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University of East Anglia's Library Automates Circulation Tasks

The school uses RFID to check out, check in and sort books, freeing staff to provide more research help to library patrons.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 01, 2007The University of East Anglia (UEA) library, in Norfolk, England, has adopted an RFID book-handling system enabling it to automate most of its circulation services. This frees up the library's staff to provide additional research help to students and other patrons.

"Libraries are under pressures to improve or maintain their level of service, while reducing their expenses," says Andy Chadbourne, marketing and communications manager for Intellident. The RFID solutions provider and integrator, located in Manchester, England, developed and deployed the system.

The library utilizes a fully automated system for accepting and sorting returned materials.

The Intellident system employs passive 13.56 MHz RFID labels—which use the ISO 15693 air-interface standard—attached to books and other media in the library's 700,000-piece collection. Intellident installed automated checkout counters that all patrons can utilize to borrow books. The counters are embedded with RFID interrogators made by Feig Electronic. To check out books, patrons 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. "We have been installing self-service checkout counters for more than three years," says Chadbourne, but this is the first RFID-enabled sorter we've installed anywhere."

Patrons can return items either inside the library during its operating hours, or at a book drop mounted on the building's exterior. To return items inside the library, patrons can place them, one at a time, at one end of a conveyor belt. A motion detector activates the Feig interrogator mounted alongside the belt, which reads the ID number encoded to the book's tag. The conveyor then starts up, propelling the item down a chute, which brings it to a sorting station.

There, Intellident software directs the conveyor system to divert the book into one of eight carts—one for each of the library's seven floors, and another for exceptions. A book belonging on the library's first floor, for instance, would be sent to the cart designated for that floor, while a high-demand book with a waiting list would go to the exceptions cart, from which staffers would retrieve it and contact the next waiting person. Sensors on each cart trigger an alert in the Intellident software, which interfaces with the library's back-end software. This software can then e-mail a message to staffers, alerting them to replace the full cart with an empty one and reshelve the books in the full cart.

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