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The Queens Library System Grows With RFID

Millions of tagged books, DVDs and CDs speed checkout times, boost visits and add value to the community.
By Jennifer Zaino
Aug 18, 2008—At nearly two dozen of the 62 libraries that make up the Queens Borough Public Library System in New York, more gets read these days than just the pages of books. Millions of items—books, DVDs and CDs—have been equipped with radio frequency identification tags that can be read automatically at self-checkout kiosks equipped with RFID technology. RFID speeds the checkout process for borrowers, creates new efficiencies for library employees and promises to help the biggest circulating library in the United States—the fourth largest in the world—continue to grow.

RFID technology is not new to library systems. In fact, according to a recent report by IDTechEx, the RFID market is expected to blossom to $27 billion during the next decade, with library applications contributing to some of the greatest growth in that sector. What makes the Queens library system deployment stand out from others includes:

Millions of items—books, DVDs and CDs—have been equipped with radio frequency identification tags that can be read automatically at self-checkout kiosks equipped with RFID technology.

Its size and scope. The deployment involves the initial tagging of some 6.5 million items, as well as the tagging of roughly 1 million new items purchased each year. The cost for the initial deployment was approximately $6.5 million for tags and self-checkout kiosks, and plans call for the allocation of another $13.5 million toward interior and exterior RFID-enabled self-check-in units.

Its "pay-at-the-pump" feature. At some self-checkout RFID kiosks, customers can pay library fines in a single transaction, with debit or credit cards or cash. The system saves time and means librarians no longer have to be the "bad guys" collecting fines, which can add up to some $4 million annually—and it also controls who handles that money. "There's always the potential of sticky fingers," says Mike Daly, director of logistics and security management at the Queens library system. "This limits who handles money, and that's proven a huge success."

Its multi-language support. Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on the planet, and the library is working to make its RFID system accessible to as many people as possible. In addition to English, the checkout screens currently support seven other languages—Bengali, Chinese, French, Korean, Polish, Russian and Spanish—and the library hopes to add Arabic, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu as well, if funding and time permit.

Its renovation plan to improve work processes. The vision includes moving staff workrooms closer to the bins where books will be deposited as they're checked in through an RFID kiosk. This will enable librarians to get them back on the shelves more quickly.
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