Benefits of RFID-Based Library Systems

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Benefits of RFID-Based

Library Systems

by Betsy Walli

Docid: 00021124

Publication Date: 1710

Report Type: TUTORIAL


RFID-based asset management solutions help
libraries prevent theft, increase staff productivity, extend service hours, and improve workplace life for librarians. Thanks to a
solid history of evolution in standards-based technology, libraries of virtually
any scale can adopt RFID-based asset tracking and management solutions and see
immediate benefits for all stakeholder groups.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Libraries are better positioned than most organizations to choose, implement, and effectively use
RFID (radio-frequency identification) solutions. Today, thousands of libraries
worldwide, and about 10 percent of U.S. libraries, have introduced RFID technology.1

Faulkner Reports
RFID Library Systems Tutorial

Libraries tend to be
early adopters of automation and information technologies, and they actively
seek ways to reduce monotonous and strenuous tasks to make staff more effective
and productive. Libraries have long worked to build extensive, interoperable
networks, where holdings are visible and accessible on a broad scale. As a
community, they have a twenty-year history of creating ISO standards that
define resources, relationships among libraries, and information flow among all
concerned parties. There is also a clear, well established transition path from
existing bar-code-based library solutions to newer RFID-based technology, using simple RFID
conversion stations that copy existing bar code label information into RFID
tags. Consequently, libraries of all sorts, scales, and constituencies have an
established track record of smooth RFID asset management and tracking
implementations, and they are far less likely than other enterprises to become
the captives of single-vendor solutions for their various automation needs.

RFID technology offers libraries several
benefits. Because RFID tags can be read through covers and cases, librarians
can process check-outs and returns without opening
materials. This not only increases efficiency but also reduces the potential
for repetitive motion injuries. Some RFID systems even allow librarians to
inventory an entire shelf in a single operation, so they can minimize the impact of shelving
mistakes, and identify losses due to theft much more rapidly. Tightly
integrated RFID solutions make it much harder to steal books, because the tags
are more difficult to defeat than electronic strip theft prevention devices,
and the readers can be deployed in remote areas where thieves might take advantage of lack
of visibility to secrete materials before trying to leave the library.

RFID technology also offers great benefits
to library patrons. Current applications include systems that help visually
impaired patrons locate and choose audio books, as well as self-service check-in and check-out kiosks. Automated drop boxes allow patrons to
return library materials 24/7, and they presort returned materials for faster
re-shelving and availability for other patrons. Future systems may offer
library patrons automated assistance in locating and perusing books on shelves
and intelligently suggest alternatives. Books will also be able to
"read" key portions of themselves to prospective borrowers equipped
with RFID-capable headsets to help them select books.

To explore and experience new library technologies in action, librarians can
visit EnvisionWare’s Library of the Future, an operating library developed to
demonstrate various vendors’ solutions and their interoperability. The facility also includes an auditorium
and meeting rooms that are available for use by the library community at no charge.

Providers of RFID
systems to the library community include Bibliotheca (which recently acquired 3M Library Systems), D-Tech International
USA, Data2 Corporation, Dematic Corp., Demco, EnvisionWare, Inc., Innovative, Grandeur Technologies, LibBest, Libramation,
Lyngsoe Systems, MK Sorting Systems, Mojix (recently merged with CXignited, formerly TagsysRFID), NXP, Sentry Technology Corporation,
and Tech Logic Corporation. Additional providers can be found in the American
Libraries Buyers Guide online. The American Library Association (ALA) also
hosts an RFID Technology Interest Group where libraries can discuss
RFID-related issues. Galecia
Group provides technology consulting for libraries. Other library consultants with various forms of expertise can be
found through the Library Consultants Directory.


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RFID (radio-frequency identification) is a
generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify
people or objects. A typical RFID system is composed of a tag (a
microchip/antenna transponder with embedded data); a reader, which reads tag
data within its frequency and proximity range; and a back-end system for
processing and managing tag status data. The reader converts the radio waves
reflected by the tag to digital form and passes encoded inventory and security
data to computer networks for storage and analysis.

Figure 1. RFID Tags

Figure 1. RFID Tags

RFID tags and readers must be tuned to the
same frequency to communicate. RFID systems use many different frequencies, but
the most common are low- (around 125 KHz), high- (13.56 MHz) and ultra-high
frequency (UHF, 850-900 MHz). Unlike legacy Auto ID technologies such as bar
coding, which require line-of-sight between a reader and a tag, RFID is a
non-line-of-sight technology that relies simply on the proximity of an ID tag
to a reader. RFID tags can be active, powered by an internal power source
(batteries), or passive, drawing on an inductive field created by a nearby


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Libraries have long worked to become
extensive, interoperable networks, where resources are visible and accessible
on a broad scale. This movement dates from the earliest uses of information
technology and is built on a solid foundation of collaboratively developed,
published open standards. As a result, libraries are far less likely to become
the captives of single-vendor solutions for their various automation needs.
Library RFID solutions are built on a framework of ISO standards. The table
below lists ISO standards that govern RFID in Libraries.

