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In the U.K., Libraries Switch to Self-Serve

Many are eliminating manned checkout counters, and are seeing savings in reduced labor costs for checkouts and returns, while freeing up staff members to spend more time assisting patrons.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 11, 2010As more libraries adopt radio frequency identification, a growing number have begun eliminating their old check-in and checkout systems, which require employees to manually scan a patron's library card or the books that person is borrowing or returning. Instead, visitors use RFID kiosks to check out, return or renew books, as well as pay fines or fees. In such applications, the technology does much of the work—checking materials in and out, updating those items' status in the library-management system (LMS), and instructing patrons how to sort the returned items to ensure they are put back on the shelves faster.

Hertfordshire's countywide library system is one of many in the United Kingdom that have phased out the human-based system entirely, switching to Intellident's SmartServe RFID kiosks. Library employees no longer work behind a counter, but simply walk through the building providing assistance when needed. With self-serve kiosks, patrons move through the process more efficiently and faster, says Sue Valentine, Hertfordshire Libraries' head of stock, reader development and customer services.

Intellident's SmartServe Lite kiosk let's library patrons check out and return materials.
In much of the world, although RFID systems have been installed for checking out materials such as books and DVDs, self-service technology is provided as an alternative to interacting directly with a staff member, and is thus not used exclusively. In fact, many U.S. libraries find that their patrons prefer to stand in line for the human interaction—for the most part, because that's what is familiar to them.

RFID deployments by libraries are increasing in number more quickly in the United Kingdom than in other parts of Europe, as well as in North America and Asia, where adoption has been slower. Worldwide, however, approximately 5 percent of all libraries (there are estimated to be about 1 million around the globe) are using RFID technology, says Maria Kaganov, the marketing director of Tagsys, which has supplied RFID solutions to a number of libraries (see Amsterdam Libraries Deploying RFID, New Orleans Library Reopens With RFID and RFID Helps CSU Library Automate Sortation, Storage). "We are seeing more and more interest in the use of RFID in both new library buildings and the retrofit of existing libraries," she states. "The growth rate we expect in libraries is about 25 to 30 percent per year."

The technology has developed to the point at which all patron transactions—checkouts, returns, renewals and the paying of fees—can be managed at a kiosk, according to Andy Chadbourne, Intellident's marketing and communications manager. Once a kiosk is provided as the only solution, he says, visitors quickly get comfortable with the technology.

"This is now the trend in the U.K.," Chadbourne says, "and we are really seeing a high adoption rate based on this." In France and the Netherlands, where Intellident also maintains offices, libraries are installing self-service RFID kiosks. However, he notes, most are looking to complement manned counters rather than replace them. "In France, self-service is just becoming popular [in the past six to 12 months], and we are seeing a real interest from our Paris office."


Mick 2010-02-14 12:14:25 PM
Self Service is not the only benefit A very one dimensional view of both RFID uses in the library and the UK experience in particular. 170 UK users of RFID recently expressed their opinions about the current and future use of the technology in an annual survey carried out for subscribers to the library RFID list provided by JISC. Almost 70% use, or plan to use RFID for all aspects of stock management. Bibliomondo - who feature strongly in this article - have only one UK client represented in the survey - making them the least representative management system that could have been selected. Fortunately this is somewhat compensated by the fact that Intellident are, by a distance, the market leader. Current investors in ILS (in the UK - LMS) will no doubt be intrigued to learn that RFID has aspirations to replace their existing solutions.

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