21. April 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

As RFID suppliers continue their expansion into new areas of the library market – such as 3M’s Cloud Library®, or D-Tech’s The Link® – Bibliotheca’s latest offering sees the company bring a new meaning to “library management”.

Open+ builds on solutions originally delivered in Denmark where the concept of the “open library” has been developing for some time now.

24/7 access to library buildings

24/7 access to library buildings

What is it?

Open + is not so much a product as a solution. Bringing together security, surveillance and systems in one package requires a fair amount of tailoring to local needs so this may not be “one size fits all solution” – each installation could bring new challenges.

The Open+ website declares it to be “a complete solution which extends library opening hours and improves service to the community” which “can automatically control and monitor building access, self-service kiosks, public access computers, lighting, alarms, public announcements and patron safety.”

How does it work?

In Leeds – the first UK pilot site for the product – Open+ has just been installed in a small branch library. Bibliotheca installed CCTV cameras, audio speakers, a keypad outside the library, and the software.  Leeds use the ALTO® solution developed by TALIS.  Library users (over 18 only) are invited to subscribe to use Open+ and flagged in their ALTO borrower record as being an Open+ user. 60 users signed up for the service in the first 3 weeks of operation.

On arrival at the library during unstaffed hours Open+ subscribers insert their membership card into a reader linked to the ALTO system via the SIP 2.0 protocol and enter a PIN to gain access to the building. Once inside they can browse and borrow until the branch closes. Closure is announced over a loudspeaker system. Both the announcement and its timings are set by the library staff in the system parameters.

Security cameras constantly monitor the library during unstaffed hours. A central controller has access to all the security systems, cameras, speakers etc. The controller could be located anywhere with access to the internet – so could be facilities managed or maintained by council ICT services as agreed.

Bibliotheca have stated that the solution is not limited to existing clients of the company but indicate that taking on responsibility for another supplier’s self-service solution for example, would be likely to incur additional costs.

There’s more information on the system here – and Bibliotheca’s FAQ is here.

Comment

First things first.

Bibliotheca make it very clear in all the marketing literature that their intention is NOT to accelerate the demise of the public librarian.

That said, whatever the company’s stated hopes the product DOES make it possible to run unstaffed libraries 24/7 if desired – subject to any operational constraints on the systems within them . This is news that will delight as many as it dismays. Campaigners for saving libraries may see this as a way to preserve smaller branches while campaigners for saving librarians will more likely view this as a direct threat to their livelihood. Some councils will see this as a way to extend existing services with fewer staff (certainly the view taken in Leeds) while others may see it as a way of removing professional staff from library desks altogether.

That’s not really a debate for this blog. However there are a couple of points I want to raise here – as they may well have an impact on service planning. Both relate to identity.

The current UK implementation of Open+ uses the library card to gain access to the building. As we have seen, library card numbers are frequently re-used by LMS(ILS) suppliers so the same number may well be in use at different authorities. The PIN associated with each card (and stored in the local LMS database should provide adequate security to prevent non-members gaining access to the building (what are the chances of people choosing the same PIN after all?) – however it is the Danish model for open libraries that is cited in the sales literature, and that model  – similar to the Danish approach to self-service – differs from many other markets (like England and Wales, Ireland and the USA) in one significant way – it is a national scheme.

Danish library users use their health registration cards both to gain access to library buildings out of staffed hours and as membership cards when borrowing items. In Scotland the entitlement card often performs a similar function.

So it’s worth bearing that in mind when configuring library access – to avoid an implementation that might make the introduction of a national scheme like Denmark’s more expensive or difficult.

The second point relates to that opening tagline – the bit about how Open+ “improves service to the community”.

Like D Tech – with their Link product, Bibliotheca are very active in the non-library, non-RFID market. Bibliotheca’s MyCommunity product was recently cited as the reason for buying self-service kiosks in Lambeth. Both products provide access to other council services from library kiosks. Neither requires the use of RFID – or indeed a library.

It looks like another opportunity to think ahead and consider access control via ID in the context of all council services rather than pass that responsibility onto the LMS(ILS).

12. April 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

After much lobbying the survey is back! Regular respondents will be pleased to know however that this year’s survey is much shorter than usual.

Like the very first survey – in 2009 – the intention is primarily to try and establish how many libraries are using the technology – and in what ways. Since that first survey many things have changed and RFID is now frequently used for stock control, resource discovery, smart shelving and acquisition as well as with smartphones and tablets offering a growing number of new applications.

I’m frequently asked for information about the scale of RFID use in libraries around the world. Not only librarians but suppliers, investors, library and cultural agencies and even governments want to know who’s using which applications and what trends are emerging – and it’s difficult to obtain accurate figures.

