RFID systems for libraries: a review
The evolution of libraries has been influenced by constant changes due to information technology developments. New technologies have always been of interest for libraries, both for the potential of increasing the quality of service and for improving efficiency of operations. One such technology, which is gaining tremendous popularity among the various libraries, is RFID technology since it revolutionizes the way a library operates. Many large libraries around the world have implemented RFID to speed material check-in, checkout, shelf inventory, and security applications. Counter personnel check dozens of books in or out in mere seconds without manually handling and orienting each item. The tags can also be used for theft detection, much like anti-shoplifting technology currently used by retailers. Librarians using portable computers with RFID readers can take inventory and find misfiled materials simply by walking down an aisle of bookshelves. The reader can automatically detect missing materials and alert the operator. With careful planning and implementation, the introduction of RFID has the potential to provide libraries with productivity benefits, new collection management tools, and improved customer service.
However, the most important issue to understand is that everything associated with RFID deployment is changing rapidly. Software, tag and reader designs, standards, and vendors are all in a state of flux, with many vendors and standards groups vying for dominance. The RFID deployment roadmap must be flexible enough to adapt to the changing vendor and equipment landscape. That is not an easy task with so much in flux. The five-step process below takes these challenges into consideration to minimize the impact of variability on the success of RFID deployment (Dempsey, 2004):
Establish the business case. It is important to develop a strong understanding of the technology’s challenges and opportunities right from the start. To develop a business case for selected opportunities, a well-defined plan that is clearly tied to library objectives is needed. Defining the system requirements, establishing costs, and developing clear expectations for ROI (e.g. where, how much, how long will it take, etc.) will help accomplish this step. If preliminary research indicates RFID could be a valuable solution for your library, continue to the next phase, planning a realistic RFID roadmap.
Build a practical roadmap. The roadmap for RFID deployment will be very similar to those for other technology deployments, includes sufficient time and any necessary support for unique RFID issues such as tag placement, reader/antennae placement, orientation and attenuation, and environmental testing.
Conduct rigorous environmental proof of concept testing. Before mounting a full-scale RFID implementation, it is critically important to conduct meticulous product tests in a real-world environment. A complicating factor is the changing vendor and technology landscape. It must also be ensured that technology selections will still be appropriate at the time of deployment. Contingency plans to deal with potential changes will need to be planned.
Carefully pilot the proposed solution(s). To begin the pilot phase, closely integrate the RFID system to the existing software applications in order to truly approximate a real-world environment. Then connect to host systems for actual data transfer. Because actual operations cannot be shut down to conduct the pilot, be sure the two can run in parallel. This may require modifications to existing systems. To the extent possible, pilot tests must be designed to reflect the business case scenarios defined during requirements definition.
Roll-out solutions based on ROI considerations. In order to obtain management approval for RFID implementations, use pilot test results to demonstrate the technology’s value to the organization. Be prepared to specify where RFID will add value, how it will benefit operations, and exactly how much savings in terms of operational efficiencies can be achieved from each application. Be prepared to discuss how this value compares to associated costs and risks, and demonstrate in detail how RFID supports organizational objectives. Analyze results from each implementation and adjust roll-out plans for future implementations accordingly. Even with the best business case analysis and thorough roadmaps, there is one item often overlooked that can determine success or failure of deployment – change management. People are naturally reluctant to change. This is usually caused by fear of the unknown that change represents. Resistance can usually be overcome with proper training. Since much of projected ROI may be based on streamlined processes, staff must be trained how to perform the new processes and operate new equipment. Training should explain why the new technology is beneficial and address any fears.
Experience shows that most successful deployment of new technologies are possible when there are clear business cases, a well-defined roadmap and provisions to continually measure against original objectives and make adjustments accordingly. RFID deployments are no different; they just have a few extra technology considerations to address.
