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Colorado Library Checks Out RFID

The library is using RFID to streamline circulation and keep better tabs on its collection of more than 1 million items at 10 branches.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 06, 2006"We're a library system that is being loved to death," says Jackie Powers, director of public information for Colorado's Jefferson County Public Library.

The library system serves more than 370,000 of the 530,000 residents of the Denver suburbs, including Arvada, Golden, Westminster, Littleton, Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, are patrons of its 10 branches, and the region's population continues to grow. In 2005, the library system circulated more than 5.5 million items, a 30 percent increase over 2004—and it expects to circulate 6 million this year.

This increase is taking a toll on the library system's 230 full time staff and 270 hourly employees. "Our circulation people can't keep up with usage," says Powers. "We needed to take pressure off our staff through the use of a self-checkout system."

Therefore, the Jefferson County Public Library is transitioning from a largely librarian-assisted checkout process to a self-checkout system, while also transforming its bar-code-oriented book identification system to one based on radio frequency identification. RFID enables faster book identification than bar codes, since multiple books or other media can be stacked atop an interrogator (reader) and read very quickly. With bar codes, patrons must locate and then hold each book's bar-code label under a scanner. Currently, four of the library's branches each have one self-checkout counter for bar-coded books. These four will be converted to RFID-based systems, and multiple self-checkout counters will be added to all 10 locations. Librarians will use the RFID tags, rather than the bar codes, to check returned books back into the library system.

Estimates vary on the time savings RFID checkout and check-in offers over bar-code-based systems, but many sources gauge it at 40 percent, according to Cindy Phillips, the library's digital resources manager.

The library system's old antitheft system will be replaced by RFID interrogators installed at library exits, which will sound an alarm when someone walks out of the library without properly checking out an RFID-enabled book or other media. "One of the criteria we had for an RFID system is one that could tell us what items the antitheft system reads," says Phillips. Thus, in cases where patrons manage to steal items despite the alarm, the library can keep track of items it needs to replace. Eventually, staff will also use the RFID tags to help shelve books and manage inventory.

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