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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
With the new kiosks—which number as many as four at Hertfordshire's largest library, and only one at its smallest—patrons enter an open area in which the library has set up book displays, as well as the kiosks. Each library schedules one staff member to monitor the front area of the library, including the kiosk, to ensure that visitors are able to use it properly, and to assist those who need help, or answer questions. The kiosk comes with a cart on one side for returned books (which can be shelved immediately), and a bin on the other for returned specialty items, such as audio-visual materials, or items that have been reserved by other patrons.

When returning borrowed materials, a visitor simply places them in a recessed tray on the kiosk, then presses a prompt indicating a return, and the screen directs that individual to move the items to the appropriate cart or bin. For checkout, the patron first holds his or her library card near the kiosk's bar-code scanner, and then puts the materials to be borrowed in the tray, all at once. The 13.56 MHz interrogator captures the unique ID number of each item, and transfers that data, via a cabled connection, to the library's BiblioMondo library-management system, using Intellident software to translate that information. Simultaneously, the reader disables RFID tags so that the visitor can then walk through the doors without setting off a security alarm. RFID reader antennas are installed in a gateway at the door, to capture the RFID tag ID numbers of any materials that have not been checked out, and to trigger an alert.

Andy Chadbourne, Intellident's marketing and communications manager
Hertfordshire's kiosks also enable patrons to pay fines for late books, or fees related to rental equipment, by inserting paper money or coins into the machine. Again, the data related to that transaction, along with the bar-coded number of the paying visitor's library card, is sent to the LMS. Patrons can also use the kiosks to view whether they have others items on loan, as well as renew materials they left at home. Another positive feature, Valentine says, is that the kiosks can display on-screen instructions, not just in English, but also in up to five other languages.

Because RFID-enabled Hertfordshire libraries have removed their checkout desks, Valentine says, patrons all use the kiosks, and the results have been positive. "They think it's quite clever," she says. "They show their membership card to the machine, and by the time they put their card away, the kiosk has checked out all their items."

Nearly all libraries around the world that have adopted RFID use high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz technology complying with the ISO 15693 standard. Business Resource Solutions (BRS), a systems integrator based in Brentwood, Tenn., recently installed an HF RFID system at Linebaugh Library System in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The library is tagging all items at the library and reading them with ISO 15693-compliant desktop interrogators provided by Singapore company ST LogiTrack.

When the system goes live this month, the staff will utilize RFID interrogators behind the counter to read tags on every item as it is returned, says Lynn Monger, BRS' marketing associate. The materials are then updated in the back-end library-management system using software provided by BRS. A patron has the alternative of self-checkout using another ST LogiTrack reader, or going to the counter to interact with library employees. In that case, librarians use an RFID interrogator to scan the books for the visitor. Either way, the RFID tag, with a unique ID number that links to the item in the LMS, is disarmed at the time it is checked out. An RFID reader at the library doorway captures the tags' unique ID numbers if they have not been disarmed, and an alert is triggered, thus notifying workers that a book or other item is being removed without having been checked out.


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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