How did we get here, have we got it right – or wrong? Where next?
A little glimpse of the future? RFID uses are myriad in number and often confusing because of their ubiquity. Phones and cards are already used in libraries – other devices will follow. It’s probably best to think of RFID in library management as being separate from its other applications
… and my prediction for the “next big thing” – already used in book supply
The growth in use of RFID in the UK has been seen by many as a triumph. The announcement of the introduction of RFID is often accompanied by phrases such as “joining the 21 st century”, “state of the art” etc. - which is odd for a technology that has been in active use in libraries for at least 15 years. I’m going to suggest that in reality the way the UK has gone about implementing RFID has been far from triumphant, and that if we don’t heed the warnings the example we risk setting the world is of how NOT to do it.
It’s easy to understand why RFID is so popular and the market was already positioned to deliver since the LMS links were already there
Certainly the figures suggest it is
RFID has spread like wildfire. Everyone wants it but few know very much about it. Suppliers have done their best to identify and anticipate applications – but with little help from librarians or the other key players in this equation – the LMS suppliers.
The need for self service drove the libraries Adding the value of security drove the suppliers
The disadvantages of proprietary solutions
… which has lead to a lack of integration and interoperability. Ideas are plentiful… but most libraries, and many suppliers have little idea how to implement them
So why is this the case? For reasons that are unclear RFID has been widely misunderstood by users, suppliers and experts alike Privacy should not be an issue Job losses are management decisions, not a consequence of the technology UHF or HF, 28560-2 or DDM? – are not really difficult decisions. But it’s much more than a barcode
One of the biggest problems was obvious – almost from the beginning … Germany and the US - usually quick to adopt new technologies - heeded the warnings – the UK did not.
So, are we doomed to limited use of the technology?
Hopefully not but by having concentrating so hard on implementing self-service we have mostly failed to notice that we have simultaneously changed the way everything else works. Most libraries now struggle with both RFID and barcode based applications.
Partly this is because of the way we buy RFID. We accepted the requirement to buy from a single vendor without question. Possibly because that’s the way we buy our LMS? But there would have been no need for this if we’d spent 5 minutes thinking about what underlies the whole system – the tags. Now even the suppliers want us to do that – but librarians don’t seem interested.
How many librarians are aware of the work that has been undertaken on their behalf over the last three years? Or why? These are some of the things I’ve been involved in.
We’re very close to this being the “norm” for all future installations
To avoid repeating the “lock in” error made with RFID we need to encourage good behaviour by LMS companies too…
Buying through a framework might be the “safe” option career-wise but may well be the worst decision you’ll ever make for your stakeholders. Frameworks are out of date, force single supplier purchases and cost more money (they add between 1.5 and 2% to the bottom line). Cite example of LUPC’s dilemma
There are many opinions out there…
The people who manufacture the chips clearly aren’t concerned about integration and LMS linkage, not to mention data standards
The suppliers “get it” though
But some librarians still need convincing that they need to use standards – or maybe they’re just worried that they should have been paying better attention? Signs here that having all your stock tagged one way might be a problem? Cite example of RFID company asking me how to read someone else’s tags.
New products and new players are arriving too…
If you don’t – well… you will always have self service. If you do there’s a whole new world out there…
It’s not too late, and your supplier – if they signed the Alliance statement – has already committed to helping you migrate.
Chipping in – Reflections on and Predictions for Library RFID. Mick Fortune Library RFID Limited
The lack of data standards was recognised as a problem as early as 2003 in both the USA –
“ If the possibility exists that more than one vendor’s RFID system will be used, RFID interoperability standards must be developed and adhered to.” http://www.lincolntrail.info/RFIDInConsortialEnvironment.html
and in Germany,
“ All existing RFID systems use proprietary technology which means that if company A puts an RFID tag on a product, it can't be read by Company B unless they both use the same RFID system from the same vendor."
[RFID Journal 2003]. Quoted by Mats G. Lindquist at IFLA Berlin, Chair, IFLA's Information Technology section
RFID technology is simple, robust and inexpensive. Each RFID label has a unique identification number and can be programmed with additional information such as type of media and storage location .
The tag is "re-writeable" so libraries don't have to replace a book’s digital identification tag when updating a book's status or flagging a book for reservation. In addition, libraries are finding new ways to take advantage of tagged items, such as gathering statistics on what items are most often used .
“ Currently I would see the main advantage of a data model as when/if we change supplier for our tags/equipment. One of my concerns would be what happens to the 800,000 books we have tagged using a propriety data model.”
(email from an unnamed University Librarian – May 2011)
RFID creates intelligent stock – using it only for self-service fails to deliver full ROI.
Consider automating accessions and returns, use wearable devices to manage stock, explore the possibilities of smart shelves and displays, interactive books – all now being deployed – but unavailable to most.