Academic Exchange Quarterly         Winter  2004: Volume 8, Issue 4


English-Use Anxiety in Israeli College Libraries


Diane Mizrachi, University of California Los Angeles

Snunith Shoham, Bar Ilan University, Israel


Mizrachi, M.A., is an Information Literacy/Reference Librarian at College Library, UCLA, and Shoham, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Information Studies Department at Bar Ilan.



In high-tech, highly educated small language communities, college students are often dependent on non-native language material, usually English, for their studies and research. In a study of library anxiety among Israeli college students, applying English language skills for the specific purpose of computerized library searches in an academic library environment was found to be the single most debilitating factor.  This result proved consistent regardless of student’s age, gender, year of study or native language.



Library anxiety was first described and systematically studied by Constance Mellon (1986), and later defined as an uncomfortable feeling or emotional disposition characterized by tension, fear, a sense of uncertainty and helplessness, negative and self-defeating thoughts, and mental disorganization that appear only when students are in or contemplating a visit to the library (Jiao & others, 1996).  In 1992, Sharon Bostick developed the Library Anxiety Scale, which has proven its reliability in several quantitative studies (Bostick, 1992; Jiao & others, 1996; Jiao & Onwuegbuzie, 1997).


Many discussions and studies have been published on the difficulties that non-native English-speaking students encounter while studying at American universities and using American academic libraries (Wayman, 1984; Ball & Mahoney, 1987; Macdonald & Sarkodie-Mensah, 1988; Allen, 1993; Jiao & Onwuegbuzie, 1997; Zoe & DiMartino, 1996; Onwuegbuzie & Jiao, 1997; Liu & Redfern, 1997).  Onwuegbuzie and Jiao (1998) state that even “bibliographic instruction courses do not appear to reduce levels of library anxiety for non-native English speaking students” (p.245). This study presents an inversion of this problem in that the Israeli students are studying in their own cultural environment, instruction is in their native language, librarians and library staff speak Hebrew, and yet the students are often required to conduct library searches and use library material in a foreign language.


All Israeli B.Ed. students must display a minimum level of English proficiency before being accepted into their study program, and are required to continue their English studies until showing sufficient ability for the bachelor’s degree level.  But when required to apply their English language skills in a computerized library search or an academic library environment, do they display the self-confidence necessary to fully profit from these resources, or does their level of library anxiety cause an affective handicap? 


Library anxiety study

The purpose of this study was to measure the library anxiety levels of Israeli college students and investigate the possible relationship between library anxiety and computer attitudes.  Among the factors of library anxiety investigated was the ‘English language factor;’ discomfort caused by performing library searches in English and using English language resources and materials.


The sample population consisted of 664 B.Ed. students from eight teachers colleges throughout Israel.  The average age of this sample was 25.94 years, and 88% of the students were female.  Hebrew is the language of instruction at all institutions in this study.


Of the 654 students who answered the question about their native language, 82% reported Hebrew, 12% Arabic, 1% English, and 5% other.  This roughly parallels the national ethnicity of the state of Israel, which reports a total population consisting of 80% Jews, 18% Arabs, and 2% other. 



To measure library anxiety, Bostick’s Library Anxiety Scale (1992) was translated into Hebrew and modified to reflect cultural differences.  As the Hebrew-Library Anxiety Scale (H-LAS), it contained 35 Likert-type statements and was categorized into seven factors.  These factors include:


  • Staff: The students’ attitudes toward the librarians and library staff and  their perceived accessibility
  • Knowledge: How the students rate their own library expertise
  • English Language: The extent to which using English language searches and materials present discomfort
  • Physical comfort: How much the physical facility affects the students’ library enjoyment
  • Library computer comfort: The perceived reliability of library computer facilities and the quality of directions to use them
  • Library policies/hours: The students’ attitudes toward library regulations and operating hours
  • Resources: The perceived availability of the desired material in the library collection 


All factors tested adequate reliability scores using Cronbach’s alpha except for the policies/hours factor, which was retained in the additional checks because of its theoretical importance to library anxiety.  No previous studies of library anxiety were found that measure English language comfort as a factor.  Three questions addressed this factor, which received a Cronbach’s alpha reliability score of 0.76:


  • I avoid using material in English.
  • I feel comfortable using material in English.
  • Computer searches in English frighten me.

To measure computer attitudes this study used a Hebrew translation of Loyd and Gressard’s (1984) Computer Attitude Scale.  Students were also asked to provide demographic information, including their age, gender, year of study, and native language.


Results and Discussion

Library Anxiety Factor Scores

On a scale of 1-5, with higher numbers representing higher anxiety levels, the overall average score of library anxiety was 2.51, almost in the precise middle.  Performing searches in English and using English language resources and materials - the English language factor - scored 3.63 (s.d. 1.08). This is 0.82 higher than any other library anxiety factor measured. 


Because of the differences between the English language factor average and the rest of the factors, the possible statistical significance of these differences was checked.  The general comparison was made via an analysis using repeated measures with contrasting ad hoc.  Anxiety caused by the use of English language library searches and materials proved significantly greater than all the other factors of library anxiety.


