Technostress in the Bionic Library
by John Kupersmith
Originally published in Cheryl LaGuardia, ed.,
Recreating the Academic Library: Breaking Virtual Ground,
(New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998), pp. 23-47.
© 1998 Cheryl LaGuardia -- All rights reserved.
Posted on WWW with permission. Fair use
(e.g., for individual research or classwork) is encouraged.
Library Technostress Survey results
Computer-related stress, sometimes called "technostress,"
affects staff and users as libraries offer more and more
information through web sites and other remotely accessible
electronic systems. This paper looks at technostress in
the context of general stress theory, the Zeigarnik Effect,
and the concept of "sensemaking." It suggests ways in which
library web developers, system designers and managers can
reduce stress-related problems.
2008 updates: In the ten years since it was published,
this paper has held up fairly well overall. I've added some
notes below to acknowledge conditions that have changed.
I am grateful to the late Dr. Ilene Rockman, Manager of the
California State University Libraries' Information Competence
and editor of Reference Services Review, for reviewing
an earlier version of these updates.
(reproduced with permission)
As readers of this volume are well aware, academic libraries
are offering increasingly copious and diverse information in
electronic form for local and remote access. These electronic
services began with online library catalogs, have come to
include bibliographic, full-text, and image databases, and,
through the use of Internet tools such as the World Wide Web,
are rapidly evolving into networked "information spaces" where
users can identify and locate both printed and electronic
items, retrieve the latter, and communicate via e-mail with
expert guides (e.g., the library staff).
At the same time, the physical library continues to exist
and even thrive, acquiring, organizing, and serving up
large quantities of material in print and other non-electronic
formats to substantial numbers of students and faculty.
2008: "Thrive" may not be the first word that springs
to mind when you read this ARL document,
significant declines in reference and circulation transactions
between 1995 and 2006. But the results are mixed, with
attendance at group presentations increasing. In any case,
stress on staff caused by declining library usage only
reinforces that caused by technology.
Thus it seems likely that academic libraries will continue to
operate in both modes for some time. In coining the term
"bionic library" to describe this hybrid concept, Harold Billings
also alluded to the variety of reactions among potential users:
To some scholars, the concept of an electronic library
is paradise at hand; to others, it is absolutely frightening.
I suggest that libraries are evolving as bionic libraries;
organic, evolutionary, and electronically enhanced.
Library collections will continue, perdurable with books
and journals, but for some information sources available
via remote workstations, the library will soon never sleep
... The old and new library systems will become assimilated
and intertwined. 
The library is also "bionic" in the sense that it comprises
not only facilities and formats, but also the essential human
elements: users and staff. The success of any library system,
after all, rests not on how well the design works on paper,
in the abstract, but on how readily people will accept it
and how effectively they can use it. And it is the biological
components of the library that embrace or reject the new
technologies; fulfill or frustrate the intentions of system
designers; and, especially in these times of change, experience
the kind of anxiety and disorientation known as technostress.
Stress and Technostress
It hardly need be stated here that stress plays a critical
and problematic role in modern life. Most modern stress theory
is based on the work of Hans Selye, who defined three stages
of reaction to "stressors" in the environment: alarm, resistance,
and (in extreme cases where stress is serious and prolonged)
exhaustion. While stressors can be pleasant or unpleasant and
stress can have positive effects--energizing a person, focusing
attention, and stimulating behaviors of engagement and
constructive adaptation--generally speaking it is the negative
aspect of "distress" that merits our attention here.
Symptoms of stress may be physical (e.g., muscle tension, rapid
heartbeat, dry mouth and throat, shallow breathing, headaches,
gastric problems), cognitive (mental fatigue, inability to
concentrate, poor judgment), affective (irritability, anxiety,
mental fatigue, depression), or behavioral (impulsiveness,
avoidance, withdrawal, loss of appetite, insomnia). Other
researchers have emphasized the importance of the individual's
appraisal of a potential stressor (a charging rhino thus
eliciting a stronger reaction than a balky hypertext link),
the degree to which the individual perceives that he/she can
control the situation, personality differences and social
support mechanisms that affect individuals' reactions and
adaptability, and the additive and cumulative effects of
multiple stressors, including both negative and positive
Compounding the effects of multiple stressors is the phenomenon
known as the Zeigarnik effect, which confirms a common human
experience: interrupted tasks tend to be remembered better than
completed tasks, especially when the individual is highly involved
in the task and when the interruption is unplanned. This helps
explain why staff and users of the bionic library, juggling a host
of tasks, tend to carry around (and experience continuing stress
from) their mental "to-do" lists, and why many find it difficult
to derive much satisfaction from completed tasks.
Computers--or, more correctly, the ways in which people and
organizations perceive, use, and relate to computers--are a potent
source of stress, in the bionic library as elsewhere. Craig Brod,
who introduced the term "technostress" in 1984, defined it as:
... a modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability
to cope with the new computer technologies in a healthy manner.
It manifests itself in two distinct and related ways: in the
struggle to accept computer technology, and in the more
specialized form of over-identification with computer
technology. ... The primary symptom of those who are ambivalent,
reluctant, or fearful of computers is anxiety. This anxiety
is expressed in many ways: irritability, headaches, nightmares,
resistance to learning about the computer, or outright
rejection of the technology. Technoanxiety most commonly
afflicts those who feel pressured--by employer, peers, or the
general culture--to accept and use computers.
