The Canton Public Library (CPL) in nearby Canton, Michigan successfully installed its new RFID tagging & sorting system as of July 2010. We had an opportunity to speak to some of the folks at the CPL about this accomplishment – Laurie Golden (Marketing & Communications Manager), Leo Papa (Department Head of Information Technology) and Eva Davis (Director CPL). RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. Very simply, this is a means of tracking objects (and personnel) using radio waves. The technology has broad applications and is described in a January 2010 report by the FDA.
Ms. Golden shared with us that the CPL had issues with return check-in items. This might be blamed in part on the CPL being too successful! In her posting about the topic, Ms. Davis tells us that budget cuts and a record amount of checkouts led to their analysis of checkins and shelf returns. This led to the RFID system installation. The end results of this new system of tagging and sorting are; less handling, less labor, less returned item ‘cycling time’, speedier checkins/checkouts, more staff available and more satisfied patrons. The new system can process about 2600 items per day!
The system used by the CPL is very similar to those adopted by Wal-Mart, Netflix and UPS. Many libraries around the world are switching to RFID technology. One of the keys to the system operation was the installation of some 300K RFID tags in library materials! The RFID tags look like an approximately 2″ x 2″ neutral-color sticker on most print materials. However the simplicity of its design belies the fact that it is a very sophisticated piece of integrated chip technology. The system is certified in accordance to ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-3. Each tag is “read-write” and is programmed uniquely to each item with the title, barcode and security information.
The tags all communicate with a system of servers at a frequency of 13.56 MHz – a library standard. The tag on the item being checked out will show a color change on the monitor screen. If your tag “beeps” when exiting through the secure doors, it probably wasn’t fully deactivated when checking out! The tags are also critical to the new return and sorting process – returned items must be returned to the new library portals one at a time! (You can still return checked-out items the old-fashioned way – to the checkin/checkout counter). The items are then placed through the automated sorting room and conveyor belt and sorted automatically.