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The technology developed rapidly in the labs in the 1970s. During this period there
was much development with a view to transport use for vehicle tracing, as well as in ani-
mal tracking and warehouse automation in factories. Most of the patents relating to
RFID originate in this decade.
RFID technology continued to develop throughout the 1980s, and was implemented
widely for many different purposes. Applications in the cultural heritage sector had not
yet been considered, but this growing use was to inspire future work in that direction. In
the late 1990s, fully formed applications in fields such as toll collection, supply chain
management, access control, and vehicle and animal tracking became a reality. In this
decade the design and functionality of RFID technology was expanded, and led to the
construction of microwave RFID tags consisting of a single integrated circuit.The
potential memory capacities and read/write capabilities were enhanced further; a step
which increases the possible applications for which this technology can be deployed in
cultural heritage institutions. Checkpoint Systems Inc. made the first installation of
RFID technology in the library sector in 1998 at Rockefeller University Library.
The application of RFID technology leads to additional benefits in relation to infor-
mation management, and this may be of particular relevance to cultural heritage organi-
sations considering implementation of the technology. One benefit of crucial importance
is the ways in which RFID technology may be connected with the integration of legacy
data management systems.
The basic on-going work within the cultural sector tends to be targeted towards
inventory management, including check-in and check-out of holdings, and issues of
security. It is clear that this range of applications supports the work of libraries, museums
and archives. Museums are organisations with a specific mission which could benefit
from this technology in more creative ways than mere stock management. In addition to
inventory management, museums could utilise the technology to provide guided tours
for visitors, to study the performance and application of cultural agents and `avatars' (vir-
tual agents), and for electronic programming guides and personalisation. (These areas will
be covered in more detail in DigiCULT Technology Watch Report 2.)
Barcode Technology
The Universal Product Code, or barcode, was designed in the early 1970s to speed up
checkout processes in shops.The product has also helped manufacturers and retailers
keep track of their inventories, giving valuable information about the quantity of pro-
ducts being bought and, to a certain extent, about who is buying them.This code acts as
a kind of `product fingerprint' composed of machine-readable parallel bars that store
binary information.
Barcode technology has been widely used in the heritage sector, especially for library
labels. Such labels typically contain a barcode, a human readable number and an alpha
field containing the name of the library or institution. Developments in the technology
allowed for an extension of the content and functionality of the labels.
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Smart Labels
and Smart Tags
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Barcoding technology has advanced to the point that some two-dimensional codes
can store up to 1.1 KB of machine-readable data.