This clearly shows that for Israeli B.Ed. students, the most debilitating library task is searching and using English language material and resources.  Since only 1% of the students surveyed named English as their mother tongue, this reluctance to use a foreign language is consistent with the research done on foreign language anxiety.  It also shows a consistency with studies done on the high levels of library anxiety shown by foreign students in American universities.


Most scholarly material is published in English and relatively few publications are translated to Hebrew. Israeli institutes of higher learning, especially the universities, require their researchers to publish at least some of their work in English, and Israeli college educators assign English language texts in their syllabi both because of the relative dearth of Hebrew language resources and to promote mastery of English in the educational process.  Students often have few options but to search and read English language resources.  The current study shows that the necessity of using English as a second language in an academic library environment significantly raises library anxiety for Israeli college students.


Native language

The vast majority of the sample population in this study consisted of native Hebrew speakers.  Since only 6% listed their native language as English or other, it was decided to compare the Hebrew speaking group to the native Arabic speaking group.


Significant differences were found in library anxiety levels in two factors; Arabic speakers showed higher anxiety in the knowledge factor; 2.82 vs. 2.16, and Hebrew speakers showed more anxiety in the English language factor, 3.69 vs. 3.42.  This study thus shows mixed results in the significant relationships between these two native languages and library anxiety. 


The finding that Hebrew speakers showed more anxiety when using English language searches and resources than did Arabic speakers was unexpected.  For the Hebrew speakers, English is only the second language required for their studies, whereas for the Arabic speaking students in Israeli colleges it is their third, and one would expect more anxiety with each additional required language.  One can speculate that the Arabic speaking students accepted into the B.Ed. programs at these colleges have a higher level of English language competence than their Hebrew speaking counterparts, but a comparison study of actual proficiencies should be done in order ascertain whether these results reflect cognitive skill levels or affective attitudes.  This is the first study to include native language as a factor of library anxiety, and while the Israeli students are in a different position than foreign students in American universities, they are not unique compared to students in other small-language communities and non-English speaking countries throughout the world.



Women scored significantly higher in three factors of library anxiety; the English language; 3.67 vs. 3.33, staff; 2.28 vs.2.08, and resources factors; 2.15 vs. 1.94.


This is the first study to show females suffering more library anxiety than males. All others that measured gender as a variable of library anxiety showed either no difference (Bostick, 1992; Mech & Brooks, 1997) or greater anxiety among male students (Jacobson, 1991; Jiao & others, 1996; Jiao & Onwuegbuzie, 1997).  Perhaps the male students in this study have more confidence in their library skills, including using English language searches and materials, than the female students.  A comparison of the actual English language proficiency levels between the two groups, like the native language groups above, might shed more light on this phenomenon.



The range of ages in this study ran from 18 years old to 55 with the median at 24 years.  For this study, two age groups were formed and compared, 18-24 and 25-55. The younger group showed significantly more anxiety in the language, knowledge, library policies, and resources factors. 


Both age groups scored relatively high on the language factor (3.71 and 3.5), but the lower score by the older students may reflect greater exposure and comfort with the English language and perhaps more worldliness and experience. 


Year of study

Contrasting POST-HOC tests were performed that showed significant differences of library anxiety scores between the various years of study. In the language factor, significant differences were found between first year students and second and third year students.  English language anxiety was higher for second and third year students than for first year students.  By the fourth year, the anxiety level declined, so that the difference between the first and fourth years was not significant. 


These scores thus displayed a bell shaped curve with first year students showing the least amount of language anxiety.  From an average of 3.42 in the first year, there is an increase to 3.85 in the second year, another slight increase to 3.87 in the third, and finally a drop to 3.56 in the fourth.  The difference between fourth and first year scores is not statistically significant.  This pattern may reflect the rising need to use English language texts in the second and third years, with fourth year students already feeling more proficient.  This is the first study to measure the effects of English language anxiety on college students whose native language is not English.  It would be interesting to research this further to see if other student populations follow this  general pattern, or if the level of English proficiency is unusually high for this particular first year group.


Computer attitudes

Pearson’s correlation coefficient was used to check the relationships between each factor of library anxiety and the three factors of computer attitudes: liking, confidence and anxiety.  The strongest relationships were between the English language, staff, and knowledge factors of library anxiety and all three computer attitude factors.


Computer anxiety affected the language factor more than any other computer attitude, perhaps because of the association of computers with the need to use English language commands and searches, which, as shown above, raises the library anxiety level of Israeli B.Ed students more than anything else.  Trying to use a keyboard on which two and sometimes three different alphabets are represented (English, Hebrew, and Arabic) can be a flustering experience for any computer novice. 



The important point revealed by this study is that anxiety over using English language searches and resources is the most prevalent factor of library anxiety among Israeli B.Ed. students.  English language anxiety is related to computer attitude factors as well, especially computer anxiety.


In non-English speaking countries, overcoming this anxiety necessitates greater emphasis on improving English language skills, so that the need to use them will not cause an affective barrier.


The challenge of reading online resources in a second or third language may subside as computer technologies advance.  Today there are applications that translate words from English into Hebrew and vice-versa.  In the near future, readers may merely have to scan a text in one language and receive an immediate translation in another.  It would be interesting to compare how college students cope in other technologically advanced small language communities, with the problems and anxieties that Israeli students face.



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