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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
For example, if a specific book is needed from the shelf, a patron may search for that title and, if unable to find it, request help from the staff. Workers could then utilize one of the handhelds to look up the book's location in the Evergreen software (in some cases, books are relocated according to season—such as Halloween books, or new releases). If the book is found not to be where the software indicates it should be located, employees can use the handheld's Geiger-counter mode to walk through the stacks and pinpoint it.

With other functionality, a patron leaving the library walks through a security gate, at which time another eAgile reader captures the ID of every tagged item that individual is carrying, and the Evergreen software searches whether each has been checked out. If a tag is identified for an item that has not been checked out, an alert is issued to the security gate and an audible tone is sounded, along with a flashing red light, while staff members see a display in the software indicating which item has set off the alarm.

Another part of the system is the check-in process. With the use of RFID, a book, once returned, will be dropped into a return chute, at the end of which a reader captures that item's ID number. The Evergreen software then updates its status as having been returned, and also searches the item's records to ensure that it has not been reserved for another patron. In the event that such a reservation is indicated, an alert would be sent to the staff to retrieve the item and set it aside, rather than putting it back on the shelf.

The solution will also include an RFID reader on a cart that could be used for inventory checks, Ehlers says. Such a device, consisting of the cart itself, a reader and a laptop computer, could be wheeled down the center aisle of each set of shelves, in order to identify all books within that area. Although eAgile also offers a product known as the Inventory Roamer Cart, the library already has RFID-reading hardware that will enable it to build such a cart itself.

However, Ehlers says, the technology has certain limitations. For example, some books may be covered with a layer of metallic foil, which can block the RF signal and, thus, require special accommodations, such as cutting a piece of the cover away to enable transmission. Burns says eAgile is also developing a cost-effective on-metal tag that, in the future, could be used in such scenarios.

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