We’re all defined by our most recent endeavours so to people who don’t know me very well I’m an RFID person. But I used to have a life…And my current passion for RFID is driven by the experience of almost 40 years in library automation. During that time I’ve seen some very positive statements made about technology that didn’t quite work out.Like the agreement at a BL MARC workshop in 1976 that future library management systems should not use MARC. A decision that remains under review almost 40 years later.Then there was the Internet. I can still remember when academics believed it could be reserved for them and definitely not used for commercial exploitation. And then there was RFID…Back in 1989 I was in Paris to help 3M and Dynix launch the first self-service solution at IFLA and in the following year, in Stockholm, Chris Robb (then at 3M) showed me a new and exciting technology called RFID. To be honest I don’t think either of us – or our companies – really knew what we might do with it.3M eventually worked out that they could use RFID to replace both barcodes and tattle tape - and RFID self-service was born. Competition followed very quickly but all of it was focused on self-service rather than the technology – and that may have been an error.I first heard the expression “barcodes on steroids” during a presentation by JISC’s Gaynor Backhouse at a workshop in Glasgow in 2008. It prompted me to read JISC’s Standards Watch paper on the subject. For me that was a revelation….
I was in Glasgow to talk about my work with BIC – on standards – so the discovery that there was an army of early adopters with a strong interest in developing these standards was welcome news indeed!The sentiments expressed in the second paragraph have been echoed in reports going back as far as 2003 (IFLA). All of them urge that attention should be given to standards adoption before making such a major investment. Some countries heeded those warnings. We didn’t.The report also stated that over 300 US libraries already used RFID. At that time the UK total was probably less than 100. The report praised the work done in Denmark to develop a unified approach to RFID adoption and urged the UK market to do the same.
Returning from Glasgow I decided to write a blog. I called it “RFID - Changing libraries for good? – because I wasn’t sure if it was. Or if it was changing them for good in the sense of forever. More avid readers will note that since then the question mark at the end of the title has disappeared and reappeared on several occasions. Reflecting my view of progress.The blog was my attempt to learn, encourage debate, promote sustainable development and encourage innovation. Sadly most people preferred to email me directly about the topics I raised rather than commenting on the blog so there’s been very little actual debate. Mind you I do receive a lot of demands for information and advice…To me there did not seem to have been much real progress on JISC’s action points since 2006. Suppliers were still deciding for themselves how best to implement RFID and few librarians seemed aware or interested in the possible consequences of such a fragmented approach. I was concerned that RFID might even have a negative impact on libraries.There were still no data standards and little agreement - even about the terminology. Even apparently straightforward terms like “licence plate”, a model used by most suppliers to link an identifier on a tag to a database record meant different things to different people.New applications – using different kinds of tags and different frequencies were springing up all over the world. How were we to make sense of so many options?Persuading thousands of librarians that we needed to make changes seemed a more daunting task than trying to persuade the half a dozen or so RFID suppliers so that’s where BIC focused its efforts – with some success!So in 2012 are we in a mature market?Well probably not. But I think we’re in much better shape than we were.
When I delivered the programme for the 2009 RFID conference I asked Richard Wallis – then of Talis (now Capita), he now at OCLC – (but still a Technology Evangelist!) to give us his assessment of the technology’s adoption in the UK. This was where he thought we were. (Actually he had two suggestions – this was the more optimistic).This was a bit of a surprise for many in the audience. Most felt they had already derived maximum value from RFID – mostly because they were achieving very high rates of self-service issues and returns. Being cautious by nature most were hoping for the reassurance that they weren’t in the vanguard – but in the “safety zone”. Richard’s assessment was that we were still – just – in the early days of RFID adoption.
One of Richard’s main reasons for suggesting we weren’t so far ahead as we had thought was the absence of data standards.He, like me, felt that we were so focused on self-service that we had overlooked the one thing that could unlock the real value of the technology –common standards. This was the slide he used to highlight the danger of the approach we were taking.Pioneering Library+Innovative Supplier=One-off projects.It seemed pretty clear that we urgently needed to take heed of the warnings and advice from the experts to introduce standards and develop interoperability.Work began in earnest.
And we’ve made a good start with some great progress since 2009.Work had also began on those interoperability standards in 2010 (addressing a need also identified in the JISC report of 2006 and the IFLA report of 2003) - the first draft being published in 2011.And at least four sets of guidance have been published. One by the MLA, two by BIC (one with NAG) and one by our own Mark Hughes.So is this effort being reflected by increased RFID use?
Well it’s stillearly days yet but these figures suggest that we are becoming more creative. Because the standard wasn’t published until 2011 and SIP and BLCF not until 2012 few of these installations will be using the UKDM, SIP 3.0, or BLCF. But, as you’ve heard today, new functionality is on its way from LMS and existing RFID suppliers using all the new standards and protocols.However we must remain aware that some new products may not depend on the LMS – they may only use tag data - and they will be easier to develop, deploy – and sell! - if there’s a common tag model in every library.
So are we confidently facing the future?Hopefully a little more confidently…But new challenges appear all the time – as you’ve probably learned from today’s speakers. Don’t share the complacency of some LMS providers (and some RFID suppliers) and think that this is only about using smarter labels and developing faster circulation. Think about smartphones and tablets – opportunity or threat?Make sure you understand what’s being planned for UHF and decide for yourself whether it’s helpful or harmful.Don’t cross your fingers and hope privacy concerns will go away – or that someone else will deal with it. Or for that matter whether a disaffected sixth former might try and reprogram all your stock with his android phone.
