not statistically significant, but according to Chart II, that decline was much larger than her stated significance level of .05. This inconsistency makes the rest of the results and the methodology itself suspect, if it is indeed an inconsistency, and not a misprint. If this drastic drop in interest from the pre-test to the post-test was real, then it brings up an interesting idea that Jacobson ignores in declaring it not statistically significant – that the seminars in computer usage in the library were responsible for that decline. That idea would go directly to the questions Jacobson asked at the beginning of the article, yet she chose to ignore it.

Jacobson concluded that comfort with computers in libraries did not lessen the general library anxiety of the males and suggested further examination of that relationship. She also noted that while females’ computer anxiety decline, their anxiety with using computers in libraries did not. Jacobson suggests that the negative feeling towards computers may have spilled over to the library, which the females generally considered friendly. Jacobson concluded that employing quantitatively difference computer instruction for females could be the answer to the problem, suggesting small group learning instead of individual learning.

I would have liked more information about the types of computers used in the study, as it makes a huge difference if they were using computers running DOS OS with command line interfaces or early Macs or Windows systems. I think that GUIs decreased the level of anxiety that was engendered by the command prompt. The lack of information about the type of computers used was one of the key problems that I had with the article. I felt that Jacobson made no allowance for the possibility that boys are often more confident than girls about their skills, regardless actual ability. Jacobson also did not acknowledge the group dynamics of a small class that presumably spends a lot of time together and has for years. All these things would have an effect on the study.

All in all, I feel like Jacobson found what she expected to find, with the exception of the decrease in interest in the post-test for females, which she declared not significant, further suggesting that she found what she expected to find because she ignored that which she did not expect.

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