RFID - TX Library Association, April 2005
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RFID - TX Library Association, April 2005

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  • There is a lot of information and literature on RFID in libraries out there, and frankly, it can be overwhelming! But reading and hearing about the experiences of others is a good place to start. What is driving the need or desire to purchase an RFID system? There are many reasons, but I think most have to do with the desire for a more efficient library system for managing your books and other materials. There will be people to convince, and not everyone will be on board with implementing a new technology, some maybe never. But if the philosophy of your library is to embrace GOOD change, just be prepared to support your decisions, show your staff and others the benefits for the library, and stay positive when you are hit with negative. Nothing new and different happens without bumps in the road! Money is usually a huge issue, and you can’t plan this kind of system without having some idea where the money for implementation will come from. But the first job will be to organize yourself, make a phased plan, and know where the money will be spent, and be prepared to answer hard questions. In our case there was no problem with money, but I know that is simply not true with other libraries with tighter budgets.
  • Onsite library visits are a must if you are going to spend a lot of money for an RFID system. Talk to librarians and get their feedback on not only RFID but also their vendor. When you are considering vendors, plan meetings or ask for demonstrations of their products (most have demo booths at ALA- a good place to talk to them initially). It isn’t just about the products-- research vendors to find out about their customer service track record, reliability, communication skills, & how much training & follow up you will receive. Ask those librarians, & most will tell you the unvarnished truth! Laura Smart has a couple of handouts posted on her blog (sources given at the end) that give you some good questions to ask libraries with RFID, and questions to ask the vendors. It’s good, basic info. So outline a plan using all the research you’ve done, and run it by key people in institutions similar to yours in collection and staff size. A contingency plan is something that isn’t easy, either, but you have to be at least somewhat prepared for things going wrong. Example: You tag part of your circulating collection but run out of money for tagging the rest of it-- If you planned for and bought self check units that can handle either barcodes or RFID tags, you can buy more tags down the road but the operation continues without interruption.
  • Examples from other libraries and various vendors Like looking for a new ILS – be thorough, and make sure to include what functionality you must have, and what would be nice to have. Include deadlines and timelines, and teeth Documentation – with diagrams and troubleshooting information, recommended practice, an index, and a table of contents Post-warrantee support agreement – time & materials? Blanket coverage? Do they have a local support person? What are their hours of telephone support, and how do they match up with your operating hours? Can you sole source – are your combination of requirements unique enough?
  • Blah blah blah!! There's lots to say about each of these! and I'd add Security/Theft Deterrent options   Self-check - barcode/tag combo?  truly self-check, or self or assist?  Replace all CKO stations, or just some?  At door, or scattered throughout library? Sorting system - carts?  Bins?  number of returns, and CKO there, or centrally?  How finely sorting?  Handheld readers - what do you want them to do?  Inventory?  real-time or download later?  search?  off-line or wireless check-out? Theft deterrent options - built into tag, or separate theft strips, etc.  Consider pros and cons - RFID not solid on metallic media protection.   Tagging might go on a different slide?  It's not really a separate component, imho - if you're getting RFID, you're going to be tagging - though you can talk about tagging strategies, certainly - order of tagging, staff, volunteer, outsource, desensitize before start using if moving to different type of theft deterrent.  Use as opportunity to catch other cataloging or labeling issues, or to do re-labeling.  Oh, I see you do have it on Slide 7, so might want to take off 5.
