RFID companies have been quick to respond to the challenge of keeping libraries open in these austere times. The Vatican Library in Rome is the latest, and one of the most high profile, of scores of libraries worldwide that are adopting RFID technology in libraries of books and other items. The main benefit is that books can be checked quickly using a handheld reader, reducing stocktaking time from weeks to half a day. Because most libraries have library management IT systems, the data for the tags can be generated from the library’s database. The library then uses handheld readers to perform stock takes, while fixed readers at issuing desks scan books entering or leaving the library.
A stack of books can be scanned in seconds, significantly reducing the time and staff needed to manage loans. According to The RFID knowledge base, a research service, US libraries lead the world in RFID use, with the UK and Japan equal second. The latest – and possibly the largest to go live – is the Hendon Campus Library at Middle sex University. This new library has selected a £200,000 system from Switzerland-based Library, which has been installed by its UK distributor D-Link in association with Dynix, the university’s library management system supplier.
D-Link has also installed similar systems at Nottingham Trent University’s library, Colchester public library, the Barbican library in London and Norwich Millennium library. Because the data on borrowing can be kept on the tag, it is technically possible to walk around the library to weed out items not regularly used: books that have not been taken out for more than a year, for example. Fortunately, the British Library is in a position to use RFID technology in libraries as a leapfrog technology because, unlike most public libraries, it does not barcode its books. While more affordable than ever, the cost of even a simple RFID system remains prohibitive for some libraries.
In an effort to streamline library function and reduce long-term costs, many libraries have begun to look to radio frequency identification as a replacement for the ubiquitous bar code system due to the increased functionality RFID systems provide in terms of circulation, security, inventory, and other areas of library workflow. RFID is not a new technology, with the first recorded mention found in a 1948 paper by Harry Stockman called Communications by Means of Reflected Power. The first proposed use in libraries can be traced back as far as 1998.
The very next year, the library at Rockefeller University became the first to use RFID, while that same year the Farmington Community Library in Michigan was the first public library to do so. While usage has exploded, 15 years later, the overall percentage of libraries incorporating RFID remains low. However, when using SIP2 to communicate with the ILS, the tags are still handled sequentially.