As Brod suggests, technostress takes several forms. Physical
problems such as repetitive strain injuries, carpal tunnel
syndrome, or back problems result from poor machine design
or ergonomics. Computer anxiety comprises several problems,
ranging from temporary confusion over how to use a system,
to feelings of being rushed or dehumanized by the computer,
to the distinct and more pervasive fear known as computerphobia
At the other end of the attitudinal spectrum, those who are highly
positive about and involved with computers also experience
technostress. This effect can be quite subtle, as when people
attempt to match their thinking and behavior to that of computer
systems, especially when the interface design does little to
adapt the underlying functions of the machine to human perceptions
and behavior. Margaret Stieg's description of technostress
underscores these effects:
To use any technology successfully, the user is forced to
conform to its patterns. ... The computer has profoundly
altered our sense of time, a change with many aspects.
It has made possible greater efficiency, therefore greater
efficiency is now required. The computer requires immediate
response. Many of us find the blinking cursor tyrannical
and somewhat unnerving ... . The acceleration of work
the computer has brought inhibits reflection, which in
turn inhibits understanding. All of these characteristics
impart a greater sense of urgency to the worker, a
compulsion not to waste time, a consciousness of stress.
2008: Web interfaces have replaced the tyranny of the blinking
cursor with multiple visible options waiting for a mouse click or
other user action. This is a great improvement if the interface
is well designed, but fast response times on high-speed networks
and the growing number of computer-related tasks have combined
to increase time pressure on most library users and staff.
The same phenomenon is reflected in a recent handbook from
a business consulting firm, intended to help corporate
employees adjust to the fast-changing, computerized, global
workplace: "... you need to operate with a strong sense of
urgency. Accelerate in all aspects of your work, even if
it means living with a few more ragged edges. ... Sure,
high quality is crucial, but it must come quickly. You
can't sacrifice speed. Learn to fail fast, fix it, and
Any change in a person's life, whether positive or negative,
can produce stress. Technostress is especially likely to
occur when new technologies are being introduced. Users
of any computer system rely on their mental models to help
them navigate among its various components and form
assumptions about what will result from various actions.
When the technology changes, the old models no longer
function; the more complex and less obvious the technology,
the more difficult it is to form new ones. As Karl E. Weick
points out in his analysis of this "sensemaking" process:
New technologies ... create unusual problems in sensemaking
for managers and operators. For example, people now face
the novel problem of how to recover from incomprehensible
failures in ... computer systems. To solve this problem,
people must assume the role of failure managers who are
heavily dependent on their mental models of what might
have happened, although they can never be sure because
so much is concealed. ... Complex systems ... make
limited sense because so little is visible and so much
is transient, and they make many different kinds of sense
because the dense interactions that occur within them can
be modeled in so many different ways.
These general aspects of technostress affect both staff and users
of the bionic library; but because these groups are in somewhat
different situations, they are treated separately in the following
Effects on Staff
By the nature of their work, librarians, like other members of
the so-called "helping professions," are subject to chronic stress,
from multiple sources, in situations over which they have (or
perceive that they have) little control. Several studies have
documented this stress, and the related (though distinct and less
common) phenomenon of burnout. The effects of technostress on
librarians have been described by Bartlett, Bichteler, Champion,
Clark and Kalin, Dobb, Hickey et al, Hudiburg, Moreland, and
Sievert et al. The related problem of resistance to
technological change in libraries has been addressed by Fine,
Malinconico, Luguire, and Giesbrecht and McCarthy.
Although technostress affects all areas of the library, staff in
public services such as reference and interlibrary loan are most
directly impacted by the convergence of online catalogs,
electronic search and delivery systems, and remote access.
The type of stress affecting reference staff in the increasingly
electronic library has been characterized as having four
Common symptoms of technostress will vary among different staff
members, but may include: feelings of isolation and frustration;
negative attitudes toward new computer-based sources and systems;
indifference to users' computer-related needs (as in "It's not
my job to fix that printer"); self-deprecating thoughts or
statements about one's ability to cope; an apologetic attitude
toward users; and a definition of self as "not a computer person."
Those most intensively involved with developing and managing
the bionic library are under particular stress. They are required
to combine creative, long-range, strategic thinking with intense
analytical concentration on technical details--not a novel demand
in library management, but certainly a taxing one. One librarian,
working on a consortium project for electronic document delivery,
- Performance anxiety: the feeling that one cannot use
the systems effectively or help others to do so; particularly
difficult for those whose high standards and service ethic
extend to perfectionism.
- Information overload: the sensation of being overwhelmed
by the volume of new systems, databases, interfaces, and
service initiatives. According to one recent estimate,
reference staff in a university library deal with "a minimum
of 30-50 different types of software for various on-line,
CD-ROM, and word processing uses."
- Role conflicts: uncertainty and confusion about one's
proper role--novice or expert, intermediary or teacher,
reactive helper or proactive change agent.
- Organizational factors: the disparity between increasing
demand (volume of work, rising expectations of users) and
static or decreasing resources (insufficient staff, poor
training, scarce or outdated equipment).
As I observe [colleagues] losing energy, missing deadlines,
forgetting assignments, and otherwise generally "melting down"
from overwork and stress of all kinds, I'm beginning to wonder
if we're seeing the beginning of a serious trend where
significant numbers of middle- and upper-level library managers
(if not those on the front lines, too) are just going to
collapse from exhaustion.
This description calls to mind the classic Type A behavior
pattern, associated with coronary heart disease and described
as "an action-emotion complex that can be observed in any person
who is aggressively involved in a chronic, incessant struggle
to achieve more and more in less and less time, and if required
to do so, against the opposing efforts of other things or
Effects on Users
Computerized library catalogs, periodical indexes, text/data
systems, and Internet access are generally popular with students
and faculty, especially with frequent users. However, while
technostress as such has not been formally studied among users
of these systems as it has in other populations, there is ample
evidence that users often do not understand the systems or use
them well. Many searches in online catalogs produce zero results
or very large results. Users are often unable to reformulate
their search strategies effectively, and most do not use the
systems' built-in "help" features.