  • Margaret: We found that we hadn’t planned well enough for this – we had some last minute flurries of making sure that there was a network connection that was sufficient for the sorting machine to talk to the ILS via SIP – we ended up with a direct fiber connection to the server room. This helped isolate those PCs from the general network, and made it a particularly fast connection. We also needed a way for the vendor to remotely dial in to troubleshoot the sorter software – we ended up with a special DSL line to that desk. We discovered that the different branches needed to be on different ports to the ILS server. If you are running the type of installation that can tell what is being taken out through the security gates, you need to be aware of the needs for that – an extra PC? Another network jack? We discovered that lots of PCs connecting via SIP can cause problems. Some sites have added several SIP servers to handle the load. This may incur additional licensing fees. Do you have power to where your security gates will go? We discovered later that it’s important, with our particular gates, to turn them on all at once, which means they all need to be plugged into one outlet. We ended up plugging in the control boxes to a couple of surge protectors connected together, and using the surge protector to turn them all on at once, to make sure that they all started in sync. We also discovered that other items plugged into the same circuit caused problems – the security guards’ phone charger made the gates beep, and took us a while to figure out what was causing it! Again, check with your vendor on requirements. Also think about who’s going to supply and then support which equipment, and work out pre-agreements. We ended up buying basic PCs from our City IS department, and they support those. The RFID vendor supports the software that we bought from them. The ILS supports their end of the connections, and some configurations for check-out, and also the SIP design. The RFID-maker supports their tags and equipment. The City Facilities staff supports our sorting machine, as part of our contract with them to support building mechanics. We work with our Telephone company directly to support the special DSL line which the RFID vendor uses to do dial-up support of the sorting PCs. We also end up being the go-between where there are intersections of use. And each has it’s own hours of support and methods of communication which work best. Remember it’s best to have one point of coordination at the library, and document everything.
  • Again with the blah blah. Not just how many tags you need for now, but also enough for how many items you may plan to add in coming year.  Think about price break points, and ask about discounts. Which kinds of tags?  Pre-programmed, not writable?  Write-once or re-writable?  With Theft deterrent or not?  Book, video, CD, and possibly CD-boosters, or special security boxes for CDs and DVDs.  Theft-only, not re-writable? I'd add outsourcing as a means of tagging. Might also point out that if you mean only to use RFID for inventory, not for circulation, you may not need to plan for hard deadlines. Who will manage and schedule tagging process?  Celebrate milestones?  One library ran contests and gave awards.  EPL had cake for taggers at significant milestones, and had banners telling folks how far we'd gotten.
  • You should select a person (preferably a calm, reasonable, and happy person) to run the show and keep things moving. This person will report to library administration, contact and communicate with the vendor, troubleshoot equipment and so on. In my case, I showed off what we were doing quite a bit for people who were curious about what we were doing. Also, because we were a beta test site, many of our visitors were 3M people all over the spectrum of jobs… international 3M reps, interested potential customers, software people who were developing the products, researchers running experiments, etc. Margaret: Someone should be coordinating and keeping staff informed and involved, too.  VERY important. One point of coordination important too, so people don't get different answers from different person, and at least one person knows all that is going on around the project. Document, document, document.  What you've decided, what was communicated with vendor, what vendor replied, timelines, guarantees, etc. I also did a ton of tours and discussions with other libraries, which were very useful to me in discovering things I hadn't thought to consider or ask on my own.  Also helps build leverage with vendors, to be able to say, I know so and so is considering x, and we're also interested in that, what can you do for us? You may wish, in some ways, to think about this as an ILS implementation project - very important to make sure you have all functionality that staff and patrons expect at check-out and check-in, offline/wireless check-out, security gates, etc. Sydney: Try to keep to your schedule for converting items. Stats usually come in handy down the road for one reason or another, but at the very least, they are good for your library’s annual report and for a record of what you did and how you did it. Margaret: Stats good, yes - we didn't have a lot of "before" stats, which made ROI info later somewhat difficult.  Testing stats useful, and develop functionality testing documents that you will use again for each later software/hardware version upgrade.
  • Margaret takes over
  • Margaret : Security gates need to be precisely located a specific distance away from one another to be optimally effective. The antennas also need to be a fair distance from one another, and couplers need to not be too close to a power source, or there can be interference. Talk to your specific vendor for details. Amplification – we had several Baker tables, which are mechanized to rise and lower with an electrical switch, which had previously been fitted with a Checkpoint “thumper magnet”. The table was also constructed with a continuous ring of metal as a frame under the top. When we placed an antenna on it, to do tagging, we discovered that these factors combined seemed to amplify the effect of the antenna, in effect adding another large ring around the edge of the table to expand the signal. Anything set on the table was liable to get checked out or in! We in the end disconnected the power and placed a rubber block between joins in the metal top support, and now it works normally. Ergonomics, ‘nuff said. Line-of-sight – this is expensive equipment, and you don’t want it to be messed with, nor do you want patrons to try to use it and get frustrated in some way without a staff person being readily available to help them out.
