Friday, July 05, 2013

Re-examining How We Work: What Should We Do With the Staff?

In these days of smaller workforces and technology-based services, the subtitle of this program held at the beginning of the third day of the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago was layered with foreboding . Before reading the program description (and even after reading it), I anticipated hearing predictions of layoffs and further budget cuts in libraries. I expected a gloomy message but found instead a panel of speakers who seemed somewhat upbeat. Reduced workforces were still a given, but the speakers seemed to assume that was an opportunity and there would still be funds to redesign library public and staff spaces utilizing new furniture.

The first speaker, Christopher Stewart of Dominican University, spoke about the demand for more public space in academic libraries, which becomes possible when libraries reduce their workforce. Meeting rooms, study commons, and even production studios can be added when staff and workspace is reduced. Stewart also said that academic libraries are trying to get their professional staff into private offices away from the public – not something most public libraries will do. Increasingly, some staff have to share desks or tables, which he says works well with low-complexity job employees. Despite having little space of their own, he said employees work best when they have some control over their personal work space, needing good lighting, free from distracting talk or music, with counter spaces, storage, and equipment. High-complexity, high-responsibility employees need more space and privacy.

Whereas the library was once a grocery, it is now a kitchen, according to consultant Joan Frye Williams. The factory has turned into a laboratory, where people come to innovate and create. The public and the staff are being moved into flexible spaces. Focusing on staff, she said that she sees more emphasis on team work and less working alone. The staff is clustered into more collaborative spaces with fewer barriers to separate departments. All work in progress is on display for team comments. Williams warned that this model may be popular but does not work well for all. It assumes all employees will be extroverts.

Designer Elisabeth Martin spoke about the five kinds of work spaces: refuge (for 1 or 2), enclave (3 or 4), team (5 to 8), assembly, and community. The type of work of an organization determines how much of each type is needed. The current trend is toward more collaborative and community efforts, so meeting spaces are being added in libraries. She also posed that modern organizations are moving away from having distinct departments. With less privacy, she thought it particularly important that workspaces be comfortable. She even likes incorporating comfy chairs (some with movable desk tops) in employee spaces.

Joe Agati of AGATI Furniture showed a variety of office pieces and systems. He said that to some extent, modern workers need to learn to go digital and get rid of things. Clutter seemed to be non-existent in most of his photos, but he showed that there were special drawers for shoes and purses (some things employees always have). The most unusual item was a workstation including a treadmill.


Citizen Reader said...

Um, does anyone have the numbers on how many people who go to library school or become librarians (academic or public in particular) are introverts vs. extroverts? I can't imagine it's a field where anyone should "assume all workers are extroverts."

ricklibrarian said...

CR, I should probably clarify that that was not exactly the way Williams said it. She said that introverts will have trouble with the some new workspace designs putting everyone together, which really do not consider their preferences for quiet and privacy. These qualities are less valued by some new designers.