2008: Web search logs show the same patterns, plus a pervasive
failure to distinguish whether a search box leads to the library
catalog, a site-specific search, or a web search engine. Cognitive
dissonance and stress occur when users get results that don't
conform to their expectations.
Unsuccessful searches, of course, may result from several factors:
conceptual mistakes in search formulation, typographical errors,
or items not being in the database; but whatever the causes,
the stress contributing to and resulting from such performance
problems detracts from the success of the bionic library. When
considering the user's situation, we should remember that myths
of the "ivory tower" notwithstanding, students and faculty tend
to lead stressful lives. Like the library staff, they bring
a certain amount of baggage to the terminal.
However, unlike most staff, users have a convenient (if potentially
self-damaging) means of stress reduction at their disposal: unless
they are specifically required to use a certain system, they can
simply walk away and opt to use other sources. The often-quoted
Mooers' Law is relevant here: "An information retrieval system
will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and
troublesome for a customer to have information than for him
not to have it."
Like the traditional print-based library, which demands literacy
and familiarity with various cultural cues, the bionic library
presents special difficulties-and extra stress-to users who are
not accustomed to computers and online retrieval or have specific
needs that may not be met by standard user interfaces. Any
discussion of user group characteristics should bear in mind
the danger of drawing erroneous conclusions from narrowly-focused
studies, the problem of reinforcing negative images through
stereotyping, the continuing spread and diffusion of computer
knowledge, and above all the importance of individual
The research literature on gender and computer use discourages
facile generalizations, but there is evidence that the stress
and negative attitudes sometimes attributed to women as computer
users may be more a matter of "computational reticence," a
reaction to a traditionally male-dominated computer culture
and to system designs that emphasize autonomy rather than
connectedness, competition rather than communication.
In this sense, the networked nature of the bionic library appears
to offer considerable promise.
Users from various cultures--particularly those with limited
English-language skills or whose socioeconomic background has
precluded contact with computers--naturally tend to respond
to system cues in terms of their own preconceptions; system
design and terminology should be carefully evaluated to reduce
Elderly users and those with disabilities may require special
considerations in ergonomics and displays, but again this is
an area where individual differences are paramount.
One clearly disadvantaged group consists of new users, a sizable
population on any campus and one that is replenished every year;
relevant design strategies include providing a "novice mode"
(discussed below) and choosing system terminology to match
users' natural language. Those who design, manage, and teach
electronic information systems should certainly be aware that
users will be starting from many different points in their
background knowledge and attitudes.
The individual using networked information systems from
outside the library is often described in the literature as
a "remote user," but for this discussion it is worth noting
that from the user's point of view, he/she is central and
the library is remote. Furthermore, for any individual,
the "virtual library" means not only the local library's
online system, but also other libraries' systems, and in
fact the sum total of information resources to which he/she
can connect in some meaningful way.
2008: In my experience, participants in focus groups
and usability studies often fail to make distinctions
among various interconnected online systems, such as
the library catalog, web pages, and vendor-provided
databases. This is not a "mistake" on their part. It's
a natural perception for non-experts, and designers
need to address it.
Users accessing a remote system from their office or home
computers have the advantage of familiarity with their
equipment, but may encounter problems if it is not
compatible with the system being used. If they are new
or infrequent users of the system, they may have special
difficulties in understanding its structure and procedures.
These users may also suffer from feelings of isolation
as well as from the lack of information and feedback they
could gain in a physical library through direct contact
with other users or staff.
Whether they are dialing in from home, connecting from
a computer lab, or sitting at an OPAC terminal, people
face a number of problems in using the complex of
information systems that make up the bionic library.
Most fundamental is the need to locate and identify the
"library" itself. While it is generally easy to find
the library building on a college or university campus,
the corresponding electronic library may have several
components (including a dial-up catalog/database system,
a CD-ROM network, standalone page-image workstations,
gopher and World Wide Web sites), each with a different
point of contact and some not linked with the rest.
In a sense, end-users in the 1990s are going through
what library staff began to experience in the 1980s,
adapting to one new system after another--and often
to several at once.
2008: The mix of ingredients has changed somewhat,
but the virtual library still remains fragmented. Even with
most access being through the web, the library may still
have multiple entry points, including alternative home pages,
a presence on course pages, and perhaps an interface
for mobile devices -- not to forget the tangle of networked
and non-networked CD-ROMs.
When the user does connect to one of these systems, he/she
may have a hard time determining what it will do, or whether
it is the best resource for the purpose, especially if the
system is new or unfamiliar. Even in a well-organized
multi-database system, users may not be aware of what file
they are using; for example, 37% of students using a
periodical index in one such system believed they were
using the library catalog.
The Internet offers further challenges; an academic librarian
recently commented that:
Information overload and search anxiety are two common
problems here. ... The faculty feel overwhelmed by the
information they have access to, and the disorganization
of the Internet is a major factor for most of them not
using it. They have learned to find information by
browsing most of the time, but the Internet is too
large to browse.
A computer lab assistant in a large university library made
a similar observation about student users: "The Internet just
scares people to death. The Internet is so big and you get
Once a user has settled on a particular information system, its
interface may present further problems. Commands, error messages,
and other terminology used in the system may not be understandable.
Available commands and features may not be visible at a particular
point. Depending on the system design, the user may feel--and may
in fact be--unable to control the system properly.
