3M Launches Tag Data Manager for Libraries

By Beth Bacheldor

The software upgrade will enable libraries to add a variety of tag data formats to their RFID systems, and to provide a migration path to the proposed ISO RFID tag data standard.

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The Library Systems division of 3M unveiled a product this week designed to help libraries maneuver the myriad RFID tag data formats used by RFID-enabled library systems, currently and in the future. It also provides a migration path to the evolving ISO RFID tag data standard.

The 3M Tag Data Manager lets libraries support the variety of proprietary RFID tag data formats utilized by different RFID-enabled library systems. The software can be downloaded onto 3M’s existing products—such as its 3M SelfCheck system, which enables patrons to check out, return and renew RFID-tagged loaned media, as well as pay fines and other fees—without the aid of library staff.

Libraries have been employing RFID for several years to augment security systems, manage inventory, offer self-checkout and automate returns. The library systems typically work with RFID tags that operate at 13.56 MHz and support the ISO 15693 and 18000-3 air-interface protocols, which specify the manner in which data is shared between tags and readers. Most systems, however, incorporate proprietary tag data formats, which are akin to the language with which tags communicate, because there hasn’t been a standard.

“Because there have been no standards for data format,” says Jacob Haas, 3M Library Systems’ marketing manager, “vendors have created proprietary tag data formats.” The lack of an international standard has spurred individual countries to adopt their own standards, Haas notes, including France, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.

Without a common standard, libraries find it difficult to share books—which many local and state libraries, as well as academic institutions, like to do—because the RFID labels may employ different data formats that can be read only by specific library RFID systems.

To use the new 3M Tag Data Manager, most libraries’ existing 3M systems will require a simple software upgrade, Haas says, adding that some older systems will require a firmware upgrade, which typically necessitates a service representative to come to the library and load 3M Tag Data Manager onto the systems. Once the systems have been upgraded, libraries can add any tag data formats they need by installing them via a CD, including the four country-specific European formats.

“The Tag Data Manager gives libraries peace of mind that the technology they are using won’t become irrelevant, and they can move toward a standard as it becomes available,” Haas explains. “Many libraries share books, and this gives our [RFID] readers the ability to read all the tags that are out there on the market, so now libraries can share books and read the tags.”

The 3M announcement coincides with news that an international standard is nearing completion. ISO published recommendations for a library tag data format earlier this month, and Haas says many expect there will be an official standard from the organization by year’s end. His company is working with ISO on the proposed standard (ISO 28560), and currently has a representative serving on a committee of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), ISO’s U.S. member organization, which is helping to develop uniform standards.

In addition, 3M has also announced that its own proprietary tag data format will be available to any customer that requests it. “We previously did not publish our tag data format,” Haas says, “not because we didn’t want to, but because we just didn’t think customers would want it.” But 3M’s customers have told the company they do want access to the format, so they can use it to write tags themselves.

“Our customers would really like, for peace of mind, to have tag our data format, particularly until a standard is announced and adopted,” Haas says. The document containing 3M’s tag format mapping can be requested online here.