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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
In the United States and Canada, self-service RFID kiosks are being installed as a complement to manned counters as well, and Chadbourne predicts that academic libraries in both countries may begin to adopt the same exclusive RFID solutions (without manned counters) currently being used in the United Kingdom.

At Hertfordshire's 47 libraries, the previous library-management system was becoming out of date, and the county determined that RFID would be the best technology to replace it. Until it began installing the SmartServe kiosks in September 2009, at a rate of one site per week, the libraries employed a proprietary system known as "bookreader," provided by LMS supplier BiblioMondo. Bookreader labels have magnetic spots that provide a unique ID number attached to books and patron ID cards. A visitor would present his or her card at the desk, and an employee would place that person's card in a reader, which would scan the ID card, and then slide the unopened books, one at a time, over a device that would read the magnetic spots on the label attached to each item.

Sue Valentine, Hertfordshire Libraries' head of stock, reader development and customer services
That system, installed in 1980, was working, Valentine says, but BiblioMondo was no longer producing the hardware, so as equipment needed to be replaced, there simply was no hardware available. "The equipment was at least 10 years old," she explains, "and becoming increasingly unreliable, so an alternative solution was needed."

In addition, security systems in the Hertfordshire libraries were failing. The security system was not integrated with the LMS, and required a separate security tag on each item, designed to sound an alarm if it passed through the one-way exit gate. Therefore, when an item was checked out, the staff would then have to hand the books to the patron after he or she had passed through the gate.

Installing a bar-code system seemed to be a step backward in technology, Valentine says, because it would have required each item's bar-coded label to be scanned—a slower process than the previous system in which books did not need to be scanned with a bar-code reader, but were simply placed on or swiped near the bookreader device. What's more, she adds, such a system would have required increasing the number of workers at check-out and return desks in order to accomplish those scans.

One of the county's priorities was to reduce or eliminate checkout counters, thereby allowing more public space for the movement of visitors and the display of books. "Research shows that the first 20 feet of a library are most important," Valentine states, "as that is where the customer makes their first impression and [is] made to feel welcome." Big counters, she adds, act as barriers, as do gated security systems. What's more, she says, opening up entrances by eliminating the one-way exit security portal also improves access for users with disabilities.


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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