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Grand Rapids Library Adopts UHF RFID Technology

The Michigan library believes it is the first public system to use UHF RFID in North America, enabling it to speed up checkout, track check-in, provide security and manage inventory.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 17, 2012After years of research and development, Grand Rapids Public Library has launched a radio frequency identification system this month, intended for all eight of its branches. A few weeks ago, patrons of the Michigan library's main branch began using RFID to check in and out the books and other materials they borrow. However, the library expects to install a more expansive RFID system at all eight branches, with the goal of reducing labor costs and improving efficiency. The technology consists of fixed and handheld readers, tags on all media, and software designed by the library's IT department to manage RFID read data and integrate it with the existing library-management system. The encoded and printed EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) labels and readers, as well as software to link read data to the library's system, is provided by Michigan RFID firm eAgile.

Grand Rapids believes it is the first public library in North America to adopt UHF RFID. Most libraries around the world that have implemented RFID technology are employing high-frequency (HF) passive tags (HF is currently an accepted standard for libraries), with the tags read at a short read range at checkout counters. Typically, however, libraries require a separate security system to track media leaving through the exit, since HF tags have a short read range, or they must install a large antenna array specifically designed to read HF tags passing through a portal.

To borrow books and other materials from Grand Rapids Public Library, a patron places the entire stack of items on the counter above the reader installed beside the checkout terminal.

By opting for UHF, says Gary Burns, the CEO and cofounder of eAgile—which sells both HF and UHF RFID library solutions—a library can attain an RFID system that works faster and more efficiently, takes up less space and costs less. For instance, Grand Rapids Public Library can automate the receiving of checked-out books (with an RFID reader in the return chute), manage checkout more quickly (a pile of books can be read simultaneously) and provide a security gate that not only interrogates the tags of any unchecked-out items being removed from the library, but also identifies those items for the staff. In addition, the system enables employees to locate or inventory books in stacks using a handheld reader or a portable interrogator on a wheeled cart.

After conducting several years of research into HF solutions, says Marla Ehlers, Grand Rapids Public Library's assistant director, the facility determined that they were too expensive or limited in what they provided. Ehlers discovered eAgile, which offers what it calls the BookSmart ID system. The product, Burns says, includes fixed and handheld readers manufactured by eAgile; UHF labels that eAgile obtains from a variety of vendors, and then encodes and prints for customers; and a BookSmart application protocol interface (API) to link RFID data to the customer's database.

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