  • Margaret : Hopefully, your vendor will have given you a set or two of equipment to try things out on prior to this point in your process. Ask about and then test in your environment: Recommended range of read Relative range of read for book and media tags (booster?) Recommended way to handle metallic content items – metal content diminishes read range or negates it entirely Recommended placement of tags in material – we had a template for our book tags Recommended placement of materials on antennas, and quantities Decide if you want to check out one at a time, or multiples, and then test how well that works Speed of check-out – but bear in mind that it’s hard to do load-testing until you go live. Check the range of messages you expect to get from your ILS on check out and return, or at the security gates – does it give comprehensible messages, and/or can you customize the messages. Can you get your vendor to work with your ILS to give even more functionality? We went thru a number of iterations of messages and increases in functionality to make the Self-Check desk as self-check as possible.
  • Margaret : Make sure you get documentation from the vendor, and training sessions once all the equipment is installed and working, though not yet live for the public. We tested with our test ILS database. Appoint staff leaders who will be thoroughly grounded in the new information – and decide on levels of knowledge needed. We had teams to work on interface design, a team to construct check-in workflow and learn the automated returns system quirks, someone appointed to create troubleshooting documentation and forms, and someone else to gather and collate data gathered from staff on problems they’d see. We also had people assigned to create “Best Practices” cheatsheets, for tagging, for check-out. Then create your own workflow documentation – the vendor’s docs may give ideas, but will mostly be operating info, not specific enough for you to simply insert into your own specific workflow Train staff on the level of troubleshooting they will be required to do, and how to document and report problems On what the system is expected to do, and explain that this is pretty new technology, and still developing, and that this means that it may not work perfectly immediately, but we will keep working with them and the vendor to make it do wonderful things On acceptable things to say to the public about the system On what could go wrong, and how to handle it. (We didn’t do this well enough) Train the public – - Create signage. We created a video of how to use the self-check machines. We talked to the press quite a bit – appoint a person to be the contact, and if it’s not your tech person, give them a list of useful points and information. Create another list of possible responses to concerns about the system – privacy, health concerns, waste of money? We, very suprisingly, had no privacy concerns questioned, but several folks worried about pacemakers, and one person about alien communications (I think she was serious…?!). And with the slowness we saw when we initially went live, many folks questioned the wisdom of investing in the technology.
  • Margaret : Emphasize the benefits to the public, not the technology – sure, this is whizz-bang stuff, but is it a waste of tax-payer $, or will it make my life and experience at the library better? We sent out a series of memos to staff, telling them how the project was going. Unfortunately, we feel we did too little, too late, and folks were so harried with the building opening, I don’t think a lot of the information did much good. We did have a specific group of folks in the City appointed to oversee the new library building project, consisting of the Heads of City Departments who were involved – Library, City IS, Facilities, etc. – and since the money spent on RFID was part of this project, and thus they were accountable, we gave them monthly reports to keep them abreast of developments. We made sure, as I mentioned earlier, to construct some language for staff to use with the public in introducing the new technology. We knew there was some resentment from staff and worry that this would displace them, so we gave them some phrases that were a bit more positive to use with the public face to face. We didn’t head off all the comments, but I think this helped.
  • Margaret : Back-up plan – we kept optical barcodes, made sure each station had light pen optical barcode readers, staffed heavily to start, made sure our offline files were up to date and staff were trained on both offline check-out and to use the ILS by itself if necessary. We also tried to make sure they knew it was ok to revert to the old-style if things really went haywire, but encouraged them to use the new system. We kept extra carts and bins available when the flood of materials started coming back – we’d been closed for 3 weeks, started in the new building with a fine-free period, and then as the first new public building in downtown Eugene in 20 years, we just had a lot of new traffic. We had at least the expected 20% increase in circulation, and it has continued to rise each year since by as much again each year. We borrowed stanchions from the cultural center, to help control lines. We trained volunteers to show people where to go, how to use the returns, and to give tours of the new building, including the check-out machines and the automated return machine. This is where they got the “ooh, neat!” reactions. We budgeted for and staffed the check-out and return much more heavily than we expected to be “normal”. We set aside time to work heavily with the vendor on issues that might come up during launch – and there were many.
