ASSOCIATES (2006, March, v. 12, no. 3) -

*Survey--Poor Design Equals Poor Health:
The Story So Far*


Jim Jackson
University of Exeter

In the last edition of Associates Lydia Collins and I introduced you to our survey on library design for front line staff. The main object of our survey is to try and gather together everyone’s thoughts on how best to design a library issue desk/circulation desk. We are looking for the size of your immediate work area, its height, width, depth and general good and bad points. The survey can be found at We would urge those of you who have not replied to do so now. We have extended our final submission date till the end of March 2006 so that you have a chance to do this.

Why a survey you may ask? The basic answer is simple – we hope to keep you fit and healthy at work. Our premise is that healthy workers need healthy work environments, and that poorly designed work areas can have both short term and long term effects on your health. With libraries constantly undergoing change, good design concepts need to be established before building work starts. This also includes work on existing buildings which are being modified for new services. There is a money factor here as well, in that staff who are off sick because of poor design cost employers money in sick pay, replacement staff, and poor delivery of services.

I know that some of you who are reading this may well work in separate cataloguing areas, and feel that this does not apply to you. However, with the changing library environment we live in, these areas are changing fast. Here in the UK we have the rapid development of shelf ready book suppliers, cutting down the need for large cataloguing department staff. The areas once set aside for cataloguing are now seen as areas for the development of extra teaching resources, meeting rooms and group discussion zones. Space is at a premium in all libraries, hence the fact that at times design and function can be lost in the race for impact and cost. Old buildings built before the age of computers are really difficult to adapt and many replies to the survey have shown that PC’s file servers and security systems have been pushed into areas which are often too small, the wrong height, or wrong position.

Early replies show that there are some definite areas of concern.

1. Those buildings with air conditioning give constant cause for complaint ranging from poor working maintenance to the spread of illness.

2. The height of issue/circulation desks is another concern, in particular the height of PC’s.

3. The design of issue/circulation desks with raised shelves between the staff member and customer brings a constant quote of ‘ban all raised shelves – they are killing me’.

So the next time your back aches or your hand goes numb and you are unable to lift anything, think about your work area. Is it slowly but surely effecting your life?

The full report from the survey will be published in the July 2006 edition of Associates. So be part of this important research. Complete the survey form today!

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