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Detailed Neurodiverse User's Guide to the Library: Interacting with a librarian

For neurodiverse users, by a neurodiverse librarian.

Short version

A note on Library Anxiety

Generally, if something has a name, it's common enough to be recognized and talked about. Library Anxiety is a real thing and a very common experience! Here are some potential reasons library users feel anxious about interacting with a librarian, and why you can put those worries aside:

  • Worry: I'm talking to a stranger!
  • Reassurance: Librarianship is a profession that attracts people with introversion and social anxiety, and yet we have to talk to strangers all day. We are focused very hard on helping and getting you the answers you need, and we definitely don't care if you're a little awkward, because we are the kind of people who have accidentally said "Love you, bye!" to the insurance claims adjuster, and survived.


  • Worry: I feel incompetent/naive/stupid!
  • Reassurance: Every single librarian started exactly where you are. Research and using information search tools are complex, idiosyncratic, and often counterintuitive. There's nothing wrong with you - you're just not a specialist in this area. And while the learning curve is steep, you will become proficient with practice.

    Also, sometimes it's just that the instructions you were given are wrong/out of date.


  • Worry: I'm embarrassed about of the content of the question!
  • Reassurance: First, we've heard it all, from everybody, and we still respect them. Second, we'll never tell. Librarianship has a code of ethics that requires extreme confidentiality. Even if your instructor or the FBI asked, we would never share what we discussed.

    The only exception is that when people make threats to us or others, or commit harassment, we share documentation and IP addresses with college security and law enforcement.


  • Worry: I'm overloaded and this is one task too many! 
  • Reassurance: Take a breath, and momentarily put the other tasks aside. Tell us you don't know where to start or what to do next. We can help you figure that out.


  • Worry: I don't know what question to ask or how to phrase it! 
  • Reassurance: Tell us that! One of the things librarians learn how to do is ask you questions to help you sort out your thoughts. 


  • Worry: What if I find out I'm in more trouble than I thought?
  • Reassurance: Hopefully you will come and ask for what you need before you get too far in the weeds. But if you are lost, let us know. We can get you back on track faster. No judgment here.


  • Worry: I have difficulty communicating/speaking!
  • Reassurance: If communicating in text is difficult for you, we have phone and Microsoft Teams. If speaking is difficult for you, we have chat and email. You can also involve an aide or translator if you have one. We will find something that works. 

    English language learners, this message is for you too! 


Modes of interacting with a librarian for a reference question

Web Form or Email

At the Ask A Librarian page, we have a web form for submitting an email reference question. Our reply will go to whatever email address you input, and your subsequent replies to our reply will also take place via email. 

Email is ideal as long as you do not need the answer instantly. (We will answer within an hour or two if we are on duty. If you ask after hours, we will answer as soon as we are on duty again.) Email provides you the opportunity to ask your question with all the background details and nuances that you feel necessary. Composing an email gives people a chance to organize their thoughts and figure out their priorities. Email also leaves a record for you to consult later.

Email is the best option if you have a question that will take the librarian some time to answer properly. For example, if you are looking for a document that has been very hard to track down, or you need advice on how to perform a comprehensive or exhaustive search, email gives the librarian a chance to do the work before answering instead of trying to do it while answering. Email also gives the librarian on duty a chance to call in our colleagues for help in order to provide a better answer.

The librarians tend to go into more detail and format things more nicely in email answers than in chat answers, if that helps you make up your mind which to use.


Our chat box is located at the lower right of the library homepage, on the Ask A Librarian page, and in many subject guides and databases. One librarian monitors chat, phones, and email at a time during our "on" hours. During our "off" hours, chat is still active, but it is monitored by librarians from other libraries. They have the information necessary to answer about 80% of questions, but you should leave your email address so that they can forward you to a SUNY Empire librarian if they cannot answer your question. (We will get to it as soon as we are on duty.) 

