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staff, and the rest of the department, the technology selected to meet these needs was
RFID solution, which consists of a set of smart labels with each chip holding
a unique identifier and a dedicated anti-theft bit. Sets of RFID security gates were installed
at the library's entrance, with both audible and visible alarms activated when an item was
taken through without having first been correctly checked out. A self-issue station, consist-
ing of a PC and an RFID reader, is a key component of the system, and this station has
been interfaced with the library's existing Management Information System (from Geac, in order to track and manage the whereabouts of particular items.
The only potential alternative solution to the problem was the use of old-fashioned
electromagnetic tags. Although cheaper, these tags do not have the range of functionali-
ties that RFID technology can offer, and are increasingly considered to be unsuitable for
the future. Smart labels offer much extensibility for future uses, and the library has plans
to build on its existing functionality with, for example, stock management improved and
expanded using the technology now in place. It is also expected that the unit cost of
smart labels will continue to fall steadily as they are bulk manufactured, while the hard-
ware required for RFID technology is already significantly cheaper than its electromag-
netic counterpart.
The ultimate decision to run with RFID rather than electromagnetic tags was made
by Ms Richardson, the Library's Information Services Manager, herself, though other
staff at the library were consulted to ensure they were aware of the benefits and potential
risks involved in the introduction of this new technology.To begin with, all of the exist-
ing permanent stock was batch-tagged by library staff, casual workers and volunteers. In a
larger library this would have been an enormous imposition, but given the Library's rela-
tively modest size the `blitz' approach was feasible. It was decided that ephemeral material
such as newspapers and some weekly journals would not be tagged immediately, given
the significant cost of each label.
After a good start, the implementation of the system became fairly problematic.The
security gate alarms sounded erroneously, and when this became a frequent occurrence
the library staff felt that both they and the system were beginning to lose credibility
among the students. It goes without saying that a noisy alarm is irritating and distracting
in a traditionally quiet library environment. In time, these problems were overcome and
the staff realised that the labels must be checked in and out slowly and carefully to avoid
triggering the alarm, although less care and accuracy is required with RFID than with
comparable electromagnetic systems.
One essential lesson learned by the library was that the integration of new and legacy
systems is crucial. As well as the digital catalogue, the RFID system is also connected to
the university's CCTV security system, allowing unstaffed access to students.When the
alarm sounds outside the regular staffed hours, a closed-circuit camera is triggered to
record the event, and off-site security staff are alerted. RFID thus permits the library to
offer longer opening hours, a frequent request heard from students, and frees the librari-
ans to spend an increased proportion of their time attending to more rewarding duties
than acting as stand-in security guards.
It is anticipated that the range of functionality of the new system will be expanded in
time to include more detailed inventory control and stock management, and the intro-
duction of hand-held readers will significantly reduce the time taken to track down miss-
ing books. Rather than going through each shelf item-by-item, a library assistant will
eventually be able to walk down each aisle and wait for a signal from the reader telling
him that the errant book is shelved nearby.
Smart Labels
and Smart Tags