Table 1. ISO Standards on RFID in Libraries
Standard No. Standard

ISO 28560-1:2014

Information and documentation 
–  RFID in libraries  – 
Part 1: Data elements and general guidelines for implementation

ISO 28560-2:2014

Information and documentation 
–  RFID in libraries  – 
Part 2: Encoding of RFID data elements based on rules from ISO/IEC 15962

ISO 28560-3:2014

Information and documentation 
–  RFID in libraries  – 
Part 3: Fixed-length encoding

ISO 28560-4:2014

Information and documentation 
–  RFID in libraries  – 
Part 4: Encoding of data elements based on rules from ISO/IEC 15962 in an RFID tag with partitioned memory

Major Benefits

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RFID can be used in numerous aspects of library management, including shelf management, tagging, check in/out service, self check in/out,
book drop, and anti-theft detection, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. RFID Applications

Figure 2. RFID Applications

Major potential benefits of deploying
RFID-based library systems include

  • Improved customer experiences

  • Efficient inventory management

  • Loss prevention

  • Worker health and safety

  • Image

Improved Customer Experiences. RFID
technology offers great potential benefits to library patrons, some of which
are being enjoyed today in libraries where it has been aggressively and

  • Public libraries in Umea, Sweden, use RFID tags
    containing author, title, and content information to assist visually
    impaired patrons in locating and choosing audio books.

  • Many libraries worldwide have installed
    RFID-based self-service check-in and check-out
    kiosks that speed borrowers through exit lines and allow librarians more
    time to provide hands-on service to patrons.

  • Patrons find what they're looking for quickly
    and easily.2

  • Due date reminders help patrons to return
    borrowed materials on time (which also benefits the library).3

  • Book drops and return chutes allow patrons to return library materials at their convenience, 24/7.4

  • Automated dispensing machines allow patrons to check out materials 24/7. With some machines, patrons can browse and choose from up to 1,000 items within a
    self-service kiosk either within the library or off-site.
    With other machines, patrons can to pick up library materials they have reserved, even when the library is closed. Figure 3 shows an automated dispensing machine from D-Tech.

  • Because monotonous, laborious workloads are
    diminished by automation, some libraries have been able to extend their
    hours by reprogramming existing staff.

  • Figure 3. Automated Dispensing Machine

    Figure 3. Automated Dispensing Machine

    Efficient Inventory Management. While
    most US library systems have experienced significant cuts in personnel budgets
    over the last few years, automation budgets have remained level or grown.
    Automation, including RFID, has enabled librarians to be significantly more
    productive, while making their jobs less physically stressful. Major benefits
    include the following:

    • RFID tags can be read while in motion, making it
      feasible for borrowers to simply deposit materials on a conveyor system to
      return them for check-in. This not only provides efficiency and
      convenience for library staff, it gets material back into the circulating
      pool more rapidly.

    • RFID tags last
      longer than barcodes because nothing comes into contact with them. Most RFID
      vendors claim a minimum of 100,000 transactions before a tag may need to be
      replaced. D-Tech offers a 40-year guarantee on its RFID labels. Some RFID tags can
      be reprogrammed to update information without having to change the tag. 

    • Library materials can be automatically presorted for
      re-shelving using RFID-enabled dropboxes.

    • Some RFID systems allow librarians to inventory
      an entire shelf in a single operation, minimizing the impact of shelving
      mistakes, and identifying losses due to theft much more rapidly than would
      otherwise be the case.

    • RFID systems can
      potentially reduce the time taken for inventories from months to hours or

    • RFID tags can be read through covers and cases,
      so librarians can process check-outs and returns
      more quickly, without opening materials. 6

    Loss Prevention. It is difficult to
    pinpoint the actual theft rate for library materials. Videos and CDs seem to be
    more attractive to thieves than books, but this may be a misperception, since
    these materials turn over more rapidly, have a shorter lending period, and
    usually represent a smaller share of a library's collection, all of which make
    them easier to track. Typically, libraries are reluctant to publicly discuss
    losses due to theft for several reasons:

    • Fear of disclosing information on the nature and location of
      defensive measures to potential thieves.

    • Fear of alienating potential grantors and donors.

