ErgoLib for Safer Library Computing

ErgoLib for Safer Library Computing

Working in a library can be hard, physical work.  And working with computers, mice, and monitors requires many of the same skills that successful athletes have. Get informed and start planning your own training program by checking out the following web sites and our list of quick, cheap tips.

  • Print Reading:   Library-Related   General   Neck/Back Pain  Eyestrain   Wrist/Hand Pain   Stretching/Prevention    Workstations   

 Cheap Tips for Safe Computing in the Library


  • If it hurts, don't do it. Pay attention to how you're feeling, how you're sitting, and what hurts.
  • Keep moving - stretch, wiggle, get up!   
  • Tape up one of the many good stretch exercise sheets at your desk, next to your phone, and over the copier. Stretch while you're waiting, while you're on hold, listening to your voice mail, whatever. Set yourself a daily deadline; if you haven't done all your stretches by lunch, then you'll know what to do on your lunch hour.
  • Take real pictures of how you work. Get a video camera and have a colleague tape you working. Keep the tape and add to it yearly. The comparisons will be enlightening.

  Keyboarding and Mousing

  • Don't reach for or tightly grip your mouse. Position the mouse as close as possible to you. "Mouse shoulder" and "mouse arm" are debilitating conditions.
  • Keyboards should slope downward toward the back. Use pads of sticky notes to prop up the front of keyboards.
  • Use two hands to type combination keys (such things as Ctrl and F7), instead of one-hand stretching or clicking.
  • Better yet, stop all that clicking and learn the keyboard equivalents. There are several listings of keyboard shortcuts at the Bilbo Innovations, Inc. site. One of the authors, Susan Fulton, has updated her list and it's available at her site for voice recognition technology, Computing Out Loud.
  • Don't use a laptop in bed or on the kitchen table. Find a little table that's about 26" high.
  • Rest your wrists on a wrist rest only when you are NOT typing. Wrist rests are designed to support the heel of your hand, not for resting your wrists. Place wrist rests so that the top is level with the top of your keyboard's space bar.

  Eye care 

  • Don't work looking up at your monitor. Bifocal wearers need to be especially careful that their monitors are low enough to avoid neck strain. If necessary, pry off the stand at the base of your monitor to lower the height and/or move the CPU so it is not supporting the monitor.
  • Eyeglass wearers - go prepared to your next eye exam. Read up on vision requirements for computer users and inform your eye doctor of your work setup. Consider buying a special pair of computer glasses. Some health plans cover them. Or try dropping a pair of low-magnification "reader" glasses on top of your regular ones; they may look funny but the price is right.
  • Check your monitor for glare by holding a white piece of paper in front it. If you can see its reflection, you've got glare! Quick fix: tape a manilla file folder on the top or side of your monitor after moving it in and out to test for maximum light blocking.


  • Don't stick your neck out -- literally. Your head weighs about 15 pounds. Keep it balanced over your neck and spare your neck and shoulders.                       
  • Find your chair's instruction book and adjust your chair. Learn how the controls work. If your chair does not adjust, work on getting a replacement. Replace your kitchen or dining room chair with a steno or other adjustable chair.      Try using pillows or books to adjust the height.    
  • Face your monitor and keyboard head-on. Make sure you're centered over the part of the keyboard you use the most. Don't sit centered over the number pad if you never use it.
  • Don't talk with the phone on your shoulder AND don't use a gadget to rest the phone on your shoulder. Get a headset, learn to type with one hand, or use a speaker phone.
  • Women - dump the purse and get a backpack or fanny pack. Also try sitting with your knees a foot or two apart - while your mother wouldn't like it, this position forces you into a better posture! That's why men sit this way
  • Men - don't sit on your billfold. Hip replacements aren't fun. (Put your billfold in your sock or a front pocket, so you don't leave it behind. And consider a fanny pack worn in front--lots of macho guys are wearing them these days!)  


  • Don't buy the first gizmo you see. Test them out!
  • Store bought items may not be the right height or comfort level for you. Make your own gizmos - Martha would!!!
    • For wrist rests -- try a rolled up hand towel or rolled bubble wrap secured with masking tape.
    • For foot rests -- try piling up telephone books or mail order catalogs so you'll know the exact height you need or whether you really need one at all.
    • For real handy types -- make little bags and fill them with brown rice for temporary or permanent backrests, footrests, wrist rests, back or travel pillows.
    • Need a soak -- use a plastic flower box or wallpapering box (shallow, long and narrow) to hold warm water for soaking forearms, wrists, and hands.
    • Need a cold press -- keep a few plastic bags of peas in the freezer at work and at home to use as ice packs on whatever hurts.
Vicki Bloom and Pat Flowers    10/98
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Library Case Study
Library patrons deserve good work stations, too. Below are before and after photographs of a library user sitting at a public CD-ROM work station.

In the before picture, the user must look up at the monitor and is sitting too low to reach the keyboard and the mouse.

After analysis, the major problem seemed to be the monitor shelf. The other problem was the chair, a desk chair several inches too low for use with a computer. The shelf was removed for the after picture. Replacing the chair will depend on our budget.

Before   After 
Notice her shoulder, neck and head position in each photo. 

As soon as she sat down, our model, Patricia Olhasso, commented (without prompting) that the second setup was much more comfortable. 

We used a volume of the LCSH for a booster seat. Don't worry - it's an old edition!

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Library Web Sites

Many academic libraries have set up committees to address ergonomic concerns. Check out the work of the University of Georgia Libraries Ergonomics Committee and the Michigan State Libraries Ergonomic Committee (Ergobusters)

Want to write an ergonomics policy?  A sample can be found at Colorado State University Libraries site.  An  employee checklist and evaluation form is available from the  University of Virginia Library's page.

