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RFID Helps CSU Library Automate Sortation, Storage
To increase efficiencies, while helping students study more and search less, the Chicago State University facility uses a system combining RFID with automated material handling.
Jan 04, 2007—Forget the kindly old woman wearing bifocals and sensible shoes. The newly constructed library at the Chicago State University employs a worker that more closely resembles Rosie, robot caretaker of the Jetsons cartoon family. The "librarian" is a giant robotic arm—part of the library's automatic storage and retrieval system (ASRS)—that stores and retrieves bins carrying library materials (books, CDs, DVDs and so forth) in a three-story storage room located behind the open stacks in the new $38 million facility. Here, only materials that predate 1990 are kept, while more recent materials are shelved in the open stacks.
The library's collection is comprised of 500,000 books and other media. Regardless of where an item is stored, it carries a passive 13.56 MHz Tagsys RFID tag. The ASRS uses those tags to sort the items. Moreover, the library's circulation system utilizes the tags to check items in and out, and the security system uses them to ensure they're not stolen. The majority of tags currently use a proprietary Tagsys air interface, but as the library applies tags to new items, or to older ones with failed tags, it will eventually use standard ISO 18000-3 tags from a variety of vendors.
According to McCrank, more than 30 libraries now use ARSR for managing dated materials, though only a few have integrated RFID with the system. The others rely on identifying materials via bar-code labels, so the media must be manually scanned and placed in bins that the robotic arm can then store or retrieve. By integrating RFID interrogators into the ASRS, tagged books can automatically be sorted and stored.
ASRS is a popular storage mechanism for academic libraries, says Shai Robkin, president of Integrated Technology Group, the systems integration firm for the RFID and RFID-ASRS integration components of the project. The reason, he states, is that unlike their public counterparts, academic libraries do not weed out their collections over time. As such, they tend to have much larger collections that need to be stored. Integrated Technology Group worked with material-handling systems provider HK Systems, which installed the ASRS component of the project, to link the RFID architecture to the ASRS.
At CSU, a student or other patron returning a book, CD or DVD drops it into a slot that sends the item down a conveyor system. The first RFID interrogator stationed along the conveyor reads the item's ID encoded to the tag (the same number encoded to the bar-code label also affixed to every item and acts as failsafe in case the tag fails) and sends a message to the library's database that says the item has been checked back in. A second interrogator reads the item ID and sends it to a server that looks up the ID to determine where it should be stored. The server then sends a command to the conveyor system, diverting the item to either the first-, second-, third- or fourth-floor open stacks (where patrons can freely browse collections), or to the back storage area.
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