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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
With the new system in place, eAgile encodes and prints RFID labels for each book and other media drawn from the library's catalog. Grand Rapids Public Library provided eAgile with catalog information shelf by shelf, and eAgile created a set of RFID labels for every shelf, with a label printed with a human-readable tag ID number and a title for each item on that shelf. According to Ehlers, the unique ID encoded to a label's RFID inlay is then linked to the library's own record of that item in its open-source integrated library system (ILS), known as Evergreen, and RFID software developed by the library.

Not only books, but also other items, such as CDs and DVDs, are being tagged. In the case of items with multiple discs and a cover, an RFID label is being applied to the cover and married in the software with the tag ID numbers of the labels placed on each disc. In this way, an interrogator could capture all tag IDs at once, without the case being opened, thereby ensuring that all discs are present when an item is checked out or in.

Marla Ehlers, Grand Rapids Public Library's assistant director (photo credit: Amanda Bridle)
Upon collecting all books or items to be checked out, a patron proceeds to the checkout counter, under which an eAgile reader is installed. The visitor uses a bar-code scanner to scan his or her library card, then places the entire stack of books or other materials on the counter above the reader. Because UHF tags have a considerably longer read range than HF tags, the device can capture the ID numbers of multiple items in a single stack without requiring that they be scanned at close range. This technology is already in use at the library's main branch, with other branches expected to go online this year as well.

At present, employees are still applying the tags to the material at all of the branches, and thus only the checkout portion of the deployment, within the main branch, is complete. However, the library is currently beta-testing technology to provide further functionality.

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