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General Web Sites

The Typing Injury FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions is an extensive document targeted at computer users suffering at the hands of their equipment.  Provided by the CTD Resource Network, there are links, information on injuries, and detailed information on numerous "adaptive products" such as keyboards and furniture. 

For physical and anatomy information, check out OrthoDoc Massage Therapy; an Illustrated Guide to Muscles & Medical Massage Therapy. Maintained by a licensed massage therapist, the site has detailed information, pictures, and diagrams. Can't tell the difference between your infraspinatus and your subscapularis? The muscle menu has page after page of  "specific muscles, pain zones & treatment".

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Academic / Research Web Sites

CUErgo is sponsored by the students and faculty at the Cornell Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group.  What a wealth of news and information!  There are  guidelines for using a laptop, workstation and mouse, tips for  choosing an ergonomic chair, and information for left-handed people.  For those of you working with children, you will find  information on school ergonomics programs and children's computer use. Some of the students in the Cornell program used the Cornell Library as their "guinea pigs".  They include:   Ergonomic Interventions in a Library: An Evaluation Study, Participatory Ergonomics in a University Library, and Evaluation of Proposed Ergonomic Workstations in Olin Library.

Princeton has a good site on sight!  Or eyestrain, that is.   

University of California Berkeley's site includes a handy personal workstation checklist and a computer workstation assessment form  to promote an ergonomically safe and healthy workplace for its campus faculty and staff.   If aches and pains have you searching for the  "perfect" pointing device,  you will appreciate their informative article, Pointers on Your Pointing Device. They also include stretch breaks.   For more stretching exercises, check out the photographs at the University of Virginia or the commercial ad-filled keyboard yoga site.

If you frequently travel with a laptop, check out the University of Minnesota's Environment Health and Safety laptop guidelines.  To test your office ergonomics knowledge, take their 10 question quiz! 

School librarians may want to check out  CergoS, the Oregon Public Education Network's site on computer ergonomics for elementary schools. 

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Commercial Web Sites

The Center for Workplace Health publishes a newsletter, CDTNEWS, which focuses on the prevention of cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).  They also have links to OSHA, news, definitions, and CTD's effects on industry.

ErgoWeb offers information on workplace ergonomics with research reports and industry case studies. Organized by the University of Utah Research Foundation as a spinoff from the University Mechanical Engineering Department, ErgoWeb has developed software, training programs, and consulting services. You will find a very large bibliography of ergonomics literature and good collection of ergonomics standards and reports. They can also be reached at

Office Ergonomics Training is the brain child of Chris Grant, PhD who runs a Michigan-based ergonomics practice limited to office-related issues. It includes a checklist of risk factors such as splayed elbows, twisted torso, raised or tense shoulders and their possible solutions. 

Products (no endorsements)

The sources for finding ergonomic product information is growing. Here are a few good examples:

  • Relax the Back Stores offers a wide selection of chairs, supports, and typing supports at retail stores as well as by mail.
  • BackBeNimble sells a variety of gadgets and devices; the owners are friendly people who provide quick service
  • Safe Computing offers a full range of products as well as some online resources.
  • AliMed has an extensive catalog, ranging from anti-fatigue mats and shoe insoles suitable for the reference or circulation desk, to retractable keyboard shelves, wrist rests for calculators, typewriters and practically anything else. You can request a catalog by calling (800) 225-2610.

        Here are a few unique items: 

  • Kidstation sells funky computer desks that ergonomically designed.  Good links.
  • Ergopen sell sculpted pens for right- and left-hand users.
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Discussion and Support Groups
Probably the most up-to-date listing of support groups is available at the Support Group listing on the TIFAQ site. Another source of information is the Association for Repetitive Motion Syndromes (ARMS), P.O. Box 471973, Aurora CO 80047-1973. They are a membership group who will provide listings by telephone ((303) 369-0803) to non-members between 10 am and 5 pm CMT.

There are a few excellent support groups on the web, including the Los Angeles RSI Support Group. In addition to local meeting information, they have a section  on home remedies (highly recommended) as well as listings of resources and other support groups. The Seattle Repetitive Injury Support Team Home Page also has very good information online.

FindADoc, part of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln Computer Related RSI site, is designed to collect comments about individual health providers.

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Articles on the Web
Several publishers maintain websites with articles, links and other resources:

Computer Currents - includes a series of articles by Deborah Quilter, certified fitness instructor and personal trainer and author of The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book.  Deborah Quilter also maintains her own web site that includes these articles, advice, interviews, and other products by the author. 

Both PCWorld Online and ZDNet contain stories (eg.  the Pain of Portable ComputingHow Ergonomics Can Save Your Back and Your BusinessHow to Keep Your PC from Killing You  geared to the computer user and industry insider.  They are both excellent places to learn about the latest products being released to address ergonomic concerns.  

Larry's World - popular and knowledgeable columnist, Larry Magid offers sensible opinions and witty advice on a wide range of topics. His article Staying Healthy at Your PC examines ergonomic issues.

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We hope you've found this useful but want to disclaim any medical expertise and emphasize that our compilation of information is not intended to substitute for seeing your doctor.

Please be careful out there. 

Ergolib is dedicated to the memory of Pat Flowers.  The information was compiled by Pat Flowers and Vicki Bloom,  both experienced RSI patients.  Pat Flowers had a broad knowledge of ergonomic issues, was a member of the SOREHAND listserv, and worked as a reference librarian at the Rivera Library, University of California, Riverside.  Vicki Bloom is Head of Reference at Rivera Library and a former science and medical librarian. 

2003 Vicki Bloom 
Revised:  April 23, 2003 (vb) 

Last modified: 11/6/2006 4:43 PM by by V. Bloom

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