    • Inability to easily or reliably quantify losses.

    Documented instances of library thefts run
    the gamut from the recent apprehension of a well informed
    perpetrator targeting specific, highly valuable manuscripts in Harvard's
    research collection, to unidentified evil doers who siphoned more than 1,000
    children's picture books off the shelves of a small community library in Puget
    Sound. Tightly integrated RFID solutions make it much harder to steal books,
    because they can definitively identify the rightful owner of the material, they
    are more difficult to defeat than electronic strip theft prevention devices,
    and readers can be deployed in areas where thieves might take advantage of lack
    of visibility to secrete materials before trying to leave the library.

    Worker Health and Safety. RFID systems have the potential to reduce staff injuries by
    reducing the frequency of repetitive motions involved in sorting, checking out,
    and checking in materials. For example, librarians
    can process check-outs and returns without opening
    materials, and materials
    can be automatically presorted for re-shelving using RFID-enabled dropboxes.

    Image. Some studies have noted that image may be a factor
    in the RFID decision. Especially among tech-savvy patrons, a library's
    reputation may be enhanced through the implementation of RFID.7


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    Cost can be a significant barrier to
    implementing RFID. But even when future savings are clear, there are other
    challenges associated with implementing an RFID-based library solution,
    primarily centered on privacy concerns. A
    number of grassroots consumer, technical, and legal groups have voiced concerns
    about the effects on personal privacy and civil rights posed by extensive
    deployment of RFID technology.  Concerns include:

    • Hidden
      Placement of Tags
      . Publishers
      have announced plans to include RFID tags in books during the
      manufacturing process in order to aid inventory management and to identify
      diverted books. Since tags can easily be embedded and concealed in most
      non-metal objects, including paper and cover stock, it wouldn't
      necessarily be obvious to consumers how to remove or disable tags in their
      own books.

    • Massive
      Data Aggregation
      . It is a
      relatively simple matter to connect a specific individual with an
      RFID-tagged item if a personally identifying medium such as a library
      card, credit card, or "loyalty card" is used to acquire that
      item. Proponents of some futuristic RFID-based library systems advocate
      the use of intelligent agents to help patrons find books or materials they
      might like (sort of a "Stumble Upon" for library patrons). This
      would require recordkeeping about a person's earlier content choices.

    • Individual
      Tracking and Profiling
      . This is
      a "connect the dots" kind of idea, extending the trajectory of
      rogue RFID use to a disturbing endpoint. As of now, this is not illegal.

    RFID library solutions are not a
    loss-prevention panacea.  Determined thieves and technology-savvy
    organized criminals can beat RFID or even subvert it to make it a tool for
    their nefarious uses.  Libraries must beware of both low-tech and
    high-stakes larceny.

    . There are, predictably,
    numerous sources of information on the Web that coach would-be thieves on how
    to disable RFID tags or render them invisible.  Virtually any kind of
    metal shielding makes it difficult for tags to be detected by RFID readers,
    including ordinary household products. Pilferage of this type often relies on
    bags, clothing, or purses lined with aluminum foil or a thick layer of Mylar.8  The thief secretes items inside RF
    shielding and walks through the sensors undetected.  Old school security
    measures like closed-circuit TV surveillance, forbidding the use of bags and
    backpacks inside the library, and disallowing materials in restrooms are the
    most effective defenses against this technique.

    . In a rare bout of candor, the Harvard Library System made public
    that the husband of a graduate student was discovered to be in possession of
    three quarters of a million dollars worth of stolen books, manuscripts, and
    documents. His apprehension was not accomplished through use
    of high-tech security systems or even vigilant library staff, but by an expert
    who was asked to authenticate the materials, which were being offered for sale.
    The authenticator knew that at least one of the items was on a published list
    of missing books and manuscripts.

    Extremely valuable library materials will
    always be attractive prey for motivated thieves, who often exploit inside
    knowledge about collections, access, and security measures. Having and
    enforcing a well articulated set of anti-theft procedures and policies is
    critical to preventing such crimes. The best defenses against collections
    slipping into private hands are probably careful, frequent inventory
    monitoring, and alerting authorities as soon as items are known to be missing.

    Risk of Obsolescence

    Even among the most ardent proponents of
    RFID, there is some concern that the technology will fail to meet expectations
    or, worse, become obsolete.  Of course, this risk is common to any
    technological innovation, and it has not imposed a serious impediment to the
    adoption of RFID for libraries.9


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    About the Author

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    Betsy Walli is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an independent writer and editor with experience in academic, technical, and marketing topics. Dr. Walli holds a masters degree in counseling from California State University, Fullerton, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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