Irene Sever provides a useful metaphor when she portrays the
experience of new users of electronic information systems as
a form of culture shock:
Today's library, and even more that of tomorrow, has
many characteristics of an exotic, alien environment: its
language is unfamiliar and specialized and evokes incorrect
associations. The form taken by the equipment creates
difficulties which must be overcome: screen versus printed
page, ... the need to press combinations of keys of baffling
complexity instead of running a finger and an eye down an
index page, the difficulty of mastering the order of
functions necessary to run a simple "user-friendly" program ... .
An electronic library cannot be "learned" through instant
coaching on which keys to press or even through the diligent
perusal of a manual. What is necessary is to grow into an
electronic library environment gradually through
socialization as well as through education.
Reading this passage, librarians experienced in reference
or user education will recognize similarities to the situation
of first-time or infrequent users in a physical library.
In fact, while the specific problems may differ, the phenomenon
of "library anxiety" is not fundamentally different in this new
Implications for System Design
As quoted above, Craig Brod defined technostress as "a modern
disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the
new computer technologies in a healthy manner." The disease
metaphor is useful, but it can be misleading. Computer
technologies are not inherently healthy or right; users who
have difficulty adapting to them are not inherently diseased
or wrong. We can do much to help the users adjust, but even
more important is proper system design.
Traditional mainframe-based information systems have generally
been developed by large organizations: libraries, data processing
centers, and commercial vendors. The designers have often been
systems analysts who--in the best case--received feedback on
user behavior from sources closer to the front lines, such as
transaction logs, online user comments, customer groups, and
usability labs. This "top-down" methodology has produced mixed
results, the most successful systems coming from situations
where user feedback was copious, frequent, and highly valued.
Recent developments in networking and client/server systems
offer the potential for different kinds of products and
development processes. The Gateway project at Ohio State
University pioneered the concept of a library-developed front
end tailored to students' research needs. Moving beyond the
limitations of any single interface, the Z39.50 standard
permits the end-user to select from a variety of client
software programs, much as he/she might choose a word
processor, and use them to access a variety of information
servers. The various Internet tools, particularly the
graphical browsers now available for use on the World Wide Web,
allow public-service librarians--and even users themselves
--to design and construct front-end access systems of various
kinds. Web pages that combine instructional text and graphics
with links to various information systems can offer flexible
structures, helpful guidance, affective support, cultural cues,
and communication mechanisms, making it easier for users to adapt
to the new environment of the bionic library.
2008: It's now clear that for all their advantages, web interfaces
don't automatically produce understanding on the part of the user.
Just to cite one example, the library where I work is now offering
a hands-on orientation to its own web site. Like many other libraries,
it's also redesigning that site with usability as a prime goal.
On a larger scale, a consortium of federal agencies led by
the National Science Foundation is currently supporting Digital
Libraries Initiative projects as six universities, some of which
aim to investigate usability as well as technical issues.
Whatever the interface, the same essential design principles
apply--clarity and consistency of presentation; visibility
and predictability of functions; naturalness of commands and
actions; and keeping the user in control.
The designer has some basic tasks to perform in order to reduce
stress for the user. The first is to develop and communicate
the "system image" which the user will need to internalize
in order to function effectively.
The more accurate and memorable the user's mental model of
the system, the less stress he/she will experience in staying
oriented and carrying out various tasks. The primary tools
for conveying this kind of information--"welcome" screens, menus,
screen headers, logos and other graphical cues--provide a
consistent network of verbal and visual anchor points throughout
the system, taking advantage of the user's powers of long-term
memory and pattern recognition.
A basic decision at this point involves whether to give the user
a choice of novice vs. expert modes (the former offering a limited
selection of options). This is one way to address the needs of
the inexperienced user, but forcing people to choose between
the two may actually increase stress, especially if the novice
mode actually cannot access certain commands or functions.
A "command-driven/menu-augmented" design offers more flexibility
in that a basic set of options can be displayed to all users,
with advanced commands or shortcuts available to any user and
explained in the system's online and printed documentation.
2008: This was written with text-based systems in mind,
but the same principle can be put to work in a graphical
interface. For example, a web site may offer novice users
a set of basic choices (Find Books, Find Articles, etc.)
while providing other links calculated to attract the
experienced user (such as the name of the library catalog).
As suggested above, the electronic library presents users with
many of the same cognitive problems as the traditional print-based
library. Users must navigate through a different kind of space
--defined in this case by screens, words, links, icons, and
graphics rather than walls--but the "wayfinding" process is
similar. The natural transfer of imagery from the physical
library into the electronic library is suggested by many users'
continuing fondness for the term "electronic card catalog,"
and by the proliferation of commercial online systems based
on metaphors such as a virtual desktop, home, or town. Thus
architectural concepts, such as rooms, maps, and signposts,
are also appropriate tools for library system designers,
whether or not the final interface is presented as a "virtual
2008: An architectural mindset is still a good design tool,
but web design has evolved its own set of norms that make
"virtual building" metaphors less necessary. Similarly,
younger users are much more likely to perceive the library
catalog as a "search engine" than as an "electronic card
An especially useful evaluation technique is to capture and
study the comments of users, reflecting their awareness of
and reactions to a system, much as designers will follow
a naive user through a physical building, monitoring what
the user is thinking and doing at various decision points.
Once the design process moves into developing specific features,
the principal stress-reducing task is to control complexity
without "dumbing down" the system by hiding or omitting
2008: The state of the art in user-centered design has advanced
considerably since this was written. Web usability has become a
discipline in itself, and it's standard practice to conduct usability
studies as part of a major library web site project.
The traditional admonition to "keep it simple" presents only
one side of the equation; if carried too far, it leads to an
impoverished result. During prototype testing of Microsoft's
"Bob" operating-system interface, a novice user was shown some
of the cartoon animals that serve as guides in the system.
