Effective January 1, I inherited a new department under my area here at the library called the Virtual Village. This change energizes me and while I'm not actually be managing the department --That tasks falls into the capable hands of our new Emerging Technology Manager, Matt Gullett -- the thought of our library actually having a “laboratory space” (so to speak) for trying out new and emerging technologies excites me.
Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself in the VV talking with staff a lot and as I’ve stood by the “help desk” I’ve found myself oddly a little bit bothered by the arrangement of the desk design. This funny feeling isn’t really new to me, for we have many desks (reference, informational & otherwise) in our system that share the same attributes. But as I’ve thought about this uneasiness more and more and compared the desk setup to those of other retail & service-oriented businesses, I keep wondering … why are most of our information and reference desks designed to have the staff sitting down and the patron standing up? Why aren’t they designed so that both individuals can freely converse and have an information exchange on the same level?
In looking at the pool of reference desk photos found on Flickr, I’m happy to see that our library system isn’t the only one to adopt this type comfiguration. (BTW: There's also seems to be a lot of good examples that show desks that are designed put staff eye level with patrons). But when I compare it the service desks of other business related organizations that I’ve worked in (hotels and retail outlets) I’ve realize that most service point desks are designed to place the customer and service provider at the same visual level. Furthermore, it seems it’s only when the service asked for dictates a consultation (example: setting up a new account in a bank, seeking assistance from a hotel concierge with travel plans) that there’s a need to have information delivered from a sit down desk. And even so, when this does happen, the customer is usually offered a chair to place them at the same eye level with the service provider. I saw a few examples of this in Flickr, which is great! But these seemed to be out weighed by photos of low desks without chairs).
Anyway, I know that this is not anything new and in the great scheme of things it really isn’t anything to quibble over. But it does perplex me… why are so many of our service desks designed to place both our customers and employees at a disadvantage? Our customers have to constantly stoop and slump over our desks to get information (example here & here & here) and have conversations. And our staffs’ have to constantly crane their heads and turn screens at odd angles to converse and provide service.
In closing you can file this away as a mid January rant for really these are just my thoughts … :) But I have sneaking suspicion that this arrangement isn’t blessed by the American Chiropractic Association.
Flickr Pool: Reference Desk