Ergonomic Issues in Academic Libraries in Kolkata, West Bengal: A Pilot Study
A. M. Chandra
Dhruba Prosad Chakravarti
Department of Physiology
In a highly competitive academic environment, the library is an essential component of an institution's intellectual expression. Libraries must design their spaces in a way that meet the needs of 21 st century learning, teaching, and research. Ergonomics is an important aspect of design. Ergonomics is a scientific discipline concerned with improving productivity, health, safety, and comfort, and helping people and technology work together. Ergonomic design should support humans in achieving operational objectives. There are three goals in human-centered design.
To achieve these objectives, there are key elements of ergonomics to consider:
The discussion of library ergonomics and modern design technologies has been largely restricted to libraries of developed western nations. The "relevant literature" at the end of this article lists important studies and resources. There has been almost no attempt to improve libraries in India, and the issue has been largely ignored in academic libraries in West Bengal. Most of the academic institutions in West Bengal are going through a critical phase because of rapidly-increasing enrollments, and consequently the libraries are also having problems with collection and study space.
Shelf space is crucial in library collection planning. Academic libraries that need additional space generally do not have open land to expand their storage. Many libraries have solved this problem by using compact shelving. Studies in libraries in the western nations show that up to 50 percent of the floor area can be saved by using compact shelving, because there is one access aisle for a number of ranges.
Illumination is also an important issue. There are specifications for illumination of reading areas, staff work areas, and shelves. Unfortunately, the illumination is very poor in most of the academic libraries in West Bengal. Reading or working under insufficient light for considerable time causes eyestrain that may ultimately lead to eye disorders.
Temperature and relative humidity are crucial factors in the preservation of library collections. Heat accelerates deterioration and humidity helps promote harmful chemical reactions. Heat and humidity encourage mold growth and insect activity. Low humidity can also be a problem, and cause materials to become brittle.
Noise level is another important factor that affects work in the library. Noise has a psychological effect and creates concentration problems in studying or work. Even when the library interior is quiet, there may be sound from outside that creates a problem.
Fire can be devastating to libraries. Proper fire safety is essential for any academic library.
The present study assesses the library shelving, collection arrangement (including room for growth), and makes a preliminary observation of environmental conditions (illumination, noise, temperature, humidity) and fire safety. The study also assesses user satisfaction with library services and resources.
Results and Discussion
The following table shows that the existing shelving in the selected libraries occupies more than 50 percent of the total library space, reducing the reading and other functional spaces of the libraries. Not only that, further growth will put a great burden on these libraries, since the space cannot be extended further. To solve this acute space problem and to maximize the library storage capacity, use of compact or mobile shelve is strongly recommended to these libraries. The calculation of the data shows that if the libraries use compact or mobile shelves, up to 60 percent of space can be saved for future use. The calculation is based on the following dimensions for compact shelves.
Floor Area and Shelving Data
The figures below show the actual and recommended illumination levels. The lighting levels are very poor overall.
The figure below shows peak noise levels compared to recommended levels.
The following figure shows overall satisfaction of library users. Data was gathered from a small sample of students in each library. The results shows that the users are not satisfied with existing facilities and services, although there is satisfaction with staff support, collections, and library cleanliness.
The following table shows mean temperature and relative humidity values. The libraries are in the same academic building, and climatic data was collected at the same time. The results are expressed as mean and standard deviation. The data shows that temperature and humidity levels are not suitable for preservation and maintenance of books. These adverse climatic conditions may lead to destruction of new books and certain rare collections which are irreplaceable.
Table for Temperature and Relative Humidity of Different Libraries
The following table reveals that fire-safety arrangements are very poor in these libraries. Not a single library is well-equipped with fire safety devices. Moreover, those libraries with fire-extinguishers do not regularly check to see whether they are working.
Fire safety was analyzed using a modified fire safety checklist.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The academic libraries in the survey do not meet modern ergonomic standards. This is a pilot study with small sample numbers, and the findings are not enough to generalize about the condition of all academic libraries. Keeping in view the present findings, however, the following recommendations are made.
Relevant Literature on Ergonomics and Design
Barclay, O. (2004). Collection preservation in library building design. Available: http://www.librisdesign.org/docs/CollectionPreservation.pdf .
Books for Libraries (2009). Background and credentials. Available: http://www.booksforlibraries.com/compact.asp
Central Business Group (n.d.). Space saving solutions. Available: http://www.centralbusinessgroup.com/space_save.htm
Chandra, A.M., Ghosh, G.N., Barman S., & Sadhu, N. (2006). Effect of thermal load on work efficiency of female university students. Indian Journal of Physiology and Allied Sciences 60 (2):50-7.
Dean, E.T. (2005). Daylighting design in libraries. Available: http://www.librisdesign.org/docs/DaylightDesignLibs.pdf
Graham, K., & Grodzinski, A. (2001). Defining the remote library user: An online survey. portal: Libraries and the Academy 1 : 289.
Health and Safety Executive (2005). Noise at work: Guidance for employers on the control of noise at work. Available: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg362.pdf
Mundt, S. (2003). Benchmarking user satisfaction in academic libraries: A case study. LIR 27 :29.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). (2002). Inspection checklist . Available: http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/inspectionchecklist.pdf
North Carolina State University. Environmental Health and Safety (n.d.). Ergonomic workstation guidelines. Available: http://www.ncsu.edu/ehs/www99/right/handsMan/office/ergonomic.html#introduction
Ogden, S. (2007). The environment, temperature, relative humidity, light, and air quality: Basic guidelines for preservation. Northeast Document Conservation Center. Available: http://www.nedcc.org/resources/leaflets/2The_Environment/01BasicGuidelines.php
Siems, E., & Demmers, L. (2003). Library stacks and shelving, Libris design project. Available: http://www.librisdesign.org/docs/ShelvingforLibraries.pdf .
The Association for Librarian and Information Managers (2000). The primary school library guidelines. Available: http://www.la-hq.org.uk/directory/prof_issues/primary.pdf
Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG). (n.d.). Academic Library. Available: http://www.wbdg.org/design/academic_library.php