Technostress in Libraries

© 1999-2013 John Kupersmith
All rights reserved




Technostress is another word for computer-related stress.
In this context, it is stress caused by working with multiple and rapidly changing computer systems, and mediating between these systems and the demands of one's organization, staff, customers, and personal life. The purpose of this site is to help librarians and others recognize this problem, cope with its effects, and design systems to be as stress-free as possible for the user.

Key points
  • Stress is a response to changes in the environment as perceived by the individual. Moderate stress can be beneficial and stimulating, but severe and prolonged stress can have harmful physiological and psychological effects. "Interrupt-driven" situations and lack of control increase stress.

  • Technostress is widely reported in the library literature. It affects both staff and users of libraries. Causes include information overload, poor user interfaces, lack of standardization, networking and security issues, hardware and ergonomic problems. The effects on an individual of various kinds of stress ("techno" and otherwise) are cumulative.

  • Different people experience and deal with stress in different ways. Coping strategies likely to be successful include approaching problems in a systematic way, setting realistic goals, setting aside time for learning, and maintaining good health.

  • The actions of management have a lot to do with how technostress affects an organization. Good practices include setting clear and reasonable priorities, fostering a culture that values cooperation and is positive about technology, and providing adequate equipment, training, and technical support.

  • The design of websites and online systems affects how stressful they are for users. Design objectives in this area are to help users establish a clear mental model of the system, make its functions visible and clear, reduce cognitive dissonance, and eliminate or forgive common user errors. One of the prime goals of usability testing is to identify points of stress.


My Work


Technostress in the Bionic Library ~ updated 2008
In Cheryl LaGuardia, ed., Recreating the Academic Library: Breaking Virtual Ground, (New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998), pp. 23-47.
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.
Library Technostress Survey results, 2003
Most responding were academic library staff.
59% said their computer-related stress had increased in 5 years.
While 27% said it's not a serious problem, 65% described it as somewhat serious and 8% as very serious.
Leading causes: information overload, networking problems,
security issues, computer hardware and ergonomics,
and vendor-produced databases.
Technostress and the Reference Librarian
Reference Services Review 20 (Summer 1992), 7-14,50.
"Technostress" (computer-related stress), a common problem for reference librarians in the 1990s, is a combination of performance anxiety, information overload, role conflicts, and organizational factors. This article analyzes the phenomenon and suggests individual coping strategies and organizational management strategies.


Teaching, Learning, and Technostress
Paper presented at the "Upside of Downsizing" conference (Santa Barbara, March 24-25, 1994); published in Cheryl LaGuardia, ed., The Upside of Downsizing: Using Library Instruction to Cope (New York: Neal-Schuman, 1995), pp. 171-181.
Stress is inevitable as libraries and their users deal with the challenges of diminishing human resources, exploding information resources, and accelerating technological change. The phenomenon of computer-related stress or "technostress" has attracted considerable attention among librarians in recent years. This paper suggests that teaching about electronic information systems may be a good way for librarians to gain mastery and overcome technostress. It describes the experiences of library staff participating in an intensive teaching program at The University of Texas at Austin, and discusses how an instructional program can be designed and managed to maximize staff development.


Beginner's Mind: Technostress and the Learning Organization
Paper presented at SUNY/OCLC conference, "What's the Stress in Technostress?: Managing Technology Overload in a Challenging Information World" (New York City, October 28, 1994). Proceedings not published.
One of the most important aspects of technostress is its close relationship to the learning process. Individuals and organizations may respond to technological change positively, by engaging with the new technologies, or negatively, by avoiding them. People or organizations who are in a state of avoidance can be said to have a learning disability. Peter Senge's concept of the "learning organization" sheds light on this problem and points the way to an alternative strategy. The experience of library staff involved in an intensive training program at The University of Texas at Austin provides a useful example of how this concept can be applied.




Other Resources
This bibliography is no longer being updated.  It contains mainly items published between 1995 and 2004. Pages that it links to may have changed their appearance or content.  If a link no longer works, you may want to try its URL in the Wayback Machine.
Technostress in libraries

Virginia Bartlett, "Technostress and Librarians," Library Administration & Management 9 (Fall 1995), 226-230.

Lisa A. Ennis, Technostress In The Reference Environment: A Survey Of U.S. Association Of Research Libraries Academic Reference Librarians (School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1997).
Survey of 158 ARL reference librarians indicates most have a positive attitude (84% "enjoy learning about new electronic sources", 85% "enjoy teaching users about electronic sources"), but many experience stress (51% say "technology changes too fast for me to keep up", 54% say "it is frustrating to learn different commands for different vendors").

Lisa A. Ennis, "The Evolution of Technostress," Computers in Libraries (September 2005), 10-12.