So even if you have completed one of these before please do complete this year’s survey. You won’t have more than 15 questions to answer and none of them should take very long.

Everyone is welcome to participate but you may need a little expert knowledge to answer ALL the questions so please pass this on to your local expert if you’re unsure of anything.

All data collected remains both anonymous and confidential.

If you have additional comments or information – not covered by the survey – please feel free to email me at mick@libraryrfid.co.uk.

The survey will close on May 25th.

Thank you!

Complete the survey here.

12. February 2014 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

The quote is from Dave Pattern who was jokingly responding to a tweet of mine on the subject of using RFID for security only. I suspect Dave’s view – in common with many others in the library world – might be that standards are really rather boring and, since they are optional, not worth worrying about too much.

Today I learned of a former client of mine that I had helped buy an RFID solution for their city a little while ago. At the time we insisted on adherence to standards and mandated ISO 28560-2 – the data standard for library use of RFID.

One of the fields used in ISO 28560 is something called the ISIL (International Standard Identifier for Libraries). Basically it’s an identifier that shows which library actually owns the item that’s been tagged. In the UK this number is supplied by the British Library’s ISIL agency other countries have similar agencies and many use their OCLC ID (also valid under the terms of ISO 28560).

Many libraries may never have occasion to use this information but since it costs nothing to add it (the space is reserved for it anyway) I am at something of a loss to understand why everyone isn’t doing this.

Particularly if they seek to emulate the national lending system that operates in Denmark for example. There, items may be freely borrowed and returned from any location in the country  - all managed by the ISIL.

Who knows? One day UK libraries might need this information too – especially if we are ever going to create something that truly resembles a national service. But some countries are already making their plans – and one has just discovered, like my client, that despite having demanded adherence to ISO 28560-2 their tags don’t carry this data.

The reason why is a bit complicated – the library in question isn’t in the UK and so didn’t use the UK data model – which mandates the ISIL code. But it raises concerns that other libraries may THINK they are complying with standards – but aren’t.

It will not be helpful to discover that you can’t easily identify your own stock if local government decides to share resources across authorities – or if national government wants to implement a national library service worthy of the name. So it may be worth checking your tags now…

And yes Dave. There are a lot of standards. But only one for RFID data. :)

18. December 2013 · 4 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

This morning Alan Wylie mentioned me in a tweet about Lambeth Council’s intention to spend up to half a million pounds on RFID equipment over the next five years using something called a “framework agreement”. It quite spoiled my morning coffee.

Let me tell you why…

SS kiosk bt

Many years ago framework agreements were introduced to simplify the procurement process for local authorities. Basically the idea was that ‘experts’ would draw up contract schedules that could be used by local authorities to buy equipment and services without them having to do all that cumbersome investigation and assessment before spending millions of pounds. The experts would do it for them. It’s not a bad idea, provided you have the experts.

One of the organisations offering to carry out this complex work on behalf of councils is ESPO, the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation. In 2010 ESPO’s library RFID experts drew up a new framework agreement to make the process of buying self-service equipment for libraries much simpler. (Other Purchasing Organisations are available including, the Central Buying Consortium (CBC), North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO), West Mercia Supplies (WMS), and Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (YPO). Together with ESPO these make up the “Pro5” group – “five of the largest public sector professional buying organisations in the UK with a combined purchasing power in excess of £2 billion per annum”).

Now I have to declare an interest here. Back in 2007 I had seen a copy of ESPO’s original framework agreement and was sufficiently alarmed by its apparent lack of understanding of library IT that I wrote to them to suggest some changes. They didn’t answer.

Again in 2010 – when ESPO added new suppliers to a new framework agreement I wrote about my concerns that it might not be fit for purpose on my blog. By then it was apparent to most independent observers that, contrary to ESPO’s thesis, RFID was not in fact a commodity product that could be ‘called off’ from stock once a price had been fixed. That approach was a bit like buying your new toaster in Singapore and expecting to use it in Towcester. Lots of disappointed UK librarians had already begun to hide dysfunctional hardware in their basements by 2010.

Obviously a new agreement was now needed to deal with the more complex issues of integration with library automation systems, incorporating new data standards being published by the ISO (International Standards Organisation) and ending the supplier ‘lock-in’ that the original frameworks had helped to create.

Or so I thought.

I wrote to ESPO’s experts offering to help them revise the framework – free of charge – in any way I could.  I thought that perhaps my 30 years of experience working in library automation, combined with my role in bringing together all the major UK RFID suppliers to agree to support a UK data standard, (as most European libraries had already done) might be relevant. I pointed out that I worked entirely as an adviser to libraries and the industry, was a member of various standards bodies, had no commercial interest in supplying equipment and spoke at conferences all over the world on library use of RFID.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that ESPO’s expertise lies in the science of procurement rather than technology. (ESPO take a percentage off of every deal for which the framework is used from the suppliers they approve). I received a polite reply advising me that the framework was fine thank you, and needed no input from any so-called ‘experts’, standards organisations or anyone else and that no, I couldn’t see a copy.

