RFID Considerations for Libraries


As Technical Librarian I need to keep on top of what is happening in the world of library related RFID. I subscribe to a couple of RFID library discussion lists (UK focus; North American focus) to keep up with activities in other libraries, but we’re also very fortunate in UK libraries, as Mick Fortune has a very informative and supplier neutral site/blog focused on library RFID. On it he raises issues that I hadn’t always considered.

Recently Mick has highlighted a few RFID ideas/issues/points that will be useful to any library service using or thinking of using RFID, and I thought I’d summarise them here and encourage people to follow them up. 

Worldwide RFID in libraries survey

Key points include:

  • The survey covered libraries from all sectors (eg public; academic; school; health), but the highest response was from public libraries. About 200 public library services in the UK use RFID, but not necessarily for all of their stock or all of their libraries.
  • Self-service is still the dominant reason for using RFID, but theft prevention, collection management, access control and acquisition functions also figure highly.
  • Only a small number of respondents used NFC smart-phone or tablet enabled devices. This technology can allow users devices to be used as scanners/readers. Increasing numbers of NFC devices may lead to increased RFID related apps in future.
  • Most respondents use RFID for books, but also CDs/DVDs, Journals, Music scores, laptops (as well as other stock).
  • Most libraries still buy their tags from their RFID supplier, as they did before the agreement of RFID data standards, but buying direct from the manufacturer would give higher savings.
  • ISO 28560-2 is the most popular data standard ie what information is included on the tag.
  • The majority of libraries with RFID use HF (High Frequency) systems, as opposed to UHF (Ultra high frequency).
  • The majority of RFID systems are still relying on SIP to communicate with the LMS, but SIP wasn’t created to work with RFID and therefore has its limitations. SIP allows for the use of extensions to add further functionality. However since the extensions aren’t regulated/standardised they would not migrate well to another RFID system. The newer Library Communications Framework aims to overcome these problems.

The detailed survey responses are very useful (and frank) and identify how libraries use RFID, how they are getting on with it and issues they may be having. It is also a very useful pointer for anyone considering implementing RFID.

BIC guidance on NFC (Near Field Communication)

This document highlights potential issues with NFC – “smartphones equipped with NFC can now read and write data to and from almost all the RFID tags used in the world’s libraries.”. Issues of concern around this technology focus on digital vandalism (ie altering data on the tags), stock theft and data locking.

E.U. Directive on RFID privacy

This expects libraries using RFID to display signs indicating the fact, so that people are aware it is in use in the library. The library would also be expected to undertake a Privacy Impact Assessment to produce a Privacy Impact Statement that would be accessible by anyone who wanted to read it.

If you have any responsibility for RFID or data security I’d recommend you go and read the articles and survey results on Mick’s blog if you haven’t already done so.

Reblogged: Imagining the Future | RFID – Changing libraries for good?


Imagining the Future – A Guest Post from Gary Green | RFID – Changing libraries for good?.

I put together this write-up of my presentation at the CILIP RFID in Libraries 2012 conference, and Mick Fortune kindly put on his Library RFID blog.

It was a bit of blue-sky thinking focused on how creative use of RFID in sectors beyond libraries might be translated into library use.

Thoughts on CILIP’s RFID in Libraries conference 2011 #RFID11


I attended the CILIP RFID in Libraries 2011 conference last week. It was the second time for me. It was interesting this year to see the increased emphasis on using RFID beyond the self-issue of library stock, including innovations around mobile devices and RFID.  Here are the points I tweeted during the conference and below that, thoughts I had about the day.