David Fisher, "Techostress and the Librarian: A Critical Discussion," Education Libraries Journal 39 (Summer 1996), 9-14.
Includes a lively critique of my article "Technostress and the Reference Librarian"

Ruth Singer Gordon, "Let's Use the Technology We Live," Library Journal 129 (February 15, 2004), 46.

Michael Gorman, The Enduring Library: Technology, Tradition, and the Quest for Balance. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2003.
Includes a section on "Overcoming Stress and Achieving Harmony"

Michael Gorman, "Technostress and Library Values," Library Journal (April 15, 2001).

Stephen Harper, "Managing Technostress in UK Libraries: A Realistic Guide," Ariadne Issue 25 (September 2000).

Richard Hudiburg, developer of the Computer Hassles Scale, has posted the full text of his ACRL presentation, "Assessing and Managing Technostress."

Terence K. Huwe, "Running to Stand Still?", Computers in Libraries (September 2005), 34-36.

Sally Kalin and Katie Clark, "Technostressed Out? How to Cope in the Digital Age," Library Journal 121 (August 1996), 30-32.

Carolyn E. Poole and Emmett Denny, "Technological Change in the Workplace: A Statewide Survey of Community College Library and Learning Resources Personnel," College & Research Libraries 62 (Nov. 2001), 503-15.

Donna Popovich, "The Effects of Computer Anxiety and Technostress, as Functions of Resistance to Change, on the Staff of the 18 Founding OhioLINK Libraries as the OhioLINK Automated System Is Initiated," Master's Research Paper, Kent State University, 1994. ERIC Document: ED401923

Brian Quinn, "Reducing Stressful Aspects of Information Technology in Public Services," Public & Access Services Quarterly 1 (1995), 1-34.

Soo Young Rieh, "Changing Reference Service Environment: A Review of Perspectives from Managers, Librarians, and Users," Journal of Academic Librarianship 25 (May 1999), 178-186.

Pamela Rose, Kristin Stoklosa, and Sharon Gray, "A Focus Group Approach to Assessing Technostress at the Reference Desk," Reference & User Services Quarterly 37 (Summer 1998), 311-317.

Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah, ed., Reference Services for the Adult Learner: Challenging Issues for the Traditional and Technological Era. New York: Haworth, 2000. Also published as The Reference Librarian volume 33, Numbers 69/70, 2000.
Includes several chapters on the Information Explosion, Technophobia, and Technostress.

Michael Schuyler, "Computers and the Laze Factor," Computers in Libraries (February 1997), 26-28.

Tonyia J. Tidline, "The Mythology of Information Overload," Library Trends 47 (Winter 1999), 485-506.

Connie Van Fleet and Danny P. Wallace, "Virtual Libraries-Real Stress: Change at the Reference Desk," Advances in Library Administration and Organization 18 (2001), 1-44.

Connie Van Fleet and Danny P. Wallace, "Virtual Libraries-Real Threats: Technostress and Virtual Reference," Reference & User Services Quarterly 42 (Spring 2003), 188-191.

Technostress, generally

Bengt B. Arnetz and Clairy Wiholm, "Technological Stress: Psychophysiological Symptoms in Modern Offices," Journal of Psychosomatic Research 43 (1997), 35-42.

Nikolai Bezroukov, Information/Work Overload Annotated Webliography
Links and excerpts on Work Overload, Anxiety and Obsession with Computers, Technostress and Burnout, and other topics.

Robin Clute, "Technostress: A Content Analysis," Master's Research Paper, Kent State University, 1998. ERIC Document: ED423911

Karen Coyle, "Scheduling Ourselves to Death"
Discusses the unintended side effects of meeting-scheduling software, and suggests design improvements.

John S. Craig, "Managing Computer-related Anxiety and Stress Within Organizations," Journal of Educational Technology Systems 22 (1993-94), 309-325.

Frequently right on target!

Linda Duxbury, Chris Higgins, and Sandy Staples, "An Empirical Study of Electronic Mail Usage" (previously available on Baylor University School of Business website)
"All respondents agreed fairly strongly that electronic mail lead [sic] to more job stress while non-managers agreed to this significantly more than did managers."

Martin J. Eppler and Jeanne Mengis, "A Framework for Information Overload Research in Organizations: Insights from Organization Science, Accounting, Marketing, MIS, and Related Disciplines" [PDF] Paper #1 (September 2003), Instituto per la Comunicazione Azendiale, University della Svissera Italiana. (Text in English).
Extensive 42-page review of the literature.

James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. Pantheon Books, 1999.

Richard A. Hudiburg and James R. Necessary, "Coping with computer-stress," Journal of Educational Computing Research 15 (1996), 113-124.

Richard A. Hudiburg, "Computer Hassles Scale: A Measure of Computer Stress," in Carlos P. Zalaquett and Richard John Wood, eds. Evaluating Stress: A Book of Resources. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education, 1997, pp. 41-50.

