The Evolution of Technostress: Much of What I Found out about Technostress and Librarians' Remains Just as Pertinent Today as It Was 10 Years Ago

Article excerpt

Nearly 10 years have passed since I researched, wrote, and defended my thesis, "Technostress in the Reference Environment: A Survey of U.S. Association of Research Libraries Academic Reference Librarians," at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Two things shock me: that it has been 10 years since grad school and that much of what I found out about technostress and librarians remains just as pertinent today as it was then. I became interested in technostress for two reasons. First, I wanted to be a systems librarian. When I was a library assistant in 1994, I learned how to code HTML in Notepad on a Sun SPARC that ran UNIX, and I loved it. Second, I wanted Carol Tenopir to direct my thesis, so I looked for a topic that would interest her as well. Not only did I hit upon a fascinating subject that piqued Tenopir's curiosity, it caught the attention of everyone else as well. Not a single job interview went by where I didn't spend the majority of the time answering questions about technostress.

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Technostress Background

As I delved deeper into the topic, I realized that there was very little written specifically on librarians and technostress. In the early 1980s, Craig Brod, a psychotherapist and consultant on integrating new technologies into the workplace, was one of the first to define technostress. Brod's description of technostress as a "modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with new computer technologies in a healthy manner" had become the standard and accepted definition. I found only two librarians who were researching technostress at that time: Sara Fine and John Kupersmith. Fine's research became so influential that when she retired from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999, the school established the Sara Fine Institute for Interpersonal Behavior and Technology. Kupersmith has been studying technostress for more than 20 years and maintains an excellent Web site full of resources. Aside from these two leaders in the field, research was spotty and consisted primarily of opinion pieces and editorials. I hoped my survey would add to the growing body of research on librarians and technostress.

The Thesis and Survey

The literature review I conducted back in 1996 pointed to six primary causes of technostress: pace of change, lack of training, increased workload, lack of standardization, reliability of technology, and the changing role of librarians. So, I designed a survey to measure those six aspects of technological change. I used a Likert-type index to measure librarians' perception of new technologies and the impact of these technologies on reference services in the six primary causes I identified. Luckily for me, Tenopir allowed me to include my survey with a survey she did that tracked changes in electronic reference. Five copies of the technostress survey were mailed to the heads of reference of the 97 U.S. academic research libraries, complete with instructions to distribute them to reference librarians and to make more copies if needed. I received responses from 158 individuals in 37 libraries.

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I gathered some interesting data from the responses. Of the six causes identified in the literature review, the pace of change and lack of standardization appeared the most stressful. Stress also seemed to come from the level of technological savvy expected of librarians. User expectations of what is and is not possible and what librarians could and could not do remained a source of frustration. Overall, however, the vast majority (83 percent) felt positive about the future of reference services.

Technostress Today

As technology has created a more mobile and connected society, with technological tools that fit easily into pockets, the expectations for the delivery of service beyond the walls of the library has also increased. What frustrated us 10 years ago has evolved into some new issues and challenges. …