  • Margaret : Check in regularly with staff and supervisors, keep them up to date on developments, make sure they know that you understand their pressure points, and that you are making progress on issues. Also check outside circ, sometimes the public takes their comments elsewhere. Make sure staff outside circ know that developments are being made. Change will continue. This is good! Evaluate if you have enough equipment – we ordered more book carts a couple of times because of an increase in circulation and the speed we could now check materials in. Staff, too – decreased at CKO as functionality improved, increased at Business Desk instead. Keep abreast of developments in the field – number of online resources, Laura Smart’s blog and my RFID_Lib list for lib specific, and many more generally – and be willing to keep updating and trying new things. This is still a new technology – get involved and help move it forward! See the online bibliography for details of many resources and articles.
  • Margaret :

RFID - TX Library Association, April 2005 RFID - TX Library Association, April 2005 Presentation Transcript

  • Planning for RFID Sidney Watson, UNLV & Margaret Hazel, Eugene PL
  • Tips & Techniques for Implementation
    • Four Phases:
    • Planning
    • Conversion
    • Install
    • Launch!
  • Planning: A Few Questions
    • Establishing the library’s need for RFID
    • What do you hope to accomplish?
    • Who do you need to convince?
      • Yourself?
      • Administration?
      • Staff?
      • The Legislature?
    • Budget considerations– can you afford it?
  • Planning: Homework First
    • On-site visits to libraries that have implemented RFID systems – Ask lots of questions
    • Research vendors (also customer service track record, reliability, communication skills, etc.) AND their products
    • Outline a plan for implementing in phases
    • Don’t forget the contingency plan
  • Requests for Proposal
    • Solicit examples from other libraries and from vendors
    • Treat it like a new ILS
    • Timelines and deadlines and ‘teeth’
    • Require documentation
    • Include post-warrantee support agreement
    • Can you do a “sole source” contract?
  • Planning: Which Products?
    • A Solution: RFID in increments
      • What system and combination of RFID components will best serve your needs?
      • SelfCheck units (barcode/tag combo?)
      • A sorting system
      • Handheld readers
      • Theft deterrent
      • Tagging the collection(s): Highest circulating items first?
  • Planning: Network & Power
    • Check in with IS staff on any security concerns
    • Consider # of connections, SIP or ILS licensing concerns
    • Support plans
  • The Conversion Phase
    • How many tags will you need (which collections or parts are you converting)?
    • How many conversion stations will you need?
    • How many people? Volunteers, Staff, or a combination?
    • Logistics: When and Where in the Library
    • Timelines and Deadlines
    • Library Services during Conversion
  • Conversion, Continued
    • Plan for a Site Coordinator
      • Communicates with vendor, library administration & other stakeholders
      • Keeps people organized
      • Troubleshoots
      • Hosts interested visitors
    • Stick to a conversion schedule
    • Keep statistics and/or logs (you may need them later!)
  • Install: Implementation Phase Conversion is complete Equipment is arriving Now what?
  • RFID equipment installation
    • Space your equipment
    • Think about amplification
    • Consider ergonomics for staff and for public
    • Consider line-of-sight and proximity of staff assistance
  • Specs testing
    • Try to get this done before this point
    • If need to do it at the time, get as much info from vendors as possible
    • Ask about and then test in your own environment
  • Training
    • Train the trainer
    • Train the staff
    • Training for the public
  • Launch!
  • Evangelize
    • To staff
    • To governing bodies
    • To public, including press
  • Prepare for the Worst
    • What is your back-up plan?
    • What if things don’t go “wrong” but are just much busier than you predicted?
    • Set aside time for troubleshooting and talking to vendor
  • Post-launch
    • Once you open, make sure you check in with your line-staff and supervisors - debrief
    • Be willing to keep changing for a while
    • Evaluate equipment and staffing levels periodically
    • Keep up and get involved with further developments in field
  • Resources
    • http://www.libraryrfid.net (Blog: Laura Smart)
    • RFID_Lib (email list – [email_address] – subject line “subscribe RFID_Lib Firstname Lastname”
    • Sidney Watson
    • [email_address]
    • Margaret Hazel
    • [email_address]