So that battle was lost. But I wasn’t too downhearted. I knew that slowly RFID systems that hadn’t been designed to limit choice and prevent buyers from going elsewhere to seek competitive bids would slowly disappear as new, post-2011 contracts would be using data standards supported by everyone.

And then I saw Lambeth’s announcement.

Now I have known for some time that many councils are turning libraries into hubs to deliver council services. Sometimes this is done well and sometimes not so well, but this is not an argument about whether that’s a process we should welcome or not.

It’s not even an argument about whether framework agreements are a good idea or not. It’s an argument about whether councils are using them correctly.

Libraries – like all council services – are under enormous pressure to save money. One of the ways that they seek to do this is by introducing self-service equipment in their branches. One of the ways they can buy this equipment is through the ESPO 350 framework.

Another way that councils can save money is by making the public use self-service to do other things like paying council tax or applying for benefits.

It was probably Hounslow that first saw the possibility of using the same machines that delivered self-service loans to deliver other council services. They introduced a Bibliotheca product called “My Community” to their branches back in 2011 (and at my invitation presented about it at the RFID conference later that same year). Many other local authorities have followed suit since.

Now of course councils are accountable for the financial decisions they make and there are laws and regulations that ensure that they seek competitive bids before making expensive procurements. No doubt the voters of Hounslow, the Isle of Wight, and elsewhere will want to know how their councils went about buying “My Community” for their libraries, and no doubt proper procedures were followed. What’s a bit different about Lambeth is that their submission contains the following statement:

“RFID technology is common in many libraries across the UK. At its most basic it can allow citizens to deposit and borrow items (books, CDs, DVDs) using self-service machines. A more advanced version also allows people to make non-library related payments to the Council (e.g. Council Tax and rent). The Commission reached the view that the introduction of RFID self-service technology into the Lambeth Library Service was critical both to ensure the future sustainability of the service and to support the introduction of co-production and adoption of a cooperative model.”

which appears to suggest that RFID is needed to run the “My Community” software which – according to the presentation given by Laing and Bibliotheca’s representatives in 2011 – it isn’t.

“My Community” isn’t a “more advanced” (whatever that is) version of RFID – it’s a proprietary software product developed by Capita and Bibliotheca. It might well use RFID to read membership cards or it might not – but plenty of other applications can do that – but the way in which RFID is used to deliver library services has absolutely nothing to do with how “My Community” delivers other services.

So to make the case for “calling off” almost £400K’s worth of RFID equipment for Lambeth’s libraries one might presume that ESPO’s 350 framework agreement also covers the use of “My Community”. If it doesn’t then how can Lambeth justify buying software to run its non-library, non-RFID services by referencing an agreement that deals exclusively with RFID in libraries? I’ve written to ESPO again this morning to ask for a copy of the current agreement. So far they have advised me that the framework can only be seen by people who are using it to make procurements. (“that’s a hell of a catch, that Catch-22”)

So there may well be other companies that could offer a more competitive solution – indeed one that wouldn’t be restricted to libraries but unless there’s a tender process it’s impossible to know.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that anyone is doing anything wrong here. I am however suggesting that supplying something as complicated as integrated council IT services using a system designed to manage library loans might go slightly beyond the remit of the framework agreement – but since we can’t see it, we can’t know. But certainly there’s nothing on ESPO’s site to suggest that 350 deals with anything other than buying RFID equipment for libraries. (Not even how to make it work when you’ve bought it!)

Many councils have circumvented the EU procurement process (entirely legally) to buy products like My Community after they have installed self-service machines in their libraries (often using the library budget to do so). Generally the product can be priced below the threshold that would otherwise trigger a tender process.

Lambeth’s more democratic and upfront approach acknowledges that buying My Community is one of the reasons for spending the library budget by “calling off” more RFID equipment from an existing framework agreement, one that may not contain a single reference to non-library, non-RFID services.

It’s certainly a more honest approach.

A more cynical person might suggest that using the library budget and an inappropriate library framework agreement to buy services that many believe will eventually bring about the destruction of the library service is the ultimate irony.

But I’m far too positive a person to make such a suggestion myself.

09. December 2013 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

20131209-183531.jpg

Here’s an interesting puzzle! I was sent this picture earlier today by Pat Fader of St Albert Public Library in Alberta, Canada. No-one knows what caused the damage (a microwave has been ruled out) and Pat wondered if I’d run into anything like this before. I haven’t, but maybe someone out there has?

