Libraries manage a considerable amount of inventory comprising printed materials or audio-visual media in their collections. It's obvious that RFID library solutions are an ideal match. Currently, barcode technology has been employed by most libraries for their daily circulation activities.
However, RFID is a more advanced technology, that can store much more data inside its active or passive tags, and the tag does not have to be visible to be read. Instead, it can be even embedded in an item such as in the cardboard of the cover of a book. In addition, the security feature of the RFID tag can be turned on/off without an additional security component attached to the item tracked. An RFID library system can save universities, schools and cities large amounts of time and money as a result of more advanced technology.
How Asset Tracking in Libraries is Different
The inventory of libraries differs from those of retail outlets or warehouses since the tags attached to the products are thrown away after the sales in retail stores. However, the books or other materials of a library are checked in and checked out several times. This makes the use of RFID in libraries more useful than in many other industries because the same RFID tag is used many times.
The Logistics of RFID in Libraries
A typical library usually carries out the following book processing activities:
Check-in of items: this activity concerns receipt of returned items. After an item is returned by a patron, it must be confirmed by the library information system that the item is available for future check-out.
Check-out of items: through this activity, it must be verified by the library information system that the item is borrowed by a certain patron, and will be returned later. The date of return is also visible through the library information system.
Prevent thefts: during the check-out and after the check-in of items, the security bit (feature) must be turned off/on, respectively, to prevent thefts. In case, of a theft attempt, the security gates warn the library staff.
Shelving returned items: first, the received items should be sorted based on their shelf address for convenience and time saving. Then, these must be shelved to the predetermined address, so that a patron can find it for check-out.
Inventory check and counting: a conventional library counts the items in its collection usually once a year, to determine any missing items. Since the barcode tags are located inside of the books, this is a time-consuming and labor-intensive task.
Inter-library loan service (ILL): this is a service whereby a user of one library can borrow books or receive photocopies of documents that are owned by another library.
Classification and cataloging new items: the items that were purchased must be cataloged. In other words, it must be assigned a unique ID number and its required information must be defined inside the library information system. In addition, the new items must be tagged so that its unique ID number can be recalled during check-out and check-in.
Shelving returned items, check-in and check-out tasks are frequently repeated on a daily basis. Based on the size of the collection and the number of patrons, these tasks usually require large amount of labor time.
In addition, inventory counting activity is usually implemented once or a few times in a year. Since the barcode tags are usually located inside of the items, library staff must take the item out of the shelves to read the tag attached. When the collection size is large, this becomes a time-consuming activity. Therefore, the activities mentioned above are labor intensive, and they hold a huge opportunity of improvement.
A Benefit Analysis of RFID Library Solutions
The cost savings are provided in terms of labor and theft/missing items. Waiting times of patrons are also reduced using the RFID in the libraries.
- Labor time savings. 24 libraries located in California, USA, reported that there are time savings in staff assisted check-in and check-out activities. Nevertheless, inventory counting is a time-consuming task of the library staff. With the help of RFID tags and portable readers several items on the shelves can be scanned and identified simultaneously.
- Moreover, some libraries implemented self-check-in and self-check-out by purchasing additional equipment, such as City University of Hong Kong Library. Based on this practice, the library could provide round- the-clock book circulation services to the patrons, and the staff is relieved of the routine circulation activities. This enhances the library staff to work for more user-oriented and value-added services.
- Savings by decreased theft and missing items. Installation of RFID security gates will possibly decrease item thefts through the libraries. The value of retained items due to theft prevention provides savings to the library. With the help of this technology, missing items within the library can be more easily found and excess purchasing of these items can be prevented. This provides some savings to the library.
- Savings by reduced waiting times. During busy periods of the libraries, patrons accumulate through the waiting lines, in front of the circulation desk. Since the check-in and check-out activities are faster by means of RFID, waiting times of the patrons through the lines can be decreased. Since this factor cannot be quantified, it is not included in the cost–benefit model.
It is interesting to note that not only do RFID library solutions provide the benefits of decreased costs but also the benefit of increased flexibility. With RFID libraries, patrons can enjoy checking out and returning books at any time. This is just one new way that RFID is improving libraries, we look forward to seeing what other solutions are to come.