Chat is an excellent way to ask both quick and simple questions and in depth questions that may develop into further questions. It's also the quickest and most efficient way to ask for a link to something. Chat also leaves a record - when you end the chat, it will ask you for an email address, and you can choose to have a transcript emailed to you at that address. No need to worry about forgetting what was said!

Chat is adequate for being walked through completing a task, but we do not have screen sharing available, so if it gets complicated we may have to switch to a web meeting/classroom software.


The library reference "desk" has a phone number (800-847-3000 ext. 2222). This is the number you should call if you wish to speak to any librarian. You can initiate a call even if you are already communicating with us in another modality. Just let us know that you are already speaking to us about whatever you've been speaking about.

Because we are frequently away from our desks, you will often be asked to leave a voicemail with your callback number and question. Another option would be to hang up and email us with a request to be called - again, please provide your callback number, and question.

In general, phone is a good modality for quick questions, or if you need to be walked through performing a task. However it's a bad modality if we need to share URLs, long titles, etc. We can always go on chat while we're on the phone if we need to do that, so please have an internet-capable computer or tablet ready.

Teams or other web meeting/classroom software

Some of our learning opportunities (webinars) take place via web meeting/classroom. Occasionally when we are already involved in a chat or phone interaction, we might switch over to web meeting/classroom software so that we can do screensharing. We generally do not turn on our camera or ask you to. You can ask if you would prefer cameras turned on though. Alternatively, you can ask to turn off both video and audio and communicate in the software's chat function.

In person

We do not have the facilities to meet with students in person. There are no in person interactions with a librarian.

Tips for starting a reference question

What to have ready

  • An internet-capable computer or device (preferably not the smartphone you're calling on)
  • Some way of taking notes
  • Whatever you're working on
  • If your question has to do with readings or an assignment in a course, you may need to refer to the online course or the learning contract
  • Open a browser tab to library web site ( just in case

What we DON'T need to know

  • Your student ID, and we never need to know your password.
  • Your name, unless you want to tell us! You can give us a phone number or an anonymous email address if you want to. Librarians as a profession value confidentiality.
  • Whether you have a disability or what disability you have.

What we DO need to know

  • What kind of assignment or other activity you are trying to complete.
  • Your subject area and specific topic or research question.
  • We do need to know what kind of information you're looking for (background information, research sources, answer to a question, etc.)
  • It helps if you can tell us what you've already tried.
  • If you are looking for required readings or working on a specific assignment, it helps if you tell us the name of the course and the instructor.
  • We do need to know if you need us to provide an accommodation. We don't check with Accessibility Services unless what you need is provided through Accessibility Services (such as converted documents or captions.) If what you need can be provided by us, we will do our best to accommodate, and do not want any documentation. 

If it's a technical problem

Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer:

  • Are you a currently enrolled student? 
  • Is this the first time you've tried to use library resources, or the first time in more than six months?
  • Are you able to log into your online course and/or MyESC?
  • Are you on a computer or a mobile device?
  • What operating system are you using? 
  • What browser are you using, and what version? 
  • Do you have any script blockers or pop up blockers turned on? 
  • Are you on the internet via a cord or WiFi? Are you on a home network, work or school network, or other public network like a library or coffee shop? Do you have highspeed (FiOS or cable) or not? Are there many other people on your network, possibly streaming video, torrenting, or gaming? Or are you on the internet via your devices mobile/cellular data plan, and if so, how is the signal where you are? 
  • Are you physically located in the United States? If you feel ok telling us which country you are in, that may also help us zero in on certain kinds of problems. 
  • Are you using VPN software, and if so, what country are you routing through? 

The @Home Library Workshops

@Home Library Workshops are library instruction webinars that take place via web meeting/classroom software, and involve seeing and hearing the librarian-instructor and communicating by voice and text with other students. There are participatory learning activities during the webinar. Viewing a recorded webinar, or listening without participating will not get you credit for completing the webinar.

However, we do have solitary, asynchronous (on your own time) equivalents for each webinar topic, if the timing or format of the webinars doesn't work for you.