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For over two years now the...

For over two years now the central thesis of this site has been that integration and interoperability are key issues for libraries – especially UK libraries. I still believe this to be true – certainly for UK libraries – but it’s not the same story everywhere and by no means the only way to implement an RFID strategy. Every time I talk about standards, interoperability, HF vs UHF frequencies etc., my mailbox fills up with messages pointing out that “other solutions are available” – and of course there are – but I think it’s vital to understand how these other solutions will fit in with your existing systems and sadly that’s often not the case. I came to this technology from a lifetime spent working with library systems and so spent my first six months trying to understand how RFID worked in conjunction with those systems. After attending a lot of meetings, conferences, trawling the web and talking to librarians and system suppliers it seemed pretty clear to me that, in some aspects, it didn’t. A key question for me – and one that I heard others ask over and over again at conferences and seminars – was “Can any system read any RFID tag?” What I believe lies behind that question is a concern among users that – just as happened with barcodes – RFID suppliers would develop readers that would “auto-discriminate” between different symbologies just as they had with Code 39, Codabar, Telepen etc. I heard speakers reassure their audiences that it didn’t matter what RFID system you bought you would always be able to use the same tags and the same data with any future system. But this simply isn’t true. RFID is infinitely more complex and flexible than a barcode – even than a QR code – and there are an almost infinite number of ways to write and implement solutions using it. Even in a market where most libraries already use a library management system (ILS or LMS) there are many different ways in which RFID has been used to provide extra functionality or improve management that are unique to each provider – sometimes even to an individual library. That’s why I became such a passionate advocate of common standards. Not to limit development but to promote choice and reduce risk. It’s pretty straightforward really. If all you ever need from the tag is the barcode number then there are usually ways to extract that information from most tags. It may take some time – and it may not always be possible (for reasons detailed elsewhere on this blog) – but in general terms it can usually be done. Most librarians I’ve spoken to think that’s pretty much all the RFID companies are using anyway so what’s the problem? The problem is that this isn’t always true either. Not for existing installations, and increasingly not for new ones. Why? Because RFID companies want to deliver innovation – and librarians demand it – and sometimes that means using RFID to do rather more than store a barcode number. Or in a worst case scenario to lock and/or encrypt data so no other vendor can read it. The only way to move forward without the client being locked into a single solution provider – forever – is for all suppliers to use the same data standard. Which is what UK RFID providers agreed to do – in 2009. That doesn’t mean the solutions have to be the same – just that we all know what data might be present – and where it is. How you use it is what makes the difference. But it’s only in 2011 that they are approaching being able to deliver it. So with standards for tag data (and hopefully soon for system integration) now published the global market for library use of the technology is set to expand rapidly – both in terms of numbers and its capabilities. If you’re still using RFID as simply an electronic barcode to drive self-service you may be about to find out why taking that approach may have severely limited your ability to grow in the future. Looking beyond the UK we can see all kinds of RFID solutions being developed using different frequencies, different tags and certainly different applications. Quite often RFID self-service circulation is completely separate from other library operations. Many of the more exciting RFID applications for libraries – in India in particular – simply don’t link with any other systems. This is of course an entirely valid approach – if you have no other systems operating in your library you have no integration issues to worry about. The problem is that most libraries – in the UK at least – do, and many have failed to appreciate the long term consequences of taking the proprietary path they have. RFID isn’t “magic” it’s just another way to use data in an automated system. Most people wouldn’t expect to replace the operating system on their PC every time they want to update their processes, yet they do exactly this with RFID… All of the above rambling reflection was inspired by an invitation to speak at the upcoming IFLA conference about trends and issues in the RFID market. I’m hoping it will inspire some readers to let me have the benefit of their thoughts on these matters (i.e tell me where I’m wrong)… As for me, I’m off to Puerto Rico! I’m looking forward to some interesting discussions, to learning a lot about what others are doing – in particular how the US now view the RFID market post-ISO 28560. www.rfidhy.com an@rfidhy.com


Althought it is looks like a

Stan Zlatoustovskiy's picture

Althought it is looks like a copy paste from another web site - thanks for sharing your thoughts anyway. Quite interesting really. And there are some interesting facts also. RFID for Libraries is a separate branch within RFID Industry itself and we can see now similar issues like deployment both HF and UHF by different parties.