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Donell and McCabe cite Banki in their emphasis of motivation as:

"any direct or indirect, positive or negative inducement, influence, suggestion or other stimuli that can mobilize and direct the attitude and behavior of an individual or group toward the accomplishment of some specific goal or objective" (22).

Brehm & Self describe the main function of motivation as being, "the production of instrumental behavior." (111)


Relevance to Reference Librarians


In terms of the reference library, a user can be seen as someone who has not only been motivated to answer a question but has also been set into "instrumental behavior" to go about answering that question. One of the main goals for information professionals within a library is to make sure that the user's needs are being served and met (Donell & McCabe, 23). This means that not only are the services pertinent to the user being offered, they are also fully visible to the user and being used to their utmost potential. Reference librarians are considered one of the initial contacts a user has when entering a library and beginning their information seeking quest and so hold an important place in this dynamic. Not only are they involved within the process of "instrumental behavior" used to answer the question, they can also be the person who actually initiates motivation within a user to answer a question and use the library to do so.


Problems for the Reference Librarian


One of the problems the Reference Librarian faces in completing his or her goal is what Brehm and Self identify as user's "motivational arousal" (111). In other words, how much a user is moved to actually implement behavior towards answering a question. According to Brehm and Self, a user's motivational arousal is directly tied to his or her own attitudes about whether or not a question can be answered, how much effort must go into answering the question, and how worthwhile answering the question would actually be. As long as the user believes that there is an answer to a question, the effort is within his or her capacity, and that the answer is worthy of its investigation, then and only then will "instrumental behavior" be implemented.


While a user in a library denotes the beginning potential of motivation, the Reference Librarian may also serve as an initiator of motivation. Library Anxiety can often halt a user's motivational potential, his or her personality may not be conducive towards reference interaction, he or she may not know how to formulate the question or even realize that a question has the capacity to be answered. Here, the job of the Reference Librarian as motivator is at its most visible.


However, the question also comes up of the Reference Librarian's own motivation towards helping a user. Here we have the problem of whether the reference/library environment is conducive to being a receptive Reference Librarian and his or her own attitudes towards reference.


Towards Motivation


One step in the direction of a Reference Librarian's full potential in the role of motivation is to make sure that the library environment is one of motivation itself. Donell and McCabe give us Peter Grazier's, "6 factors that influence team motivation" which can be followed in order to produce effective teamwork(23):

1) purpose

2) challenge

3) camaraderie

4) responsibility

5) growth

6) leadership


When it comes to the actual question of how it is that one actually motivates another person, Wehmyer reminds us that "motivation rises with tension or anxiety...pleasant feelings...capitalizing on existent interests...prompt feedback...and laughter" (16). She also gives us prompts on how to user's mind moving towards the full potential of his or her information seeking behavior:


Strategies to Implement Motivation in Information Seeking (11-13)

-- Model curious behavior

-- Present a discrepant event

-- Present something novel

-- Present something incomplete

-- Ask key questions

-- Reward curious behavior

-- Capitalize on uncertainty


It is important to note the full potential of motivation depends on a Reference Librarian's own professionalism and motivation and how well the user's needs are read (which may most often be through non-verbal communication. However, as long as teamwork and professionalism are kept up in a library and reference setting, then the "intellectual power of finding answers" (Wehmyer, 16) can fully be recognized by the user which will lead to an increase in motivation.


Relevant Topics






Information Problem

} Information Seeking Behavior

Mudge Method (subcategory of Isadore Mudge

Library Anxiety

Models of Reference Service

Non-Verbal Communication

The Reference Interview




  • Brehm, J. & Self, E. (1989). The Intensity of Motivtion. Annual Reviews, 40, 109-31


  • Donell, D.R. & McCabe, G.B. (2006). It's all about student learning: managing community & other college libraries in the 21rst Century. Westport : Libraries Unlimited.


  • Wehmeyer, L. (1976) The School Librarian as Educator. Littleton : Libraries Unlimited.