  • Mick Fortune talking about what happened in the past year around RFID
  • ISO 28560 standard finally published in 2011
  • UK data model published; BLCF published (UK); SIP3.0 due at end of 2011
  • More interest globally in library RFID
  • Suppliers – Bibliotecha/ITG/Intellident merged; New self-service suppliers; new suppliers using RFID/NFC in smart phones
  • Moving on from RFID solely for self-service circulation and into discovery tools.
  • Tags are being seen more than just labels – they hold data and new applications are being built on this idea
  • HF frequency is still dominant over UHF
  • What lies ahead? RFID transform from dumb label; Use of standards will become vital; US market will lead on RFID lib. market
  • RFID suppliers may become next LMS suppliers
  • Mark Hughes from Swansea up now.
  • Mark Hughes was one of authors of ORILS specification document
  • Mark Hughes talking about BIC NAG specification for RFID
  • Need to make sure your RFID system is future proof; be realistic; take note of the suppliers expertise
  • NAG BIC standards are supposed to evolve. The situation is constantly changing and the specification needs to move with this.
  • People need to ensure they don’t underestimate the time it takes to tag stock.
  • SIP2 is sometimes interpreted slightly differently by suppliers and you may need to iron out niggles!
  • Peter Kilborn talking about LMS/RFID communication.
  • What’s wrong with SIP2? … Not much; it’s free to use; but it’s getting quite old; there’s now more to RFID than self-service
  • RT @mickfortune: Slides from my presentation at #RFID11 now available at http://t.co/7Y87va4x
  • Communication. What does BLCF do that SIP2 doesn’t?… Built for extensibility; built to cope with web services; open; free
  • BLCF designed by RFID experts. Was commissioned by BIC. Info here http://t.co/jzlimPvC
  • BLCF is currently in draft stage.
  • Alternative standards – SIP3, but does little more than update SIP2; & NCIP
  • Viv Bradshaw (Intellident/Bibliotecha) – BLCF: Why did Intellident get involved?
  • BLCF: web services; better support for non-LMS sys; secure http; uses world wide standards eg XML; handle multi process at same time
  • BLCF: can go beyond library services – eg council wide services; one card systems
  • BLCF – backwards compatible with SIP2; use modern web based standards; RFID/LMS vendors can offer more; will be controlled by BIC
  • RT @mickfortune: Gap analysis between BLCF and SIP 3.0 reveals the circulation orientation of the latter – Viv at #RFID11
  • Should libraries be going for BLCF & ignore SIP3.0? Possibly available within 6 months, but need library service to pilot it
  • Library services need to ask their vendors to support BLCF.
  • RT @robmajor: BLCF is the new acronym on the block #RFID11
  • Paul Chartier talking about ISO conformance and interoperability.
  • There’s never been an authority for mandating certification of ISO This will change. Compliance testing will be available
  • Study undertaken by UCLA ininteroperability of RFID tags; readers; etc.
  • RT @Mark_H_Swansea: #rfid11 in effect standards compliance prevents you as purchaser from getting ‘locked in’ to proprietary technology …
  • ISO will open up the market; new vendors; will help with new technology developments
  • European Commission recently received response re. RFID privacy- all libs will be expected to undertake privacy impact assessment!
  • Don’t know if last tweet was just suggestion or fact!!!
  • John Cunningham. Extending RFID self-service
  • Talking about budget cuts creating pressures on services.
  • Talking about John Laing & Hounslow library services.
  • Shared services and integrated council services approach – RFID can assist in this.
  • Using skills of library staff to deliver extended services.
  • Intellident myCommunity self-service beyond libraries – eg council payments
  • Sandra Bruce-Gordon (John Laing) – using myCommunity at Hounslow. 
  • Hounslow say 1 aim of introducing RFID self-service was to expand/improve library staff customer service skills
  • Hounslow efficiency savings – 6 FTE staff through “natural wastage”.
  • Hounslow “will not be closing any of our libraries.” That doesn’t necessarily mean no cuts. See http://t.co/En7p2TrG
  • myCommunity service looks interesting.
  • Chris Millican: Taking stock – innovative approaches to stock management through use of RFID
  • Stock taking time can be reduced. “Revolutionising the stock management process.”
  • Wondering if anyone has successful RFID solution for assessing use of reference stock? #RFID11
  • Uni of Central Lancs. Lib. faced with budget reduction, but will still be expected to provide great service to fee paying students.
  • RFID gadgets look great. I sometimes wonder how many designers think “Hmm! I’ll design this like a photon stun-gun, just cos I can”?
  • Handy that students don’t always put books back on shelves – can be put through sorter to assess use of material that’s not issued
  • Issue laptop with RFID tags at Uni of Lancs.
  • Why can’t we use our own mobile phones to issue books?
  • Mickfortune talks ISO standard & how suppliers intend to get us to the stage where we are all RFID standardised
  • Paul Dalton – Intellident. Talking about migrating to new data model.
  • UK RFID vendors are already interoperable, but based on legacy/proprietary data models.
  • Mike Chambers – 2CQR & the RFID Alliance. Doesn’t feel proprietary data models aimed to lock-in services, but to provide a service.
  • Surprisingly few people in conference said they wanted to move to standard! :-/ Or did I dream that!!!!
  • @mickfortune points out suppliers highlight fact they are interoperable with other systems, but what if a new RFID supplier pops up?
  • @mickfortune was also surprised that very few library services are looking towards moving to standards!!!
  • University of Central Lancashire win the “RFID in Libraries Innovation Award. (also involved Capita and 3M)
  • Nicky Kaye talking about Bracknell Forest Council RFID Smartcards. One card for many services.
  • Smart Card Networking Forum is useful place to discuss issues.
  • Smart cards – enrol once and it enrols you on other services. Transaction data can be passed back from individual services
  • Provides a lot of detailed management information back to Council’s, so they can develop their services.
  • Stephen Mossop: Managing laptop loans. Laptop, lockers, key control was problem with Uni of Exeter laptop loans.
  • Laptop lockers were a long way away from were you could use them ie not in a study area or library.
  • Laptops were bought by University – thin client, so not likely to be stolen and sold in the pub! They needed to manage themselves.
  • RT @Mark_H_Swansea: #rfid11 involvement of mobido to solve the problem of how to integrate existing RFID with laptop loan lockers with n …
  • Jennifer from Mobido http://t.co/PoBwebiG sounds as if she started in the same way as @juliancheal with RFID. Tagging at home 🙂
RFID circuit board