As the designer recalled, "This guy was very emotional about
it--he grabbed my arm. He said, 'Save all the money on the
manuals, just give me this duck to always be there and tell me
what to do.'" There may be a future for "social computing"
interfaces in the bionic library, but if a bird is in charge,
perhaps it should at least be an owl.
As Donald Norman has pointed out, one of the prime features of
any designed artifact is visibility: "Make things visible on
the execution side of an action so that people know what is
possible and how actions should be done; make things visible
on the evaluation side so that people can tell the effects
of their actions." The designer walks a tightrope between
overcomplexity and oversimplicity in developing displays of
search results, hypertext links, or other information.
Disorganized complexity is an obvious cause of stress, but the
temptation to simplify and use low screen densities everywhere
can lead to users missing important material or having to page
through multiple (though perhaps elegant-looking) screens.
Edward Tufte offers some useful guidance in this area:
Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not attributes
of information. And so the point is to find design strategies
that reveal detail and complexity-rather than to fault the
data for an excess of complication. Or, worse, to fault
viewers for a lack of understanding.
User interfaces with high information resolution are ...
an appropriate match to human skills ... [and] frequently
optimal. If the task is contrast, comparison, or choice
--as it so often is--then the more relevant information
gracefully within eyespan, the better. Low-density displays,
with screens scrolling scrolling scrolling, require users
to rely on visual memory--a weak skill... . Low-information
displays lead to breaking up of work into user-irritating
micro-steps, with a consequent loss of coherence... .
A common question asked by users of data-thin screens is
"Where am I?"
Tufte's recommended solutions include layering and separation
of data. In fact, the complexity of library catalogs and
database systems generally requires that available commands
be presented in layers, with a command available to call up
a display of advanced or seldom-used functions. Likewise,
search results are often presented in a series of increasingly
detailed levels. Tufte also recommends arranging data in small
multiples, laid out so that the user can readily see patterns.
The prevailing design of World Wide Web pages shows a historical
evolution from lengthy text paragraphs sprinkled with links,
to greater reliance on list-type presentations, arranged either
vertically, or horizontally with graphic separators.
2008: The designer's tool kit has further evolved to include
pop-up, pull-down, and flyover menus, mouseover links, frames, etc.
Obviously any of these tools can be used well or abused.
The verbal elements of presentation are also worth considering.
While we have come a long way from barking at the user with
messages such as "Invalid command code," designers should
remember that users will experience less stress if the system
speaks to them in a way that is, if not friendly, at least civil,
and above all comprehensible.
User errors are a prime source of stress, whether these are
simple typos or the result of search strategies and assumptions
that do not match those of the system's designers. Forgiveness
should be a prime design goal, achieved through such means as
providing multiple access points to items, offering both browse
and keyword search options, trapping initial articles and other
common errors, normalizing search input, accepting alternative
command synonyms (including the NISO Common Command Language),
and providing helpful prompts in case of zero results or large
result sets. In 1994, the Research Libraries Group's Eureka
system was enhanced with a package of changes collectively
termed "Do what I mean"; these forgiveness features have
reduced user errors by 80%.
Implications for System Management
Like the bionic library's designers, its managers can do much
to reduce stress for users and staff. A prime goal in this area
is coherence. As mentioned above, the electronic portion of
a typical academic library presently resembles a loose
aggregation of disparate elements rather than a tightly knit
system. Whatever the manager can do to promote both the sense
and the functional reality of a unified system--through judicious
selection of resources, consolidation and linking of resource
menus, and carefully presented publicity and instructions--will
benefit both the students and faculty who use the system, and
the staff who explain and interpret it.
The greater control users feel over a system, the less stress
they experience from it. This sense of control derives largely
from the system design, but is also affected by how a system
is managed. For example, incremental changes, announced both
through advance publicity and at the point of use, are less
likely to be disruptive than revolutionary changes made with
no advance warning.
2008: My candidate for the Mt. Everest of system changes
is the California Digital Library's transition to new versions
of the Melvyl catalog and 34 article databases. This process,
involving intricate planning, user input from all nine campuses
of the UC system, and a great deal of communication, took
at least three years and was completed in 2003. For details,
A&I Transition page.
A closely related goal is to humanize the technology as much
as possible. As John Naisbitt predicted in 1982, "The more high
technology around us, the more the need for human touch."
The "high tech/high touch" approach takes advantage of users'
natural tendency to relate to computers as if they were people.
To this end, any text in a system--including banners, news
screens, introductions, instructions, error messages, etc.--should
be written in a direct, positive, natural tone. Wherever feasible,
managers should implement a "comment" or "mailto" function,
offering users a chance to send feedback. Even if it is not
possible to reply to every comment, posting a "frequently asked
questions" file will give users a sense of a dialogue with the
machine, providing benefits that go beyond the information
Training, documentation, and online help are often cited as
key elements in supporting users. These devices are certainly
essential and require careful design, even though they may be
infrequently used. There is some evidence that human help at
in-library terminal locations improves user performance and
increases satisfaction. This is an expensive service to
offer on a full-time basis, but some libraries have assigned
reference desk staff to "float" through CD-ROM and OPAC areas
during high-use periods, and some public libraries have begun
using volunteer docents to provide this type of help.
Managers of the bionic library can also take various actions
to reduce stress for staff members. The most obvious is to
equip staff not only with computers and network connections,
but also with the necessary skills and competencies to function
in the new environment. Roy Tennant points out that
"Instruction and training are the cornerstone of any effort
to retool library staff to meet the challenges and opportunities
of electronic-based information." Managers can further the
success of training through selection of appropriate methods,
sensitivity to the individual "starting points" and learning
styles of staff, and provision of sheltered space and time for
Another important managerial task is to foster enthusiasm
for the new information systems and a positive attitude toward
change--something most effectively done by example. One of
the best ways to overcome technostress is to learn, and one
of the best ways to learn is to teach. The experience of library
staff at The University of Texas at Austin, who volunteered to
teach the Internet and other computer skills to several thousand
users, suggests that aggressive involvement in such teaching can
reduce the effects of stress and increase self-confidence as
well as technical skills. The developers of this program have
also contributed to stress reduction by fostering a culture
in which both trainers and students are engaged in a joint
learning experience, thus reducing the trainers' fear of system
glitches or difficult questions.
