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How Can We Use RFID in Our Library?

Posted By RFID Journal, 11.17.2009
In what ways can radio frequency identification provide a benefit to libraries?

—Name withheld

Tracking books and other items in libraries is one of the oldest and most common applications of RFID technology. By placing a tag on either the spine or inside cover of a book, you can achieve several benefits. Jefferson County Public Library, in Lakewood, Colo., deployed such a system to speed up checkout by approximately 40 percent, thereby reducing the pressure on its staff (Colorado Library Checks Out RFID).

Public libraries across the German city of Hamburg deployed an RFID system (see Hamburg Library Moves to RFID). One of the main benefits is self-checkout. Readers can grab a book, go to a kiosk and check themselves out. The system records that they have checked out the book, so when they walk past exit gates, alarms do not sound.

San Bernardino County, Calif., also deployed an RFID system, primarily to enable self-checkout (see Bernardino's State-of-the-Art Library Incorporates RFID). The library system in Queens, N.Y., took this concept a step further, allowing patrons to pay fines at self-checkout counters (see The Queens Library System Grows With RFID). It also enables visitors to checkout books in seven languages: Bengali, Chinese, French, Korean, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

The University of East Anglia library, in Norfolk, England, adopted an RFID book-handling system enabling it to automate most of its circulation services. This frees up the library's employees to provide additional research help to students and other patrons (see University of East Anglia's Library Automates Circulation Tasks).

The system uses passive 13.56 MHz RFID labels—which employ the ISO 15693 air-interface standard—attached to books and other media in the library's 700,000-piece collection. Automated checkout counters enable all patrons to borrow books. The counters are embedded with RFID interrogators manufactured by Feig Electronic. To check out books, visitors can either scan their old bar-coded library card at the counter's built-in scanner, or hold a newly issued card with an embedded 13.56 MHz tag up to the RFID reader. Once the display screen shows the borrower's account information, the books or other media are presented to the RFID interrogator to be checked out.

What sets the East Anglia library apart from other RFID-enabled libraries in the United Kingdom, however, is its fully automated system for accepting and sorting returned materials.

Most RFID library systems use high-frequency (HF) tags. 3M offers a complete system. Some libraries opt for these solutions, but others purchase equipment and create their own. Issues to look out for include the tagging of CDs and DVDs. The tag needs to be placed away from the disk, which has an aluminum layer that can prevent the tag from being read significantly; placing a tag in the jewel case's spine, if possible, works well.

Another issue is privacy. Patrons might not want people outside of the library to know which books they checked out, so policies need to be put in place to protect privacy. One way to do this is to associate a random serial number with each book, so that anyone reading that number would have no idea which book was in a person's knapsack.

Another option is to encrypt data on the tag. Library systems specialists Library Automation Technologies has developed an encryption system for RFID communications. The system is designed to be used for its RFID-enabled self-checkout function, but it could be utilized in other RFID implementations as well (see Tag Encryption for Libraries).

—Mark Roberti, Editor,
RFID Journal

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