RFID Technology for Libraries

Article excerpt


Research for this issue of Library Technology Reports was begun in January 2003 by contacting vendors for information and literature, interviewing librarians, visiting libraries, searching literature, and viewing demonstrations of all the systems at the 2003 Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) and again at its 2003 Annual Conference.

Vendors that offer radio frequency identification (RFID) systems but have not targeted the library market are not included in this report, nor are vendors that only sell products that interface with RFID systems.

This report provides the following information:

* Chapter 1 provides an overview of RFID for libraries.

* Chapter 2 discusses RFID technology.

* Chapters 3 to 8 describe each of six vendor's available RFID systems.

* Chapter 9 summarizes interviews with library administrators.

* Chapter 10 provides a set of sample requirements that might be included in an RFP.

* Chapter 11 lists sources for additional information.

* A glossary ends the report.

Conventions of this report

Vendors use many terms interchangeably. These terms include charge or check out, discharge or check in, exit sensor or gate, sensitized or on, and desensitized or off. For the most part, the first term in these pairs is used.


(This chapter is adapted from "RFID Technology," by Richard W. Boss. Public Library Association TechNote, 2003.)

Theft detection systems, also known as EAS (electronic article surveillance) systems, have been used in libraries for decades. They are moving beyond that application to tracking systems that combine security with more efficient tracking of materials throughout the library, including easier and faster charge and discharge, inventorying, and materials handling.

Theft detection systems

Two types of conventional theft-detection systems exist: electromagnetic (EM) and radio frequency (RF). The systems that combine theft detection and the tracking of library materials are radio frequency identification (RFID) systems.

Electromagnetic (EM) theft detection systems, of which thousands are installed around the world, operate on a magnetic basis. The targets consist of strips of metal with magnetic particles for degaussing.

Degaussing--neutralizing the magnetism--is accomplished by using high-powered magnets to negate the magnetic property of the strip. A library staff member rubs the area of the strip location with a magnetic device to turn off the strip, thus allowing the patron to pass through the security corridor created by the exit sensors without sounding the alarm.

When the materials are returned, they are resensitized, or turned on, by a library staff member. Security is the only application for this technology.

Radio frequency (RF) theft detection systems function much like electromagnetic theft detection systems, but they operate on a low-end radio frequency. The targets are always turned on.

To deactivate a target, insert a detuning card (a specially constructed date due card) into the card pocket to cover the target. This activity detunes or interrupts the signal and allows a patron to pass through the security corridor formed by the exit sensors. On return of the materials, a staff member removes the card to once again activate the target. Security is the only application for this technology.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems use radio-frequency-based technology combined with microchip technology. The information contained on microchips in the tags affixed to library materials is read using radio frequency technology regardless of item orientation or alignment (that is, the technology does not require line-of-sight or a fixed plane to read tags as do traditional theft detection systems). Distance from the item is not critical except in the case of extra-wide exit gates. …


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