RFID circuit board (adapted from cgommel)

  • Richard Stewart: Smartphones in the library.
  • I expected more people at the conference to be smart phone owners!!!
  • NFC – near field communication. Can buy smart tickets with phone.
  • Huddersfield University gets a mention re. e-payment kiosks
  • Could my phone be used for payment? As money? Saves carrying cards etc. Yes they can.
  • Handling cash costs money – libraries could save money through users using NFC and ‘wallet’ software. Maybe use phone as lib card.
  • NFC use in libraries – user authentication; secure fine payments; age restricted stock use; peer-to-peer comms; book issues
  • Access digital content from the item you’re looking at.
  • Pay for services via e-voucher. Idea: Get e-voucher downloaded automatically to phone as soon as you walk into library. Get 3 e-vouchers and get free DVD!
  • Eric Grosshans
  • By George! An American chappie just took to the stage and quoted Shakespeare at us. *Applause* Encore. 🙂
  • The Library phone: Focus on business, function, increased accessibility.
  • Mobile phone use inside library – checkout; notification of reserved items; events
  • Phone use outside library – capture market share (scan barcode in shop & see if it’s in library); lib info eg location/times; events
  • The Library Phone: virtual library card; online cat; paperless receipts; notifications; ; qr-code
  • Library phone: The users provide the technology – library services don’t have to provide it for them.
  • Smart connect card system only allows individual systems within the whole system to see personal info they are only entitled to see
  • Nicholas Lewis: Reducing total cost of ownership.
  • Do you continue to benchmark your services against other services? Look at workflow processes.
  • What technical functionality is missing? Listen to your users to find out what processes work.
  • Innovation comes from all the suppliers, so why would we want to be lumbered with a single suppliers system.
  • Users need to get involved in the discussion around RFID development. These are services we pay for & have a say in what happens.
  • Martin Palmer concluding the event. You can use systems in ways they weren’t intended for; Make use of mobile technology; Standards!
  • Is self-service about providing better customer service or now just a way to provide ANY service in a time of cuts? #savelibraries
Thoughts on the conference – Standards
It was good to see that various RFID standards are moving on, but it was disheartening to hear that so few customers were interested in/planning to move to ISO 28560. When asked, only a handful of delegates indicated that they were intending to go down the standards route. I suppose if you have an RFID system installed you may not want to spend money on doing whatever is necessary to meet the standard, but in the long-term how much money is this going to cost you if you want to move to a new system – if your existing supplier goes down the pan or decides they aren’t going to support that system any more, because it’s out of date? What happens if you see a fantastic new RFID feature/function provided by another supplier that will benefit users or staff and you want to integrate it into your current system. How much will it cost you to integrate it with your current system? How long will it take to integrate it? Will your suppliers be interested in integrating it if you’re the only customer who wants to use it? It also seems as if suppliers were happy to be able to work with other suppliers systems based upon proprietary/in-house standards, but how will they work with new players to the market who meet the ISO standards? Also, how does the lack of enthusiasm for standards look to those library services who are still considering installing RFID in the hope that the standards will be taken up and they won’t be forking out on a system that isn’t compliant? A system they can’t really build on easily or cost-effectively and one that won’t necessarily let them work with partner libraries or other services in the future! In a time of cuts/money-saving would it make sense to go with an RFID system that doesn’t yet emphasise the use of the standards if some way down the line more money may need to be spent on achieving those standards? However, the plans to introduce conformance testing to ensure that systems are compliant with the standards offers some hope in this area… if possible future customers can see that a suppliers RFID service isn’t compliant how likely are they to go with that supplier?
With regard to communication between systems, BLCF looks very promising, as a means to move on from SIP2.0 and ensure communication is compatible with web services and also services in customers organisations eg Council-wide services.
We also need to remember that the U.S.A.  is now showing more interest in RFID library services/systems and, though the U.K. was a leader in this area, the U.S.A. has such global influence that it may affect future RFID developments.
Visa sticks NFC into a microSD card

Visa sticks NFC into a microSD card (c) Tom Purves/Flickr

Thoughts on the conference – Beyond Self-Service
Up until recently the main topic of conversation around RFID library services has been the self-issue/return of stock. Other capabilities were available, but they had often taken second place to the circulation of library stock. The recognition that RFID tags are more than just labels – they are sources of data – may have encouraged these developments. This year the conference highlighted innovations beyond self-issue of library stock eg.
  • Loan of laptops
  • Stock management
  • Smart cards
  • Use of RFID/NFC enabled mobile phones/devices.

