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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
Intellident, 3M Library Systems and Bibliotheca are market leaders in RFID-based technology that interfaces with existing library systems, while Tagsys is a leader in supplying hardware to library application providers (though not a big supplier to U.K. libraries).

In the United Kingdom, data-encoding standardization has helped to fuel RFID adoption in libraries. Vendors of library system hardware and software sold in that country—including 2CQR, 3M Library Systems UK, Axiell, Bibliotheca, D-Tech, Intellident and Plescon Security Products—have formed a group called the RFID Alliance, which recommends one standard, ISO/DIS 28560, that dictates how information is stored on an RFID tag. In that way, all tags can be read in the same manner, making U.K. library RFID systems uniform. This would allow libraries to read the tags on items that may belong to another facility.

According to Kaganov, the next step for libraries will be full data integration of inventory and checkout status of items into one central information-management system (ILS) server, accessible to all libraries.

"With the use of RFID, data is available at the security point to track theft, and also directly on the shelves through faster inventory," Kaganov explains. "All of this data provides considerably more visibility into material availability. The library market is rapidly moving to implementing systems [middleware applications] that are able to interface with the ILS, as well as offer analytics to the librarians." This means, for example, that a library could access data such as whether an item at another location has been checked out, and when. It would also allow for the analysis of trends, such as peak periods, thereby enabling libraries to staff their facilities accordingly.

As RFID tags become more commonly embedded in books and DVDs by the publisher or manufacturer, Kaganov says, the systems will be adopted at a higher rate in libraries. "RFID tagging is starting to be an added service to book providers," she states. Since tagging collections on library shelves is often a long and manual process, she notes, librarians are looking to their suppliers to deliver product with RFID tags already attached.

Meanwhile, the complete self-serve system will be gaining momentum, says Matthias Joos, the CEO of Bibliotheca, which is headquartered in Switzerland. More RFID kiosks that offer full service, he indicates—check out, returns and payments—will drive the elimination of manned library counters. "The financial crisis had no impact" on the rate of RFID deployments in the past two years, Joos says. In fact, he speculates, it may have had a positive effect, due to economic pressure on communities to adopt technologies such as RFID that offer libraries the potential to lower costs and reduce labor.

"More and more, libraries don't give the patrons an alternative [in the formed of a manned check-out desk] when implementing RFID," Joos says. "This is due to the high acceptance of the kiosks by all ages of the patrons. In fact, the circulation increases since there is more privacy when borrowing with RFID."


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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