But are we sleepwalking to disaster?Certainly not. But I like to try and provoke discussion – so as readers of my blog already now I sometimes like overstate the argument…just a little.But smartphones, tablets - and devices yet to be developed – will all interact with library stock and we can no longer rely on our friendly neighbourhood self-service provider to know about every RFID product on the market.Here are just two examples about which I was emailed in the last two weeks.Plus of course those who sell RFID products to other industries are always looking for an opportunity to expand their markets. In China there are at least five sites where you can buy an entire library RFID system at the click of a button. Along with cat flaps and automotive products. Would you buy a system this way? Would you buy a cat flap this way?The proliferation of RFID products and services is projected to grow exponentially according to industry monitors like the RFID Journal, and libraries are viewed as one of the major markets for the technology. Are you sure you’re as well informed as you’re going to need to be?
The Gartner Hype Cycle – an old favouriteBut are we disillusioned or triumphant? I’m not sure we ever had inflated expectations – I think maybe we should have. So no, I don’t think we’re here.But I’m not sure we’re as far up the slope of enlightenment as you might expect either. We are achieving great productivity with self-service but we need to achieve more. Times are tight, libraries are under threat and it’s time – to use a phrase I learned to hate when working in the States – to sweat those assets.
We may even be looking at completely new models for library management.Reports of the death of the LMS, like Mark Twain’s, have been greatly exaggerated. But some of the more innovative ideas for creating new learning environments rely on RFID rather more than they do on a link to an LMS. What I was saying here was that we don’t yet know where the next wave of systems development might come from. In the Far East they’re starting with the tags and building systems around them (incidentally a common way to design RFID solutions in other industries) rather than having the burden of a pre-existing LMS to concern themselves with.And delivering the future library may not involve managing the same assets as we do now – but RFID can still play a major role in the transition. I especially liked hearing recently about a library in Scandinavia that uses RFID tags to “activate” their stock, using items to find other materials – both within the library and in the virtual world. I particularly liked that one because I spoke about the possibility back in 2010.
The key question is are we now equipped for success?And the answer is, I think, a cautious ‘yes’.We now have data standards – use themWe are building better tools for integration – based on a common framework – insist on it.There are free guidelines available on the web – read them (don’t just copy and paste them!)As JISC almost said in 2006 “The future is up to you”
This has been very much a personal view.I’ve tried to explain my motivation for immersing myself in RFID for the past 6 years but I’m still not sure if I’m explaining that to you – or to me.But it’ is something I feel passionate about. Not RFID, but libraries. I want them to survive, and I sincerely believe RFID can be a positive tool for ensuring that they do. But like all powerful tools it can be dangerous if not used carefully. Please, make sure you read the manual.
UK Library RFID Review
International Review - UKLibrary RFID Mick Fortune Library RFID Ltd
Learning from the past? • Sometimes things don’t turn out quite as we expect. • MARC, the Internet • RFID • JISC Standards Watch (2006)Library RFID – “Barcodes on steroids” - a helpful analogy or a dangerous over-simplification?
Librarians in the RFID Vanguard! • “…this position as early adopters, who also have a considerable amount of group bargaining power and a strong interest in developing standards, puts libraries in an interesting position. It could be argued that libraries are uniquely placed to have a positive impact on the development of RFID technology and that this influence could extend beyond current efforts to develop interoperability and data standards, to addressing more general issues that are in the public good such as privacy concerns.”Library RFID • “The F&HE community cannot rely on the relative ease with which RFID has so far been implemented in the UK – it is widely acknowledged that there are genuine concerns around the implementation of the technology…” Source: RFID: Frequency, standards, adoption and innovation (JISC 2006)
RFID – Changing Libraries for Good? • Launched blog in 2009 • Might RFID have a negative impact on libraries? – Needed greater understanding. – Needed common standards, and a commonLibrary RFID terminology! – There were many great innovations and ideas – but many were confused and confusing.
Library RFID A Mature Market? Source: Richard Wallis . Presentation given to RFID Conferences in Glasgow and London
RFID Mileposts October: RFID Alliance March: ISO 28560 June: 3M donates SIP formed – publishes published. BIC revises 3.0 to NISO statement pledging UKDM, publishes support for ISO 28560-2 BLCF draftLibrary RFID 2010 2011 2012 March: BIC publishes first January: 3M publishes SIP draft of UK Data Model 3.0 (UKDM) – supported by RFID Alliance members
Library RFID Leading the world? Source: Library RFID Survey January 2012
Confidently facing the future…? • NFC – how will it impact your RFID- enabled library? • Will UHF replace HF? • How concerned should we be about: – PrivacyLibrary RFID – Hackers – Scammers
…or sleepwalking to disaster? • New library functionality and products are appearing all the time. – A Dutch “social mediacaster” – Norwegian book reviews by smartphone • New suppliers keep arrivingLibrary RFID – Would you buy an RFID system from a spare parts manufacturer?
Different kinds of library systems? • “RFID enables us to interact with objects in ways that we have never been able to before. • Data standards enable developers to find new ways to design library applications. • Where those developers are currently working will probably determine the future course of many aspects ofLibrary RFID library management. • That might be somewhere completely new…” RFID – Changing libraries for good 21 April 2011
Are we equipped for success? • There is an increasing awareness of the potential of RFID to do more. • Data standards are now in place • Better tools for integration are available • Guidelines to help you make betterLibrary RFID choices are freely available • The future is up to you.
Thank You!Library RFID Library RFID Ltd e. firstname.lastname@example.org w. www.libraryrfid.co.uk t. @libraryrfid