Thinking about… Work Space

Bibliothèque de la Communauté de l'agglomération d'Annecy, Bonlieu

Bibliothèque de la Communauté de l'agglomération d'Annecy, Bonlieu.

While playing tourist this weekend, I passed one of the city’s larger libraries and peeking in, saw the sight that inspired this post.  The wind had picked up and a sunny day had turned grey, blustery and chilly, decidedly unsummery. Just inside the sliding glass doors of the library entrance and past the check-out machines, however, was a little piece of summer.  Patches of astroturf lay on the library’s linoleum floor, beneath brightly coloured garden umbrellas. Folding plastic chairs and small tables stacked with books were arranged around the space.

And unlike in the other study and work spaces scattered throughout the library, every chair in this little oasis was occupied.

We have experienced a similar phenomenon at the library where I work.  The most commonly used space is also the one element that was not included in the original plans for the space.  It isn’t the workplaces, the desks set near the windows and natural light, or the ring of chairs near the front door and periodicals. It’s the sofa! Don’t get me wrong — it’s a terrific sofa, a giant leather L-shaped beast located in the center of the library, and it is very comfortable.  But one wonders that this single piece of furniture, never intended for this space, should prove so magnetic for visitors and staff members.

Both instances impressed upon me the idea that by making a space more comfortable and appealing, one can increase the frequency with which it is used.  As research institutions are very concerned with ensuring continued usage of facilities, this seems a powerful lesson which has maybe given rise to the increased number of lounges and cafés or coffee shops attached to libraries.  At the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, they have taken this information to heart and incorporated beanbag chairs throughout the facility, which has helped make it such a popular place for social and academic meetings.

I’ve read up on Feng Shui and ergonomics, to try to understand how some of the theories relate to management of space with a view to increasing efficiency and productivity.  Unsurprisingly, this research has not made me an expert on either subject, but it has given me an appreciation for the theory and applications of both.  In both ergonomics and Feng Shui, attention is paid to the layout of a space;  unsurprisingly, when one is comfortable in an environment, one is more productive.   Equally important, though, is the comfort of the furniture within it;  this helps to explain how the sofa and beach chairs could be such a draw.

This all may be important for planning of libraries and workspaces. However, it is equally valuable for researchers and students to keep this in mind: how you organize your workspace will affect your productivity, the clarity of your thought, the efficiency with which you work.  Is your chair comfortable and can you see the entrance to your workspace from this seat?  Are all the most important materials and reference texts within easy reach?  How close are you to your computer monitor and at what angle is the screen?  Thinking about and taking into account the answers to these questions could make as much a difference for you as your selection of research tools and methods.

This weekend, we cleaned up the home office, catching up on the filing, rearranging the computers and monitors, trying to restore some semblance of order.  Nevertheless, to write this post, I took a seat on the sofa in the living room rather than on a desk chair in the newly-tidied office.  It’s a more comfortable space, affords me a vantage point from which I can see the entrance to the room, and is the quietest and calmest space I can find.  All of this suggests that a new reorganization of the home office is in order, to make sure that the space assists us in being as productive as possible.


P.S. Amusingly, looking at the Feng Shui Bagua Chart, I determined that the librarian’s desk in our library is located in the “knowledge and self-cultivation” quadrant or the “helpful people and travel” quadrant, depending on the entrance used as a reference point.  Both seem appropriate, I think, and perhaps reason for me to rethink my request to relocate my desk.

Resources of interest:

Feng Shui

“Making Feng Shui Work For You”, a blogpost at Under the Hat through which I located the Feng Shui Bagua Chart linked above

E-How’s article on how to Feng Shui a workspace.

“How to Feng Shui Your Home Office” from

An extract from Feng Shui for Dummies on Feng Shui at Work

Discussions of Workspace Organization’s take on how to improve your physical workspace through little changes, which includes lots of links to other resources on workspace management

David Silverman’s 2009 article at the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Curious Appeal of the Physical Workspace”

D. F. Bryant & Co.’s blog post, “Workspace: Is It Physical or Mental?”


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