Business partners are an intricate part of the RFID implementation. An emerging trend within the RFID industry is that several companies partner together to provide a complete solution. One company provides the software, another provides the hardware, and third one handles the integration. This may be a possible option if one partner cannot fulfill all the requirements. With the growing interest of RFID into the item management arena and the opportunity for RFID to work alongside barcode, it becomes difficult to count the number of companies who enter the marketplace. Many have come and gone, many are still here, many have merged, and there are many new players. There are many different RFID vendors with different areas of expertise. The manufacturers of RFID systems can be divided into manufacturers of complete systems, manufacturers of subsystems, and system integrators. The companies that focus on developing RFID applications tailored for library applications include:
TAGSYS was founded in 1996 as Gemplus Tag and incorporated in 2001 with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and offices and R&D centers in France, Pennsylvania, and Hong Kong. TAGSYS is an RFID systems company that makes all the necessary components including tags, antennas, and reading stations. Major markets include security and access control, transportation, and asset tracking. TAGSYS’ RFID solutions are currently being deployed in a range of highly specialized vertical markets that include textile services, pharmaceuticals and health care, and libraries. TAGSYS has been at the forefront of RFID deployments by supporting some of the first and largest RFID library deployments in the world: the first ever RFID library installation (Singapore’s NLB), Seattle Public Library in the US, Shenzhen Public Library in China, Hamburg Public Library in Germany, and the Geneva Public Library. These installations have encompassed RFID-enabling millions of tagged books, periodicals, CDs, and audiovisual material. The following are the library specific RFID products from TAGSYS.
The tags support ISO 15693, ISO 18000-3-1 protocols with additional features such as EAS and AFI identifiers (Figure 3.1).
TAGSYS offers RFID readers under the brand name Medio with support of USB, ethernet, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Following are the different readers of TAGSYS (Figure 3.2):
TAGSYS offers essentially two types of antennas – wand antenna and stack antenna. Following are the TAGSYS antennas (Figure 3.3):
TAGSYS offers EAS gates under the name of L-SP that has two versions (L-SP2 + and L-SP3) as of now (Figure 3.4).
3 M (www.3m.com)
3 M began testing a prototype RFID library system in 1994. 3 M started with a hybrid approach that combined Tattle-tape (for security) with RFID tags (for inventory). In March 2004, it introduced a one-tag solution. 3 M manufactures its own RFID tags, with inlays from Texas Instruments, and all tags are ISO 15693 and 18000-3 compliant.
3 M calls it one-tag RFID system that has 3 M RFID Tag D8 for books and 3 M RFID Tag CD8 for CDs and DVDs (Figure 3.5).
3 M offers two types of self-check systems viz., self-check system for both RFID and barcoded items with sorter unit to separate both and self-check system for one-tag RFID system (Figure 3.6).
3 M tagging station is called conversion station that includes touch-sensitive screen, optical barcode scanner, and RFID reader (Figure 3.7).
The 3 M Intelligent Return and Sorter System is designed for libraries interested in automating their check-in and sorting process. Customers can quickly self-return items with ‘real-time check-in.’ With this feature, they can be assured items are instantly checked in upon return. This allows them to checkout items without exceeding loan limits in the same visit. Designed specifically for libraries, the system can be interior wall or exterior wall mounted, walk-up or drive-up. For libraries with limited space, the system can be used for return only or can accommodate up to three bins with a sort matrix configured to best meet your library’s needs. The sweep technology utilized by the sorter for directing items into the bins helps ensure items are sorted properly while reducing damage to items (Figure 3.8).
The 3 M Intelligent Return and Sorter System also offers an intuitive user interface that makes it easy for customers and staff to use, including administrative tasks such as configuring receipts, generating statistics, and system diagnostics. The Intelligent Return and Sorter System helps decrease the time it takes for an item to get back to the shelf, helping to increase staff productivity while enhancing customer satisfaction.
3 M EAS gates are called detection systems and come in different models to support detection of their Tattle-tapes and one-tag systems with options for alarms and people counter (Figure 3.9).
3 M inventory manager is called 3 M Digital Library Assistant with built-in antenna and reader and data collection equipment that can hold more than one million items during stack verification (Figure 3.10).
