Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Radio Frequency Identification: An Introduction for Library Professionals

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Radio Frequency Identification: An Introduction for Library Professionals

Article excerpt

While it is common for libraries to now have information technology expertise within their organisations, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) with its blend of radio technology and electronics may appear unfamiliar and unique. It can be difficult for library professionals to evaluate vendor solutions and to weigh features and benefits against standards and frequencies. This paper provides information and observation which put some of the variables into context. Through discussions with libraries over recent years, many areas of concern or confusion regarding RFID have been identified. A framework to begin further exploration of the world of library RFID is suggested. Edited version of a paper available at

Readers are welcome to make physical or electronic copies of this paper or quote or reference it. If you do so you must appropriately attribute the contents and authorship to Alan Butters, Sybis. While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of the paper, neither Sybis nor Alan Butters assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or damages resulting from the use of the information and opinions contained within it. Products or corporate names may be registered trademarks of their companies and are used only for the purposes of explanation or illustration, with no intent to infringe. [c] 2006 Alan Butters, Sybis


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a set of technologies that enables tracking and monitoring activities to be carried out using invisible radio waves over distances that range from less than a centimetre to many hundreds of metres. Most often it is employed to track items such as pallets or cartons within a supply chain or warehouse. RFID is also used to identify animals, hospital patients, shipping containers, laundry garments, airline baggage etc.

In many of these cases, barcodes have been used previously to identify the items concerned. One limitation of barcode technology is that the barcode scanner and the barcode must have a line of sight relationship. The barcode scanner must be able to 'see' the barcode to operate correctly. This requires items to be presented in a particular orientation to the scanner and every barcode must be visible on the outside of the item. If we imagine a pallet stacked with cartons, the cartons that are located at the centre of the stack would have their barcodes obscured by the cartons surrounding them. In this case, the cartons would have to be removed for the scanner to read each barcode.

In the RFID world, the barcode is replaced with an RFID tag and the barcode scanner is swapped for an RFID reader. The tags are essentially smart labels in most cases and have a chip and antenna as their main components. In the pallet stacked with cartons example, a suitably placed antenna would be able to read the RFID tags on every carton in the stack almost instantly and without requiring them to be visible. The radio waves generated during the reading process are able to penetrate many materials and so can be employed where tags are not visible to the eye.

RFID in libraries

RFID's property of non line of sight operation can be very useful within a library. If we replace the barcode used to identify library material with an RFID tag, we are immediately able to process multiple items simultaneously and the tag can be located inside the cover in the case of printed material. No longer does every item require individual handling. The benefits can be realised in improvements to productivity, service, materials handling and collection management.

RFID tags for libraries come in a range of sizes with the most common measuring approximately 50mm x 50mm and having a paper backing on one side and an adhesive layer on the other side. Special RFID tags are available from some vendors for cds, dvds and videocassettes. The tags can usually be overprinted with the name and logo of the owning institution if required. …

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