The RFID Opportunity

Posted Monday, September 17, 2012 - 11:28

In March, the National Information Standards Organization adopted RFID in US Libraries (RP-6-2012), establishing ISO 28560-2 as the recommended practices for coding data on the RFID tags used in libraries for shelving, circulation, sorting, inventory, security, and interlibrary loans. The final adoption of this data model is a big step toward standardization and interoperability among RFID suppliers.

These guidelines recommend installing the RFID tag early in the life cycle of the book. The tag could then be used by publishers, distributors, and libraries alike, as well as secondary markets (used-book stores, for example).

As more libraries and vendors adopt the standard, tags from one library could be used in other libraries for both identification and security. Libraries could also buy components from any compliant vendor and everything would work together. Gradually, additional functionality will be supported as adoption spreads and library system (ILS) vendors develop interfaces that support the new capabilities.

Realizing these expanded opportunities in RFID technology, however, requires three additional steps.

Removing legacy barriers

Vendors may seek ways to differentiate their products, now that the new standard has rendered their proprietary solutions obsolete. The following are examples of seemingly attractive enhancements that in fact undermine interoperability:

  • Vendor-specific encrypting and encoding of the data;
  • Proprietary security functions;
  • Software or firmware that is system dependent and can be used only with specific tags.

When designing your library’s RFID system, recognize that moving backward from interoperable to proprietary puts you in a potentially dangerous and costly situation. These so-called enhancements are not worth that risk.

Verifying compliance

Libraries need to identify an affordable service to verify that they are purchasing compliant tags, that their implementation of the data model is compliant, and that each vendor’s encoding is compliant. Such a service provider must be an objective third party (not an RFID vendor). The service must be available to libraries for testing a vendor’s tags both before and after encoding and for developing a compliant implementation plan. A discussion on how US libraries can verify compliance is now essential.

Envisioning new uses

Most library RFID tags contain the barcode number and not much more, even though there is room for additional data. Prior to the new model, it was understandable that libraries were reluctant to extend the use of RFID. But now it’s time to think creatively about how to use tags to optimize workflows and deliver such new services as eliminating routing slips, developing new library apps, sorting books without an ILS connection, and optimizing interlibrary loan and acquisition transactions. 

Extending RFID functions will require new communication protocols with the ILS. Partnering with libraries in the United Kingdom may be the quickest way to make progress in this area. There, Book Industry Communication (BIC) has been leading an effort to establish the BIC Library Communications Framework (BLCF) to improve communication between ILS and RFID systems. The BLCF is an excellent way to provide all libraries worldwide with a roadmap for developing the new protocols and interfaces that will take us even further down Interoperability Road.

LORI BOWEN AYRE is a library technology consultant and head of the Galecia Group. This article is excerpted from the July 2012 issue of Library Technology Reports.