Checkpoint Systems (www.checkpointsystems.com)
Established in the year 1969 with a comprehensive portfolio of products and services ranging from traditional security technologies to real-world RFID systems, source tagging, and service bureau capabilities. Checkpoint introduced RFID solutions in 1998. Checkpoint Systems now sells and services its library solutions through the 3 M company.
Bibliotheca is Europe’s number one RFID supplier, specializing in RFID solutions for libraries since 2002. With global headquarters in Switzerland and operations in America, Australia, Germany, Italy, and Denmark, Bibliotheca has been the second largest global provider of RFID solutions.
Bibliotheca RFID Library Systems is a spin-off of Lucatron Electronics of Switzerland, a manufacturer of retail surveillance equipment. Founded in 2002, Bibliotheca RFID Library Systems is specialized in the development, manufacture, and marketing of software and hardware for automation and media security in libraries. The BiblioChip RFID System complies with the latest ISO standards as a non-proprietary and customer-specific integrated solution. Bibliotheca’s modular complete solution delivers state-of-the-art software as well as all hardware components such as self-check stations, return machines, sensor gates, mobile handheld readers, and RFID labels. Bibliotheca won the Swiss Technology Award in 2005 and the Zug Innovation Prize in 2004. Bibliotheca offers library RFID solutions in the name of Bibliography and has the following products range.
There are two types of labels for the differing media types (Figure 3.11):
Figure 3.11 Biblio RFID tags (© Bibliotheca-rfid.com)
Bibliotheca’s biblio self-checkout station comes in different versions to suit varying requirements of the library (Figure 3.12):
Figure 3.12 Biblio RFID self-checkout station (© Bibliotheca-rfid.com)
Biblio StaffStation allows staff to initialize library media and ID cards at their workstation. The large, powerful table-integrated aerial is concealed below the desk (Figure 3.13).
Figure 3.13 Biblio RFID tagging station (© Bibliotheca-rfid.com)
The BiblioReturn and BookDrop facilities allow media and media packages to be returned swiftly and simply. In keeping with the varying requirements of different libraries, Bibliotheca offers two BiblioReturn devices and two Biblio BookDrops for use by patrons. In most instances, return facilities are combined with a sorting device. The BookDrops generally collect the media in a book trolley; only the BookDrop Secure provides the option of a connector module to a sorting system (Figure 3.14).
Figure 3.14 Biblio RFID book-drop station (© Bibliotheca-rfid.com)
Bibliotheca’s EAS gates are called Biblio gates that offer an impressively high identification rate and powerful performance. Successful identification and safeguarding is independent of media type and alignment of the RFID chip while passing through the gates. Connection of numerous LMS/ILS systems is a key efficiency standard. A specially developed gate-tracker program, which is independent of LMS/ILS automatically, provides information in a log file at defined intervals, as to which media that have triggered an alarm. Several gates can be monitored simultaneously (Figure 3.15).
Figure 3.15 Biblio EAS gates (© Bibliotheca-rfid.com)
The portable devices allow mobile maintenance of library stocks directly at the shelf. The specially designed, light manual aerials read all media chip data based on a predefined reading range. A handy PDA facilitates on-site inventory control. Misplaced and reserved media can be tracked down according to various search criteria using acoustic and visual display (Figure 3.16).
Figure 3.16 Biblio inventory manager (© Bibliotheca-rfid.com)
ST LogiTrack (www.stlogitrack.com)
ST LogiTrack Pte Ltd, established in January 1998, is a joint venture company between Singapore Technologies Logistics Pte Ltd and Singapore Technologies Electronics Ltd. ST LogiTrack offers the library RFID solution under the brand name EliMS (Electronic Library Management System). EliMS consists of the following RFID-based library system components.
The ELiMS borrowing station is a self-service station. Simple instructions are presented to the patrons to enable them to checkout items at their own convenience. Instructions can be configured in different formats and different languages to suit the specific requirement (Figure 3.17).