For me, the area that most appealed was the use of mobile devices as a means of paying for services; accessing/issuing stock; as discovery tools; as a way to handle peer-to-peer communications; offering benefits that are automatically triggered on entry to a library. The onus here is also on the users providing the technology (the phone) to access the service in the way they want to, rather than the way the library service tells them how it has to be accessed.

I’m not sure if I’ll be there next year, but it will be interesting once again to see how far things have moved on in 12 months; if any more RFID customers have gone down the standards route; if new suppliers have come into the market; and what innovations in RFID people will be talking about?

Magnificent Maps Exhibition


I visited the ‘Magnificent Maps’ exhibition at The British Library a couple of weeks ago. It contained so many colourful, imaginative and impressive hand drawn maps covering social, historical and political aspects of life. The creativity that went into these maps was fantastic. My particular favourites were a Chinese terrain map on silk (1700), an Eastern European map from 1896 showing scenes from daily life and The Tsarist octopus map (1877).

(Photo by Annie Mole, Flickr)

The British Library also made great use of technology, by projecting a couple of the maps onto table tops and giving users what looked like a magnifying glass to explore the map in more detail. One of the maps was a reproduction of Fra Mauro’s Mappa Mundi from the 1450s. The magnifying glass didn’t have a lens, but when you placed it over certain parts of the map it expanded the image via the projector. It may have been RFID enabled, but I’m not certain. If you highlighted specific parts of the map it would also give you a pop up box of information and a voice-over would explain the significance. It was a really clever way of giving a bit more of a background to the map and what it meant. You can have a look at the map here and explore it in a similar way to the map at the exhibition.

(Prince_Volin, Flickr)

It was just really interesting to see all the creative things people have done with maps over the years and it’s given me a few ideas about what you can do with digital maps, rather than just putting markers on them and adding a bit of text.

Interaction, RFID and the British Music Experience


I visited the British Music Experience at the O2 arena in Greenwich today and was really impressed. Not just by the fantastic amount of great music that has come out of Britain since the 50s, but also in the way they presented it at the exhibition.

Each room covered a particular period or style of music and each room used a combo of presentation/interaction styles. Most of the images were projected in some way or displayed on a screen.

(1) Juke boxes allowed you to choose different genres of music and gave you some background information about the music you’d chosen.

(2) Fretboard/keyboard style input allowed you to find out more information about memorabilia held in glass cabinets.

(3) Trackballs could be used to control news time lines – images related to particular news items were displayed on a wall and you could find out more details by skimming over them.

(4) Projected images that responded to touch and ran through more detailed documentaries.

Part of my bookmarked 1975 timeline

My personal favourite was the large map of Britain, which was projected onto a stage area in the main room. Here you could use one of 3 separate track balls to move a circular cursor over the map. On a smaller projection a few feet wide, nearer your trackball, you’d be shown information about musicians associated with that location on the map.

As well as these clever ways of presenting the information, your entrance ticket was also an rfid enabled smart ticket. At many of the information points you could scan your ticket over a sensor and bookmark the information you were looking at/listening to. Then, when you take your ticket home, you can type the ticket number into the British Music Experience website and you’re shown the information you bookmarked in the exhibition. It’s a permanent record of the bits of the exhibition that you found the most interesting. I can’t help think that it would have been good if the website provided you with further details about the areas you were interested in based on your ticket number, rather than just showing you the information you saw at the exhibition – maybe pointing you to other websites related to this music genre/band. Following on from this, I wonder if libraries could do a similar thing, by recognising when a user logs in to the library catalogue that they had recently read a particular book on a particular subject and therefore work out via some clever algorithms that they might be interested in further information on a related web site.

Another minor criticism of the exhibition was the inability to search for specific musicians/bands. Browsing is great, but if you have a particular interest in a specific musician you might want to know if they are mentioned in the exhibition at all, and if they are, in which room.

It was well worth the visit and the way it was organised meant that you could personalise the exhibition according to your own musical interests, by either ignoring, skimming, exploring in detail and/or bookmarking the resources that were there. I’d definitely recommend you visit, if you are in any way interested in popular music produced in Britain in the past 60 years.