New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Facility Planning: Making Sense of the Data

Introduction and collecting data about STAFF as a resource

Part 5 of the Facility Planning Series by Karen Watson & Robert Hubsher

Like the old saw – “measure twice, cut once” waiting to see what the data shows will minimize the chances of making mistakes.

  • Gathering data about your library has four purposes:
  • To familiarize you with and to help you “make sense” of elements that will affect the library's space requirements;
  • To assist you in assessing whether the current facility, and the furniture and equipment within it, are appropriate and adequate to support the attainment of the goals and objectives in the library's strategic plan;
  • To help you determine the best course of action; whether to reconfigure an existing space, renovate existing space, construct an addition to existing space, some combination of these options, or to build a new building;
  • To provide the data required to complete the area/room data sheets which are part of the library building program and an essential component of any renovation or construction project.


It is a given that any library building must be designed to meet the needs of library users. Attractive, well designed space will support good service practices and will enhance the users’ experience. However, one of the shortcomings we have noted in many library building designs is the lack of accommodation for staff needs.  Thoughtful consideration and data gathering about staff activities and interactions with each other, and the library users, will result in better building design.  A design which properly accommodates staff needs results in more efficient and effective delivery of services.

In order to integrate staff needs into your planning process you will need to collect data about staff activities.  Organizational charts can act as one visual tool to keep you all on track about who does what, with whom and where.  When working with organizational charts, be sure to use ones that reflect your strategic plan, remember you are planning for the future not what you have now.  Keep in mind any changes in staffing resulting from projected future growth in your community and/or changes in services and programs outlined in your strategic plan.

For example:

  • How many staff will be in any functional area or department at any one time?
  • If they work in shifts or at different hours, how many will actually be in the building at one time?
  • Will there be an overlap in shifts?
  • How does the aggregated data from all departments, service areas and functional areas affect the library building as a whole?

Begin data gathering about your staff's work and functions with simple things that you know are current or ongoing issues and link these to your library's strategic objectives.  Your staff know a great deal about what goes on in the library; bringing them on board at the beginning of this process will reassure them that the data gathering is about the work and how it is done and not about them. This will help to reduce resistance to becoming involved and participating in this process. Educating your staff about the data gathering process will help you do your job more completely and easily; engage them to help you collect this data.  Be sure to talk to your staff about what they do and ask them if there are steps or tasks that might be eliminated.  

Identifying work procedures can help to focus on the type of work each member of your staff does. Document when work is done and the time required for completing activities; the frequency of these activities and tasks; the level of interaction and contact with other staff members and the furniture and equipment they require to complete their activities and tasks.  Remember to count the part time staff and pages.  

Part of this process should involve a review of the current workflows (the tasks and sequence of tasks involved in different activities).  Reviewing workflows can lead to eliminating unnecessary steps and tasks and/or reorganization of steps and tasks, thereby improving efficiency.  This is also an excellent opportunity to identify ergonomic issues that should be addressed.  

Determining and analyzing the workflows in each department will help you better understand how each department operates. It will also permit you to assess whether or not the workflows are efficient and effective. Improving workflows will have an impact on space requirements; eliminating unnecessary steps or streamlining tasks often frees up space.

When you look at staff activities take particular note of:

  • Frequently performed operations
  • Tasks that require movement of staff and/or materials
  • Changing patterns of activities (new material types, new services, etc.)
  • Possible future changes in patterns (e.g., how are holds treated now? how will they be taken care of in the future?)
  • Paperwork vs. digitization (if you digitize records you may be able to eliminate filing cabinets)                                                                                                  
  • Costly work processes
  • How much equipment is used and how (e.g., are book trucks at the workspace?  How often?  How many? Where are they stored?)

    Ask questions such as:
  • What steps and tasks are involved in day to day activities?
  • Is the furniture and equipment that is used arranged in the most efficient way?
  • Are all of the steps and tasks required to do a task accounted for?
  • Does staff in one department interact with staff in another department to complete certain activities? How? How often?
  • How dependent upon one another is staff in different departments in the execution of their tasks?

NOTE:  Some of you may not use the word 'department' because you are in a small library where most people are engaged in most activities.  This is understandable.  Perhaps it would be better for you to think about this more in the sense of functions and the locations of those functions within your building.
Once you are satisfied that the workflows within a department or functional space are efficient and effective, you can gather information about the number of required workstations. The layout of each one reflects the interrelationship between the staff involved in various functions.

This process will bolster your confidence that the work areas include all of the required staff, furniture and equipment required. An invaluable resource to help you through this process is the book Staffing for Results: A Guide to Working Smarter by Diane Mayo and Jeanne Goodrich.

Observing and recording data about staffing allocations and scheduling in each department or functional area will help you determine the number of workstations required. Although each staff member may not require a workstation, the total number of staff working at the library, including all part-timers, is relevant if you plan to have staff lockers and a staff lounge or kitchen.

Documenting the equipment and furniture used at each staff workstation and taking into consideration whether additional equipment may be required is an essential component of preparing the library building plan. It is critical to record this information separately for each functional area (circulation, technical services, childrens' area, teen space, etc.). Your designer will use this information at a micro level in order to ensure the electrical engineer places adequate electrical outlets at work station, for example.

Another title in the Results series, Managing Facilities for Results: Optimizing Space for Services by Cheryl Bryan is an excellent resource to help you record, evaluate and optimize space. This book addresses the space allocation within the entire building. It includes a number of workforms to assist you in this process, including two that focus on furniture and equipment: “Workform 8, Need – Furniture and Equipment” and “Workform 9, Have – Furniture and Equipment.” These forms will assist you in documenting your current inventory and identifying any additional needs you may have.

Professional Vocabulary note:
There are words used by both the library and design professions that can represent very different ideas.  Try not to assume that you and your designer will use words for the same meaning.

‘Circulation’ is one good example. In the library world 'circulation' relates to the borrowing of library materials.  

In the design world, ‘circulation’ or ‘circulation space’ means that area or space used for people or equipment to move through or for services such as wiring, heating and cooling ducts, etc., not designated for a particular function.

[Think of it as the path (shown in the diagram in red) on the carpet upon which you walk or space within walls that carry services vertically and horizontally].


Click here to read Part 4 of this series.
Click here to read Part 3 of this series.
Click here to read Part 2 of this series.
Click here to read Part 1 of this series.