Cornell University Ergonomics Web

Ergonomic Interventions in a Library: An Evaluation Study

Master's Thesis
By Dena Tepper

Committee Chair: Alan Hedge
Minor Member: Paul Eshelman


Libraries have begun to automate and are facing ergonomic issues associated with the process. Libraries on Cornell campus, and libraries nationwide are facing similar issues. The library is currently engaged in an effort to convert all card catalogues to computer catalogues. 25% of employees have undergone some form of treatment; >70% of employees have had their workstations modified or replaced. Library work consists of different tasks and work processes than "standard" office work. Currently no systematic process exits for determining needs and evaluating interventions.

Previous Research on Libraries

The issue of library ergonomics has been largely ignored. Research on library ergonomics has centered around library users. Studies addressing library employees have been limited in scope. No standards have been developed for the design of workspaces and purchasing of equipment. 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 adjustability 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: Postural Analysis using RULA completed by myself and an assistant Musculoskeletal Discomfort Survey distributed to all employees asking them to indicate location and extent of discomfort Workstation Evaluation Survey distributed to all employees asking them to evaluate elements of their current workstation Focus Groups conducted by myself with representatives of each task group in order to determine the design needs of each task group After analyzing the data an alternative workstation design will be developed and demonstrated to the library employees giving them an opportunity to try the workstation and provide feedback on its appropriateness. A portion of the workstations will then be changed to the new design and the change will be evaluated by again collecting data using the methods previously mentioned (not including focus groups).

The following diagram illustrates this study process:

Pre-Intervention Results
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
MEAN Upper Arm Lower Arm Wrist Neck Trunk Leg Final Score
1.94 2.12 2.90 3.02 1.98 1.00 3.73

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

Further details of the study and the proposed new workstation designs are available.

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

See the Project Slideshow

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