Technostress is part of the price we pay for living in a time
of revolutionary and dramatic change. The bionic library
embodies both print and electronics, with all the social and
cultural structures that surround them: the old and the new ways
of learning about the world and connecting with other people.
This hybrid institution, full of new devices and continually
"under construction," makes many demands on its users. We can
learn much from the stress that people naturally experience
in this situation. The success of the bionic library will
be determined not only by economics and technology, but also
by the extent to which its designers and managers can shape it
as a tool for human use.
This bibliography is not being regularly updated.
For more recent references, see my Technostress Page.
 Harold Billings, "The Bionic Library", Library Journal
116 (October 15, 1991): 38-42. Reprinted in Harold Billings,
Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information-Sharing
Library (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2002).
 Hans Selye, "The Stress Concept and Some of its
Implications," in Vernon Hamilton and David M. Warburton, ed.,
Human Stress and Cognition: An Information Processing Approach
(Chichester; New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1979), 11-32.
 For an excellent review of stress theory and
literature, see Gail Hackett and Susan Lonborg, "Models
of Stress", in Elizabeth M. Altmaier, ed., Helping Students
Manage Stress (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983), 3-21.
For a more recent update, see Ronald M. Doctor and Jason
N. Doctor, "Stress," in V.S. Ramachandran, ed., Encyclopedia
of Human Behavior (San Diego: Academic Press, 1994), 4:311-323.
 Reported by Bliuma Zeigarnik in 1927, this is
described in F.L. Denmark, "Zeigarnik Effect," in Raymond
J. Corsini, ed., Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed.
(New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994), 3:593.
 Craig Brod, Technostress: The Human Cost of
the Computer Revolution. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley,
 John S. Craig, "Managing Computer-Related Anxiety
and Stress Within Organizations," Journal of Educational
Technology Systems 22 (1993-94): 309-325; Amarjit S. Sethi,
Denis H.J. Caro, and Randall S. Schuler, eds., Strategic
Management of Technostress in an Information Society
(Lewiston, NY and Toronto: C.J. Hogrefe, Inc., 1987).
See also several studies by Richard A. Hudiburg and
associates, including "Measuring Technostress: Computer-
Related Stress," Psychological Reports 64 (1989): 767-772,
and "Measuring Computer Users' Stress: The Computer Hassles
Scale," Psychological Reports 73 (1993): 923-929.
 Brett A. Cohen and Gordon W. Waugh, "Assessing
Computer Anxiety," Psychological Reports 65 (1989): 735-738;
Carol R. Glass and Luanne A. Knight, "Cognitive Factors in
Computer Anxiety," Cognitive Therapy and Research 12 (1988):
351-366; Paula C. Morrow, Eric R. Prell, and James C. McElroy,
"Attitudinal and Behavioral Correlates of Computer Anxiety,"
Psychological Reports 59 (1986): 1199-1204.
 Mike Greenly, "Computerphobia: The Fear That Keeps
People 'Off-Line'," The Futurist 22 (January-February 1988):
14-18; Richard A. Hudiburg, "Relating Computer-Associated
Stress to Computerphobia," Psychological Reports 67 (1990):
 Margaret F. Stieg, "Technology and the Concept of
Reference, or, What Will Happen to the Milkman's Cow?",
Library Journal 115 (April 15, 1990): 48.
 Price Pritchett, The Employee Handbook of New Work
Habits for a Radically Changing World: 13 Ground Rules for
Job Success in the Information Age (Dallas: Pritchett &
Associates, Inc, ), 10.
 Christine L. Borgman, "Mental Models: Ways of Looking
at a System," ASIS Bulletin 9 (December 1982): 38-39.
 Karl E. Weick, "Technology as Equivoque: Sensemaking
in New Technologies," in Paul S. Goodman, Lee S. Sproull, and
Associates, Technology and Organizations (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1990), 1,2.
 Karen A. Becker, "The Characteristics of Bibliographic
Instruction in Relation to the Causes and Symptoms of Burnout,"
RQ 32 (Spring 1993): 346-357; Janette S. Caputo, Stress and
Burnout in Library Service (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1991); David
S. Ferriero and Kathleen A. Powers, "Burnout at the Reference
Desk," RQ 21 (Spring 1982): 274-279; Mary Haack, John W. Jones,
and Tina Roose, "Occupational Burnout Among Librarians," Drexel
Library Quarterly 20 (Spring 1984): 46-72. For a critical review,
see David P. Fisher, "Are Librarians Burning Out?", Journal of
Librarianship 22 (October 1990): 216-235.
 Julie Bichteler, "Technostress in Libraries: Causes,
Effects, and Solutions," The Electronic Library 5 (October
1987): 282-87, and "Human Aspects of High Tech in Special
Libraries," Special Libraries 77 (Summer 1986): 121-28;
Sandra Champion, "Technostress: Technology's Toll," School
Library Journal 35 (November 1988): 48-51; Katie Clark and
Sally Kalin, "Technostressed Out? How to Cope in the Digital
Age," Library Journal 121 (August 1996), 30-32; Linda S. Dobb,
"Technostress: Surviving a Database Crash," Reference Services
Review 18 (1990): 65-68,48; Kate D. Hickey et al., "Technostress
in Libraries and Media Centers," TechTrends 37 (1992): 17-21;
Richard Hudiburg, "Technostress," paper presented at ALA/ACRL
Instruction Section program (July 8, 1996); Virginia Moreland,
"Technostress and Personality Type," Online 17 (July 1993),
59-62; MaryEllen Sievert et al., "Investigating Computer
Anxiety in an Academic Library," Information Technology and
Libraries 7 (September 1988): 243-52.
