There are wide and varying definitions for stress among researchers studying the phenomenon. In reference literature, stress is generally defined as a person's psychological and physiological response to the perception of a challenge or pressure (Bunge, 1989; Hodges, 1990). Stress is an internal response while a "stressor" is the source of a challenge or pressure. Stress can be a negative or a positive factor, encouraging or hindering an individual. Managing the amount of stress in one's life or "coping" consists of attempting to achieve a balance between stressors in one's life and the resources available to meet these challenges and pressures. Coping strategies include getting away or reducing the number of stressors, obtaining more resources to meet demands, and changing one's perceptions of the situation (Bunge, 1989). Since the mid-1980's, researchers have been studying stress in the library workplace and introducing stress management techniques to help library workers reduce their levels of stress and to avoid burnout.
Sources of Reference Stress
Sources of stress for reference librarians can be attributed to a wide range of new and traditional demands. The new demands are associated with factors such as technological changes ("technostress"), shifting priorities, and increasing competitiveness among staff. Traditional challenges include the pressure of working with the public, inadequacies in management, poor relationship with the local government, low pay, and feeling undervalued. According to Bunge (1987), reference librarians most frequently report being stressed by the sheer volume and hectic pace of reference questions.
Reported sources of stress for reference librarians vary by type of library. Public librarians are under pressure to answer questions quickly and courteously in a distracting environment. Budget cuts and increased computer technology utilization in the library has increased workload and stress in many libraries, particularly public. Academic librarians are frustrated when treated as non-professional staff on their campuses despite teaching responsibilities. Library faculty in higher education institutions may not be able to acquire tenure or earn equitable salaries to other faculty members despite pressure to do research, publish, and participate in committees. Special and corporate librarians often work with clients that fail to recognize or respect their expertise and skill. Librarian positions with corporate or special libraries can be unstable and dynamic.
Stress can manifest in many forms - physical, psychological, or behavioral. Stress-related health problems can include headaches, insomnia, and colds. Psychological symptoms from stress include depression and feelings of frustration, apathy, and entrapment. Behavioral symptoms in library staff experiencing stress can be exhibited as a lack of concern and respect for clients and colleagues, feelings of resentment towards those making demands, and resentment towards the job itself (Hodges, 1990).
According to Bunge (1989), organizational strategies for stress management include reducing the number and intensity of stressors, strengthening the employee's ability to cope with stress effectively, and recognizing and assisting those who are not coping effectively and who are at risk for burnout. Examples include limiting the number of hours working on intense or taxing activities, providing opportunities for learning and creativity, and having good organizational communication. It is also suggested that library managers provide stress management workshops for employees and support workers that are burning out.
For individuals, it is important to understand how stress operates in one's life by identifying various stressors and using coping strategies to develop an "action-oriented plan for revitalization (Bunge, 1989)." Time management, relaxation, reflection, and interpersonal communication skills are important in coping with job stress. Library staff trainings should include opportunities to improve self-awareness, reflection, and problem-solving skills. Managers should encourage and assist in the development of staff member support systems.
Bunge, C.A. (1987). Stress in the library. Library Journal 112(Sept), 47-51
Bunge, C.A. (1989). Stress in the library workplace. Library Trends, 38, 92-102
Hodges, J.E. (1990). Stress in the library. Library Association Record, 92(10), 751-754
Lemay, M.; Layton, F.; and Townsend, D. (1990). A model of human responses to workload stress. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 28, 547-550
Public Library Stress
Roose, T. (1989). Stress at the reference desk. Library Journal 114, 166-167
Corporate Library Stress
Smith, N.M. and Nielsen, L.F. (1984). Burnout: A survey of corporate librarians. Special Libraries Association, 75(3), 221-227
Academic Library Stress
Hoggan, D.B. (2003). Faculty status for librarians in higher education. 'Libraries and the Academy,' 3(3), 431-445
Sheesley, D.F. (2001). Burnout and the academic teaching librarian: An examination of the problem and suggested solutions. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 27(6), 447-451.
Kupersmith, J. (1992). Technostress and the reference librarian. Reference Services Review 20(Spring), 7-14, 50
Rose, P.M.; Stoklosa, K.; and Gray, S.A. (1998). A focus group approach to assessing technostress at the reference desk. Reference and User Services Quarterly 37, 311-317