Cornell University Ergonomics Web

Participatory Ergonomics in a University Library
An Case Study

Master's Thesis
By Dena Tepper
Committee Chair: Alan Hedge
Minor Member: Paul Eshelman


Library Automation

Libraries and computer related injuries

Previous Research on Libraries

Library Workstation Requirements Identified

Sufficient worksurface:

Worksurface height:

Purpose of the Study

The purpose was to conduct a systematic investigation and to develop a set of recommendations for the purchasing of furniture.  Emphasis was to be placed on accommodating tasks and equipment which are specific to the library environment.  Involvement of library staff in the process was to be stressed.

Here are a couple of examples of workstations at the Library:

This picture is an example of a workstation which is not well suited to computer work. Here an old typewriter stand is being used for a computer, providing no adjustablility to the work surface. A lumbar support has been added to a chair which meets almost none of the requirements for ergonomic design and the arrangement of the workstation, specifically the location of the two garbage pails leaves little leg room.

This picture when compared to the previous one is a good illustration of the variability in the workstations at the library. This is an example of a "newer" workstation. The piles of books and other materials on either side of the keyboard are a perfect illustration of one of the major concerns raised in the focus groups, namely the need for more surface area.

After doing an initial walkthrough and completing an inventory of the current workstations a study process was developed. Four methods were chosen to evaluate the current situation:

The following diagram illustrates this study process:


Musculoskeletal Discomfort Survey
The figure on the right illustrates the areas of discomfort reported by the library employees represented by % of reportees. It is clear from these results that the areas for which discomfort was most commonly reported are the right wrist and the neck.

RULA Postural Analysis

RULA provides a score which is indicative of the extent to which a person is at risk for injury, the higher the score the greater the risk to the individual. The table below is a listing of the mean scores for all the subjects broken down into component parts. In this way it is possible to determine what parts of the body are contributing the most to the total score. The results indicate that it is the posture of the wrist and neck which are putting subjects at the greatest risk for injury.
RULA Assessment
MEANUpper Arm Lower Arm Wrist Neck Trunk Leg Final Score

The data from the self-report survey and the observational RULA measurement concur, indicating that the areas of greatest concern were the neck and wrist.

After analyzing the data a workstation mock-up was set up in the library. The mock-up consisted of three tables which were attached by hinges and could be arranged in a variety of horizontal configurations. A negative slope keyboard tray and a mouse tray were attached to the center table. The purpose of the mock-up was to collect information on horizontal layout preferences of library staff. All library employees had an opportunity to try the workstation and provide feedback on their preferred layout and the comfort of the keyboard system.

The Mock-Up

Workstation Recommendations

Workstation options:

  1. desk with right return
  2. desk with left return
  3. desk with two returns

Primary worksurface depth:  minimum 30" to allow for document/book holder in front of monitor

Primary worksurface width:  minimum 60" with one return (24" depth) minimum 66" with two returns (24" depth)

Return depth:   24" if it is not used as a computer surface; 30" if there is a chance the computer will go there.

Return width:  minimum 30"


Keyboard system:  there should be a keyboard system, like the Proformix system tested in this study, attached to the workstation which can accommodate both the keyboard and mouse. Keyboard system should be both height adjustable and angle adjustable to below 0 degrees.

Choice of document holders including:   Bookholder which can accommodate books of varying sizes, small paper document holder, document holder to accommodate large documents (e.g. printouts).

For more information please contact Dena Tepper

A useful resource on Library ergonomics: UT Austin General Libraries Ergonomics Task Force

See the Project Slideshow

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