The ELiMS book drop allows patrons to return their items at convenient locations and to have their loan records updated instantaneously (Figure 3.18).
The EliMS Remote Return Kiosk operates independently and can be located anywhere, inside a building, in a public transport terminal, or even along the road; much to the convenience of patrons (Figure 3.19).
The ELiMS EAS gates are the anti-theft part of the integrated library management solution using the same RFID tags embedded in the library item (Figure 3.20).
The ELiMS counter station is a backup station that performs the borrowing, returning, and disarming functions. The librarian can use the system in the event when some of the stations (i.e. borrowing, returning, etc.) malfunction or when other activities such as payment of fines for late return of items are necessary.
The ELiMS administration station monitors the status of ELiMS components, such as borrowing station, sorting station, etc. This station has features such as remote reset, transaction logging, status update, etc.
The ELiMS multi-purpose station is a self-service station. It can be used as a borrowing station, item return, and/or sorting station. It is very suitable for small libraries with low patronage and small collections of library materials.
Many libraries around the world have tried integration of RFID technology in the business process of library. Some have learnt the hard way and failed, some have succeeded by learning from failures, others learned from the failures and successes of the early adopters and implement the best RFID solutions. Choosing the right RFID system for the right library applications can be a frustrating experience. The best RFID solution for a library is actually the one that seamlessly integrates RFID technology with the existing library management system.
While library RFID systems have a great deal in common with one another, including the use of high-frequency (13.56 MHz), passive, read-write tags, there are some significant differences. Some vendors offer every component to make a complete RFID system, while others are resellers or supply only hardware for specific functions. As seen in the previous sections on products offering from RFID companies, TAGSYS offers individual RFID components such as tags, readers, antennas, and gates, and the system integrators assemble these components as per the requirements of the library applications whereas other companies, 3 M, Bibliotheca, and ST LogiTrack offer functional specific modules such as tagging station, self-checkout station, and book-drop station with pre-assembled RFID components. Greater customization is possible with TAGSYS kind of solutions but required trial and error methods to achieve the desired results. On the other hand, pre-assembled solutions that have already been tried and tested may not have enough customization possibilities. For example, there are a lot of options for configuring a self-service unit, and it takes time to determine which settings are most appropriate for a specific library. Table 3.1 provides some of the features that are relevant for product selection and evaluation based on sample quotation received from RFID companies for comparison.
There are many choices and trade-offs for a library in the RFID marketplace, but the key to buying a system that will be a long-term investment is to get RFID tags that meet current standards and can be reprogrammed and used with the majority of RFID readers. This is more like insurance for the investment that the library makes in RFID tags that will outlast its commitment to whatever RFID reader hardware is purchased.
The top priority for most libraries is to find an RFID company that has successfully performed numerous implementations at an organization similar to their own so that these organizations can be contacted not only to ask about the performance of the technology but also to enquire how well the RFID vendor worked with the library’s ILS vendor, as well as other technology vendors if applicable. Products from different vendors (access control doors) that do not operate together seamlessly require special accommodations that may increase the cost of the overall project. Product compatibility such as the interface between RFID system and LMS is very important for the success of the project. Test the compatibility of RFID with LMS early before making a purchase to avoid costly alterations down the road. Sometimes there is a series of trials and errors required before all settings are just right. The library may want to try a specific setting for sometime to see how it works and then change to find best configuration. Understand the vendor’s service terms, guarantees, warranties, and payment options. It is also equally important to institute troubleshooting procedures prior to encountering a technical issue. After equipment has been installed, most technical support will take place remotely. Remote tech support can save time and money, but it can also present communication challenges. With proper training from vendors, a library’s technical staff can probably handle minor maintenance and basic troubleshooting, and they become an extension of the vendor’s technical support team. Investing a small amount of time to train the library’s technical staff in maintenance and troubleshooting goes a long way and help vendor technical support teams identify and diagnose problems quickly and efficiently.