Stanley Milgram, "The Experience of Living in the Cities," Science 167 (March 1970), 1461-1468.
This classic discussion of information overload defines six common coping mechanisms: "allocation of less time to each input ... disregard of low-priority inputs ... boundaries are redrawn in certain social transactions [to] shift the burden to the other party in the exchange ... reception is blocked off ... the intensity of inputs is diminished by filtering devices ... specialized institutions are created to absorb inputs that would otherwise swamp the individual."

Kathy Pribbenow, "Maintaining Balance: Mile-High Expectations vs. Technostress," Proceedings of the 27th annual ACM SIGUCCS Conference on User Services: Mile High Expectations (Denver, 1999), pp. 180-184.

Larry D. Rosen and Michelle M. Weil, TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @WORK @HOME @PLAY New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

Larry D. Rosen and Phyllisann Maguire. "Myths and Realities of Computerphobia: a Meta-analysis." Anxiety Research 3 (1990): 175-191.

Larry D. Rosen and Michelle M. Weil, "Adult and Teenage Use of Consumer, Business, and Entertainment Technology: Potholes on the Information Superhighway?", Journal of Consumer Affairs 29 (Summer 1995), 55-84.

Terry K. Sanderlin, "Managing Technostress in the Organizational Environment: Symptoms and Solutions.," Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association 7.1 (Spring 2004), 26-32.

P. Seppala, "Experiences on Computerization in Different Occupational Groups: A Study in Municipal Workplaces," Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, VIII. Psychosocial and Stress Issues, Vol. 1, pp. 988-993, 1993.

David Shenk, Data Smog : Surviving the Information Glut New York: Harpercollins, 1997.

Janet J. Turnage et al., "Individual Differences in Technology Stress," Panel discussion on PERSONALITY AND INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN HUMAN PERFORMANCE; published in Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 37th Annual Meeting, 1993.

Stress management and related psychology

American Institute of Stress
Includes statistics on stress as a health problem.

Richard P. Barthol and Nani D. Ku, "Regression under Stress to First Learned Behavior," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 59 (July 1959), reprinted in Gardner Lindzey et al, eds., Theories of Personality: Primary Sources and Research, New York: Wiley, 1973, pp. 156-159.

Biological Bases of Behaviour
Excellent set of instructional pages by Dr. Paul Kenyon of the University of Plymouth, England. Includes:
Hormones & Stress
Stress & Behaviour

Steve Burns MD and Kimberley Burns, How to Survive Unbearable Stress
Basic introduction aimed at high school and college students.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Penennial, 1991

Institute of HeartMath

Giora Keinan, "Decision Making Under Stress: Scanning of Alternatives Under Controllable and Uncontrollable Threats," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 (1987), 639-644.

Mental Health Net

Stress and Anxiety Research Society (STAR)

Stress Assess
Includes online stress-measuring instruments and information on "stress balancing strategies."

Stress Busters
Brief article with links to some useful resources.

Anthony H. Winefield, "Stress in Academe: Some Recent Research Findings," in Diana T. Kenney et al, eds., Stress and Health: Research and Clinical Applications. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000, pp. 437-446.

Why We Should Stop Stressing at Work
Infographic on, a business site for insurance agents.

Patty Wooten, RN BSN CCRN, "Resources on therapeutic humor"

Critiques of computer technology and the "information society"

John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information, excerpted in Excerpt in First Monday (April 3, 2000).

Tom Forester, MEGATRENDS OR MEGAMISTAKES? What Ever Happened to the Information Society? - EFFector Online Newsletter, December 17, 1992 - Part 1 - Part 2

Bill Henderson, Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club
Amusing and thought-provoking pieces written and collected by members of an "antitech" group.

Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information. New York: Random House, 1992

Luddism and the Neo-Luddite Reaction
Links collected by Martin Ryder, University of Colorado at Denver.

Pew Internet & American Life Project, The Future of the Internet II (2006)
Report of a survey of 742 "internet leaders, activists, builders and commentators" on "the effect of the internet on social, political and economic life in the year 2020." The overall consensus is optimistic, but the scenarios imagined include some darker possibilities: machines will evolve beyond human control ("We will be on a 'J-curve' of continued acceleration of change"); "the attractive nature of virtual reality worlds will also lead to serious addiction problems for many"; and "some Luddites/Refuseniks will commit terror acts."

Neil Postman, Informing Ourselves to Death

Reuters Business Information, "Dying for Information? An investigation into the effects of information overload in the UK and worldwide" (1996).
This 1996 study found high levels of "Information Fatigue Syndrome" among managers in 5 countries. See notes from a presentation at CNI and hear a National Public Radio interview with Dr. David Lewis, who analyzed the findings.

Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. New York: Knopf, 1996, pp. 161-209.

Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety: What to Do When Information Doesn't Tell You What You Need to Know. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.