 Sara F. Fine, "Technological Innovation, Diffusion,
and Resistance: An Historical Perspective," Journal of Library
Administration 7 (Spring 1986): 83-108, and "Human Factors and
Human Consequences: Opening Commentary" in Allen Kent and Thomas
J. Galvin, eds., Information Technology: Critical Choices for
Library Decision-Makers (New York: Marcel Dekker, 1982), 209-24;
S. Michael Malinconico, "Hearing the Resistance," Library
Journal 108 (January 15, 1983): 111-13, and "Listening to the
Resistance," Library Journal 108 (February 15, 1983): 353-55;
Wilson Luguire, "Attitudes Toward Automation/Innovation in
Academic Libraries," Journal of Academic Librarianship 8
(January 1983): 344-51; Walter Giesbrecht and Roberta McCarthy,
"Staff Resistance to Library CD-ROM Services," CD-ROM
Professional 4 (May 1991): 34-38.
 John Kupersmith, "Technostress and the Reference
Librarian," Reference Services Review 20 (Summer 1992):
 Kirsten Klinghammer, "Re: technostress", private
e-mail message (March 31, 1995). Quoted by permission.
 Julie Blume Nye, "Re: Virtual libraries -> technostress?",
private e-mail message (March 31, 1995). Quoted by permission.
 Meyer Friedman and Ray H. Rosenman, Type A Behavior and
Your Heart (New York: Knopf, 1974), 84; quoted in Hackett and
Lonborg, "Models of Stress", p. 9. This passage might not be
cited here had the author not seen a colleague, involved in a
high-profile database project, temporarily sidelined with chest
 Kenneth W. Berger and Richard W. Hines, "What Does the
User Really Want? The Library User Survey Project at Duke
University," Journal of Academic Librarianship 20 (November 1994):
306-309; Karen Markey, "Thus Spake the OPAC User," Information
Technology and Libraries 2 (December 1983): 381-387; but see
also Rachel Applegate, "Models of User Satisfaction:
Understanding False Positives," RQ 32 (Summer 1993): 525-539.
 Christine L. Borgman, "Why Are Online Catalogs Hard to Use?
Lessons Learned from Information-Retrieval Studies," Journal of the
American Society for Information Science 37 (1986): 387-400; Larry
Millsap and Terry Ellen Ferl, "Search Patterns of Remote Users:
An Analysis of OPAC Transaction Logs," Information Technology and
Libraries 12 (September 1993): 321-343; Patricia M. Wallace,
"How Do Patrons Search the Online Catalog When No One's Looking?
Transaction Log Analysis and Implications for Bibliographic
Instruction and System Design," RQ 33 (Winter 1993): 239-252.
 Glenn P. Gray and Leon H. Rottmann, "Perceptions of Stress
in Undergraduate College Students," Journal of College and
University Student Housing 18 (Winter 1988): 14-20; Dona M. Kagan
and Vada Fasan, "Stress and the Instructional Environment," College
Teaching 36 (Spring 1988): 75-81; George V. Richard and Thomas S.
Krieshok, "Occupational Stress, Strain, and Coping in University
Faculty," Journal of Vocational Behavior 34 (1989): 117-132; and
Robert E. Seiler and Della A. Pearson, "Dysfunctional Stress Among
University Faculty," Educational Research Quarterly 9 (1984-85):
 Calvin N. Mooers, "Editorial: Mooers' Law; or, Why Some
Retrieval Systems Are Used and Others Not," American Documentation
11 (July 1960): ii. Mooers' article actually concerns the pain
and trouble of possessing and working with information; however,
his law as stated does seem to apply as well to the difficulties
of using the retrieval systems themselves.
 A good starting point for exploring this area is the
section on "Accommodation of Human Diversity" in Ben Shneiderman,
Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-
Computer Interaction, 2nd ed. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992),
 Christine L. Borgman, "All Users of Information Retrieval
Systems Are Not Created Equal: An Exploration into Individual
Differences," Information Processing and Management 25 (1989):
237-251; Brenda Dervin, "Users as Research Inventions: How
Research Categories Perpetuate Inequities," Journal of
Communication 39 (Summer 1989): 216-232.
 Sherry Turkle, "Computational Reticence: Why Women Fear
the Intimate Machine," in Cheris Kramarae, ed., Technology and
Women's Voices: Keeping in Touch (New York and London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1988), 41-61. See also Robin H. Kay, "An
Examination of Gender Differences in Computer Attitudes,
Aptitude, and Use", paper presented at the Annual Conference
of the American Educational Research Association (San Francisco,
April 20-24, 1992), ERIC document ED346848. For Internet
resources on this topic, see Mary Lynn Rice-Lively, "Guide to
Women in Technology" (http://fiat.gslis.utexas.edu/~marylynn/wit.html
- No longer available as of 7/13/03),
and Ellen Spertus, "Women and Computer Science".
 As an example, 18% of the items gathered in preparation
for this chapter were obtained directly from electronic sources:
WWW and gopher sites, periodical index systems with e-mail and
fax delivery of articles, and e-mail messages including a survey
of PACS-L listserv subscribers. Of the print items obtained
from four different libraries, approximately 80% were identified
and located using online catalogs and computerized indexes,
the rest through browsing.
