Magazine article American Libraries

Technically Speaking: RFID Poses No Problem for Patron Privacy

Magazine article American Libraries

Technically Speaking: RFID Poses No Problem for Patron Privacy

Article excerpt

A recent onslaught of articles coming out of California newspapers reported on the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in public libraries and how they will strip away the reading privacy of library patrons (See News this issue). The concern has even been picked up and professed by some librarians who should know better. The devil, as always, is in the details. And the critical detail with respect to library use of RFID tags is that only two types of information are contained in these tags. One is a single bit (on or off) indicating whether the book has properly left the library. Pretty harmless, that.

The other is a set of fields designed to hold information about the book itself. Library RFID tags do not contain any patron information whatsoever. And most RFID implementations contain only one field of information about the book--the bar code number.

Forgive me for being skeptical of all the hullabaloo, but I just can't get too worked up about a library book broadcasting its bar code for several feet to any and all who care to lug around portable RFID readers and eavesdrop on the reading habits of passersby carrying library books. However, if that thought bothers some folks, I recommend they campaign for encrypting the barcode number in the RFID tag rather than foment (or buy into) vague apprehensions about a very useful and rather benign library inventory control tool. For a well-written, thorough, and balanced treatment of RFID and Patron Privacy, check out the paper "Personal Privacy and the Use of RFID Technology in Libraries" by Vinod Chachra and Daniel McPherson at


My FEDORA for a Vendor!

"There are not good digital library systems out there. Everyone worries so much about reinventing the wheel, but if you don't have a good wheel to begin with you aren't reinventing anything." This sentiment, expressed by Thornton Staples, director of digital library research and development at the University of Virginia, is the reason why four years ago Virginia teamed up with Cornell to develop a scalable digital-object-repository management system. With seed money from the Mellon Foundation, they began work on FEDORA (Flexible Extensible Digital Object and Repository Architecture). Today, the FEDORA repository system is still the only digital library management software in its class.

But Staples does not think Virginia and Cornell should be in the library software business: "We would really like to buy a system from someone." The fact that no established library vendor has yet been willing to commit resources to, and market, this open source software project is an indication that the library software vendor community does not yet realize the potential of open source software to increase market share and revenues.

Old ideas and outdated verities die hard, but I am certain it is only a matter of time before a farsighted library vendor takes the risk to invest in a well-thought-out and well-organized open source initiative such as FEDORA. That vendor will, I believe, achieve a market success that will demonstrate the value a well-executed open source initiative can have on the bottom line. For information on the FEDORA project, see

Web to Support Bibliographic Identifiers

The long-awaited effort to develop a standard scheme to represent and reference standard identifiers on the Web has received a boost in the form of a draft submission to the Internet Engineering Task Force. …

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