My Top 5 Secrets to Healthier, Happier Staff Spaces
I think it's pretty safe to say that the most underserved spaces in Library design these days are the Staff areas. Yes it's true that the public patron areas are critical. You can't exactly increase your foot traffic and encourage people to stay longer if the space they're working in is sub par. Naturally you feel compelled to keep up with the current trends by spiffing up your space and
keeping the latest and greatest book collections in stock. Cue the Bridgerton series (love it or hate it, I hear this one keeps flying off the shelves). But what about the Staff spaces? These behind the scenes areas are arguably even more critical than public spaces since nothing happens in front-of-house before it goes down in the back-of-house. Gotta keep those materials in circulation and it's a process to say the least! So stay current where it counts with my Top 5 Secrets to Healthier, Happier Staff Spaces.
1.) NEED MORE COUNTERTOPS!!
You just CANNOT have enough counterspace in your workrooms. No really. There's never enough space as it is. You've got check ins, holds, youth program prep, flyer/copy prep, book repairs, and book sales just to name a few, and that was BEFORE Covid! Now you've got to add quarantining to that, and all of this requires LOTS of space. When I sit down with a new client to discuss their needs, I almost always get a request for more work space. So if you get the luxury of designing from scratch for a new build or you're gutting an existing space, make sure you don't forget to incorporate plenty of counterspace. This should naturally include storage cabinets beneath and above your counters. Keep that in mind as well. Your staff will thank you.
If you are working on a renovation and don't have the luxury of adding new counterspace, look at your existing space and see where you might be able to extend portions of what you do have. Even if only a foot or two. Every little bit will help. You can also look at rearranging your existing space if you have construction crews coming in anyway. Pull out a blank piece of paper and redraw your workroom without the existing millwork. Take a look at what might go where to create more efficient uses of your space. Sometimes just looking at what you have with new eyes will help you re-think some things.
2.) I JUST NEED SOME SPACE
Workrooms are obviously very busy places and can get crowded for sure. But one thing to remember when putting together your Staff Spaces is well . . . your Staff. Everybody needs a little hole carved out for their own private use. It's just a human thing. We tend to naturally territorialize a space whether it's a workstation, our cars, or even something as small as our own lockers for storing personal items. Don't believe me? Go look at your staff's lockers and workstations. I'm willing to bet there are personal photos, favorite team paraphernalia, beloved book quotes and most definitely pictures of their fuzzy cats posted all over "their" space. It's just what we do. And since happy Staff makes a happy Library, then don't forget to make sure they have their own private workstations if possible. And of course try and carve out some space for Lockers to store Staff personal items. Sometimes that little addition alone can boost morale. Trust me on this one.
3) WINDOWS TO THE SOUL
While we're on personal areas for Staff, let me give you my third Secret to Healthier, Happier Staff Spaces. And that's windows! This of course includes exterior windows whenever possible, but what I'm REALLY referring to are INTERIOR windows. Your Library Staff work hard to keep your Library running smoothly. And sometimes they have to sneak back into the workroom to get some other tasks done. But that provides a bit of a dilemma when it comes to keeping an eye on any patrons that might need assistance. So the third Secret is making sure you not only have windows from Staff spaces into the Public areas, but more importantly, making sure you cover those windows however works best for your Library.
One of my Library clients prefers to not have their Staff and back-of-house operations under constant scrutiny of the patrons. Complete openness also gives the patrons a confusing notion of boundaries. If they can see their favorite Librarian behind that glass, they may feel obliged to just walk on back and say hello or ask a question. This is definitely NOT always a welcome gesture. For this particular client, we installed 2-way film on the windows to prevent that problem. If you have the budget and can afford actual 2-way glass, then go for it. But film is certainly a very viable and affordable option in most cases. Other Libraries may prefer to have the option of an open or closed workroom. If that's the case, I absolutely encourage the use of roll-down shades or even blinds to give you the privacy you need whenever it's necessary.
4) WE WERE ON A BREAK!
Another crucial area for your Staff is going to be the Breakroom. You probably don't want this area to be the coziest room ever. After all, it is just a break. But you DO want to make sure that downtime for your Staff is relatively comfortable and renewing. Make sure you have some comfortable seating but also plenty of tables and chairs for eating. I try and add a variety of seating styles to all my breakroom designs. Usually a couple of lounge pieces, a 4-top table with chairs and a couple of high-top 2 seaters. I like to throw in some booth seating when I can if space allows. Make sure you have all the necessary appliances or as many as your breakroom affords. And if all else fails, ask your Staff what they would like to see in their breakroom. You might be surprised at some of their responses.
5) LIGHTING CHANGES EVERYTHING
My 5th and final Secret to Happier, Healthier Staff Areas is all about lighting and atmosphere. Great lighting makes all the difference in the world. You want to stick with clean lighting; preferably LED types. There are so many institutions making the switch from eye-straining compact fluorescents to LEDs. Some states and counties even offer programs where they allot a certain amount of funding to spaces to go through and change out their lighting system to support LEDs. If you're not sure, give your local authorities on the matter a call to learn more. Try to keep all your task lighting at similar if not exact color temperatures. Keep in mind that the lower your Kelvins (3000K to 3500K), the warmer the light. I like 3700K to 4000K for a clean rendering of your space. You can use slighting different temperatures for your ambient and decorative lighting but preferably not right next to your higher task light temperatures. This will cause visual confusion in the space and further eye strain. This is the LAST thing you need in a reading environment.
And of course you want to create a calming but productive environment for working in by controlling your atmosphere. This can be achieved through your color scheme, textures and materials your Staff interacts with on a daily basis and even sound masking to create privacy when speaking.
So make sure you when you're designing your space, rearranging your Library or just looking for areas for improvement, that you are considering your Staff just as much as your patrons. It must be an intentional balance that if left unattained, can lead to more chaos than it's worth. If you've got a good Staff on your hands, then take good care of them. You will not regret that investment!
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