 Sally W. Kalin, "Support Services for Remote Users of Online
Public Access Catalogs," RQ 31 (1991): 197-213; Karen Weilhorski,
"Teaching Remote Users How to Use Electronic Information Resources."
Public-Access Computer Systems Review 5 (1994): 5-20.
 Data gathered by the author from users on library terminals
at the University of Texas at Austin. Remote users, having to
select databases from menus, would likely be better oriented.
Screen designs were subsequently modified to provide more prominent
indication of the database being used.
 Margaret F. Riley, "Re: Virtual libraries -> technostress?",
private e-mail message (March 31, 1995). Quoted by permission.
 Quoted in Mary Lynn Rice-Lively, "Trip to Bountiful: Personal
Snapshots of the Campus Computing Center," unpublished paper for
graduate course at the University of Texas at Austin (June 9, 1994),
 For a review of the extensive literature on such problems,
see Martha M. Yee, "System Design and Cataloging Meet the User:
User Interfaces to Online Public Access Catalogs," Journal of
the American Society for Information Science 42 (1991): 78-98.
 Irene Sever, "Electronic Information Retrieval as Culture
Shock: An Anthropological Exploration," RQ 33 (Spring 1994): 336-41.
 Constance A. Mellon, "Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory
and Its Development," College & Research Libraries 47 (March 1986):
 Rob Kling and Margaret Elliott, "Digital Library Design
for Usability," in Digital Libraries '94: Proceedings of the First
Annual Conference on the Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries
(June 19-21, 1994, College Station, TX); Shneiderman, Designing
the User Interface; Robert Waite, "Making Information Easy to Use,"
ASIS Bulletin 9 (December 1982): 34-37.
 Philip J. Smith and Virginia Tiefel, "The Information
Gateway: Designing a Front-End Interface to Enhance Library
Instruction," Reference Services Review 20 (Winter 1992): 37-48.
 As of this writing, a useful collection of pointers
to "Innovative Internet Applications in Libraries" is being
maintained by Ken Middleton at the Todd Library, Middle
Tennessee State University. The "Electronic Classroom"
of the Science and Engineering Library, University of
California, San Diego offers an exemplary set of course-
specific home pages, many developed through partnerships
between librarians and teaching faculty.
 To access these projects via the World Wide Web,
 Anyone involved in designing a system should read
Donald A. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things (New York:
Basic Books, 1988) and Things That Make Us Smart: Defending
Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine (Reading, MA:
Addison-Wesley, 1993). For a useful discussion of library
catalog design principles and procedures, see Walt Crawford,
The Online Catalog Book: Essays and Examples (New York:
G.K. Hall, 1992), 49-82.
 Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things, 189-191.
 For a specific instance, see John Kupersmith, "UTCAT:
Applying Design Principles to an Online Catalog," in Crawford,
The Online Catalog Book, 507-520.
 Roger M. Downs, "Mazes, Minds, and Maps", in Dorothy
Pollet and Peter C. Haskell, ed., Sign Systems for Libraries:
Solving the Wayfinding Problem (New York: Bowker, 1979), 17-32.
For relevant discussions of navigation in hypertext systems,
see Shneiderman, Designing the User Interface, 403-418; and
Ben Ide, Hypertext and Hypermedia: The Effect on Libraries,
Patrons, and Information Organization, undergraduate
departmental honors thesis, School of Library Science and
Instructional Technology, Southern Connecticut State
University, April 1992.
 For a discussion of these parallels, see Kristina Hooper,
"Architectural Design: An Analogy," in Donald A. Norman and
Stephen W. Draper, ed., User-Centered System Design: New
Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction (Hillsdale, NJ
and London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986), 9-23;
John Kupersmith, "YOU ARE HERE, But Where is That?:
Architectural Design Metaphors in the Electronic Library,"
in Finding Common Ground: Creating a Library of the Future
Without Diminishing the Library of the Past, Proceedings
of a conference in Cambridge, MA, March 30-31, 1996
(New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998).
 Designer Karen Fries, quoted in Don Clark, "How
a Woman's Passion and Persistence Made Bob," Wall Street
Journal (January 10, 1995): B1.
 For a serious discussion, see Mark S. Ackerman,
"Providing Social Interaction in the Digital Library,"
Digital Libraries '94.
 Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things,
 Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information (Cheshire,
CT: Graphics Press, 1990), 53.
 Edward Tufte, Visual Design of the User Interface
(Armonk, NY: IBM Corporation, 1989).
 "RLIN Forum at ALA Midwinter 1995," RLIN Focus
(April 1995): 1.
 John Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions
Transforming Our Lives (New York: Warner Books, 1982), 53.
 Jennifer Mendelsohn, "Human Help at OPAC Terminals
is User Friendly: A Preliminary Study," RQ 34 (Winter 1994):
 Cecilia D. Stafford and William M. Serban, "Core
Competencies: Recruiting, Training, and Evaluating in the
Automated Reference Environment," Journal of Library
Administration 13 (1990): 81-97.
 Roy Tennant, "The Virtual Library Foundation:
Staff Training and Support," Information Technology and
Libraries 14 (March 1995): 46.
 Stuart Glogoff, "The Staff Creativity Lab:
Promoting Creativity in the Automated Library,"
Journal of Academic Librarianship 20 (March 1994):
19-21. For a review of staff support methods and
other organizational strategies, see Kupersmith,
"Technostress and the Reference Librarian," 12-14.
 John Kupersmith, "Teaching, Learning,
and Technostress," in The Upside of Downsizing:
Using Library Instruction to Cope, Cheryl
LaGuardia et al, editors (New York: Neal-Schuman,
1995), pp. 171-182.