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RFID Brings Material Handling, Self-checkout and Shelving Counts to Library

Woburn Public Library renovated its space to include self-checkout stations, 11 staff stations and an automated materials-handling system to get books and other items back on shelves faster, and to locate those mis-shelved, with less rote labor.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 21, 2019

Woburn Public Library, in Massachusetts, has renovated its facility to meet the needs of its growing community. Although the building itself is on the historic register, it needed some modern upgrades to accommodate its patrons. The result is an RFID-based materials-handling system that includes self-service kiosks used by the majority of patrons, as well as an automated sortation system, a handheld reader for shelf management and two RFID reader security gates, all with the aim of better tracking hundreds of thousands of items.

Since the renovated library opened in March of this year, management has found that it is able to more quickly make returned materials available for checkout. In addition, it has made that checkout process easier and more efficient for its patrons with the RFID self-checkout solution, which was provided by Tech Logic.

The library was built in 1879 by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. With the new expansion, the historic building now comes with an additional 2.5-story wing. By using the RFID-enabled system, it has automated many of its processes, such as sorting returned materials and checking them out, according to Gretchen Freeman, Tech Logic's principal librarian strategist.

The full solution includes three self-checkout circulation kiosks, as well as a children's self-checkout station, two sets of security gates and a seven-bin automated materials-handling (AMH) system that automatically captures data indicating which items have been returned, based on RFID tag reads. It then checks in and sorts the items accordingly. HF 13.56 MHz RFID tags, compliant with the ISO 18000-3 Mode 1 or ISO 15693 standard, are attached to printed materials (such as books and magazines) and audiovisual materials (CDs and DVDs).

Libraries have used RFID since the late 1990s, Freeman says, but the pace of library adoption has accelerated in the past decade as tag prices have dropped tenfold, from about $1 apiece to 10 cents per tag. Libraries that implement RFID typically do so for circulation, including checkout and AMH, while some also use RFID for item-level security and detection via a handheld shelf-management reader. Tech Logic teaches libraries how to tag their materials, and it can perform tagging for an entire collection for a library as an outsourced project.

Woburn Public Library opted to deploy the technology for both circulation and item-level inventory tracking. The library's population has tripled since it was built, says Rebecca Meehan, the library's assistant director, and its usage has increased dramatically in recent years. Approximately 265,000 patrons accessed the library's resources in fiscal year 2017, she reports, up from 134,819 in fiscal year 2007. Currently, the library offers 83,041 physical items and 104,067 electronic items across all collections.

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