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New Orleans Library Reopens with RFID

Donations from RFID solutions providers enabled a New Orleans Public Library branch destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to reopen with an RFID infrastructure.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 27, 2006Hurricane Katrina nearly closed the book on the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL) system. All 13 branches were damaged by wind, water, mold or a combination of all three. Eight of these were so far gone they need to be completely rebuilt. The first rebuilt library—the Alvar branch in the city's Bywater neighborhood—has just been completed and is expected to open to the public on July 5. When it does, all 13,000 books on its shelves will carry RFID tags, which will be used to check the books in and out and to perform inventory once. RFID systems provider Tagsys and Integrated Technology Group (ITG), a library systems integrator, have donated and deployed the RFID system.

After the storm, a foot and a half of standing water damaged much of the building and some of its collection of books and other media. But once mold had set in, the branch's entire collection needed to be destroyed and the building replaced.

The Alvar branch of the New Orleans Public Library will be the first to be completely rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina, and the first to be RFID-enabled.

Though it has already reopened five other branches, the Alvar branch is the first New Orleans Public Library to be completely rebuilt. It was selected as the first reconstruction for a number of reasons. "Much of the rest of the Bywater neighborhood was dry after the storm, so lots of people were still living nearby" explains Linda Santi, director of community awareness for the NOPL system, adding that many of the households have doubled their size by taking in relatives and friends. Moreover, it is one of the smaller branches, so the reconstruction would not take as long or be as costly as rebuilding larger branches.

Santi says that the donations from Tagsys and ITG (as well as other donations from groups including the publication Library Journal), enabled the NOPL to raise the bar in terms of the technology at the Alvar branch. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided funds for rebuilding, it would only offer enough to restore the facility to the level of automation it had before the storm, which consisted of an optical character recognition (OCR) scanners used by staff to check books in and out.

There was no self check-out system prior to the storm. Now, however, patrons will be able to check books and other RFID-tagged media, such as DVDs, on their own, using the self check-out station Tagsys provided. This system includes a bar-code scanner, to which patrons must present their bar-coded library cards to log in to the library's IT system; and an interrogator, which reads the tags attached to the books or other media the patron sets on the check-out desk, checking them out to that patron. Because it is automated and requires no input from staff members, this system will free up valuable time for the branch's skeleton crew of just two librarians (it employed only four prior to Katrina), who will be able to focus on other, more educational or research-oriented tasks at the 2,550-square-foot library.

"We don't have the funds to hire more staff at Alvar," says Geraldine Harris, assistant director of the NOPL. "So we're hoping that patrons at Alvar will be able to figure out the new system quickly and soon begin checking books out on their own."

In total, Tagsys donated 25,000 RFID tags, which will be used as the branch grows its collection. The passive tags operate at 13.56 MHz and contain a Tagsys chip, and are compliant with ISO standards 15693 and 18000-3. The company also provided two security gates, which sound an alarm if patrons attempt to remove tagged items before they've been properly checked out. This will help the branch keep track of inventory and discourage theft. Tagsys also provided RFID interrogators for staff to use to inventory tagged media and access the loan history of specific items.

Norcross-Ga.-based ITG worked with Tagsys to install the RFID hardware and software required to run the system. It also performed the required software integration to link the Tagsys system with the library's backend system.

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