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RFID-Enabled Vending Machine Brings Automation, Security to Library Disk Loans

Coyle Free Library is an early adopter of an RFID-based system known as the Library Media Box, from RTI, which offers automated borrowing of movies and games, while tags on books, laptops and other media, as well as portals at the door, ensure that library property is checked out before leaving the premises.
By Claire Swedberg

The library gained state and federal grants to help pay for the machines, which cost approximately $90,000 in total. Other money is going toward the RFID-tagging of library titles, the installation of RFID reader gates at the door, and a locking laptop kiosk.

The library is tagging all 5,000 of its DVDs and CDs, while only the most popular movies and music will be put into the vending machines. Any titles containing multiple disks, such as TV shows and serials, will not be included in the machines, Bigham says. However, she adds, because there is an RFID tag on every item, as well as readers at the door, the library no longer needs to store each disk separately in a secure area. Thus, when patrons check out an item, the process will be simpler and faster for staff members.

The Library Media Box is designed for ease of use, as well as a reduction of labor and security for items, according to Fred Goodman, RTI's library division president. The machines operate with a standard library card. A user can first search the library's website, prior to visiting the library, and reserve a specific title in the vending machine. That data, including the patron's ID number and the title being reserved, is then forwarded to the PIK software.

When a user arrives at the library, he or she can use the touchscreen on the unit's front. As the visitor scans his or her bar-coded library card, the system can automatically produce the title that the patron has reserved. He or she can use the screen to browse titles and make other selections as well, says Bill McClendon, PIK's CTO. Each title's RFID tag comes with a unique ID number that is linked to the title's information in the library-management system. When a patron requests a title, the machine's software identifies that title's location based on where its tag was read in the machine. The machine then forwards that title to the dispensing unit and confirms the correct choice before releasing it to that person.

The Media Box software forwards the DVD and patron information to the library-management software, thus indicating it is checked out. The DVD is ejected, while the machine prints a receipt with the return date. The patron can then walk through the security gates with the DVD without setting off alarms. PIK builds its RFID readers using reader chips from STiD.

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