I recently published data about this year’s RFID usage survey which suggested that the popularity of ISO 28560 and the UK data model has increased significantly over the past year.

However it seems that not everyone knows quite what is required to actually deploy the standard since those nice people at BIC have recently received a plea from the British Library for their help in persuading librarians to give them more warning about requesting their library code from their ISIL agency. They mentioned this to me and I thought it might be helpful to explain what is is and how to get one on the blog.

The ISIL (International Standard Identifier for Libraries) forms one of three mandatory elements in the UK data model (more information here) and may, in the case of UK libraries, be either the BL ISIL code – available from the agency – or an OCLC code – if the library is registered with that organisation. Its purpose is to ensure that an item can be traced to its owning organisation – for ILL, consortia working or resource sharing for example.

If you plan to use ISO 28560-2 and the UK data model please ensure that you obtain the ISIL code before installation day or you may risk delaying your project.

 

22. September 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

It’s been an interesting week for RFID users.

It began with a question from Connie Moss (from I think Garland City, TX) on the US Library RFID list about buying tags. She’d been advised to buy tags with an SLIX chip on board and wanted to know how to tell what chips she had already.

A seemingly innocent question, but it proved to be the trigger for one of the most prolonged and wide-ranging discussions on the lists in a long time.

The initial response to Connie’s question came from my colleague Lori Ayre of the Galecia Group who advised Connie to keep using the chips she had as there weren’t sufficiently compelling reasons to switch to SLIX – and besides using some of its features might mean abandoning the NISO recommended RFID tag standard – ISO 28560.

This prompted a lengthy response from the other side of the world by Australian Alan Butters of Sybis who pointed out that there were issues surrounding the use of smartphones equipped with NFC that might make the use of SLIX, or possibly even SLIX-S chips a good idea.

At this point I copied these threads to the UK Library RFID list as the whole issue of NFC is one I’ve been talking about for some time now and I thought the discussion would be of interest to UK librarians. I have no intention of rehearsing all the arguments that followed on the blog. If you want the detail you can find them all here.

Suffice it to say that by the end of the week the debate had moved on to encompass the relationship between RFID and LMS suppliers, the nature of library security in general, the relative merits of an Open Source approach vs the narrow self-interest of the commercial market – with contributions from commercial suppliers and concerned librarians alike.

I began to find it all a bit confusing myself and thought that others might as well – so I thought it might be helpful to make a few simple points of my own – in the hope of not confusing things further.

The initial question concerned security – specifically RFID security. By one of those quirks of technological development the library RFID market is facing a challenge not of its own making. The term “RFID” covers a wide range of products, devices and frequencies. Almost all UK (and most US and Australian) libraries use the same frequency tags in their stock – 13.56MHz. By a wonderful irony this is the same frequency used by yet another kind of RFID – Near Field Communication (NFC).

Now NFC, like other RF devices such as the readers available with Arduino, has been around for a while and has always posed something of a threat to library users. Anyone equipped with the right device has been able to read and write data to library tags operating at the same frequency and using a compatible air interface for some time now but – outside of the labs, experiments at home and events like Chips and Mash (in Huddersfield in 2010) – no-one has seen fit to use this capability  to wreak havoc in a library.

What has changed is the decision by many smartphone manufacturers to include NFC in their devices. Put very simply that means anyone with the right kind of smartphone or tablet could, using a free “app” read and write data to library tags.

The initial discussion centred on the likelihood of this happening – and what steps might be taken to prevent it. There are, as both Alan and Paul Chartier point out in the list exchanges, a number of ways in which individual libraries may be able to protect themselves against theft or scrambled data but without the co-operation of LMS suppliers most of the solutions bring problems of their own. Locking down the tags may seem like a good idea but it’s a “knee-jerk” response that will limit both the development of the technology and interoperability between applications and library services.

RFID suppliers are aware of the problem – but it is not one of their making and possibly not one they can elegantly solve. There is a clear and pressing need to find a solution which, in my opinion, will require rather more engagement from the LMS market – whether Open Source or proprietary – than we have seen up to now. One of the solutions originally put forward by Alan in 2012 would be to use the tag UID in conjunction with the LMS database – and idea reworked by Eric Grosshans of ISNG in this week’s discussion.

The debate looks like continuing for a while yet. I’m going to be watching with interest. In the meantime I’ve begun approaching suppliers with a view to brokering a meeting to develop a common approach to finding a solution. Early responses are encouraging.

If you have a specific question about any aspect of this issue please feel free to contact me – or post on the blog.

For some time now I’ve been concerned about the relatively narrow focus of the London Library RFID conference. To be honest was never sure why RFID was seen as something ‘separate’ from other aspects of library automation. I have even wondered at times if the existence of the conference might in part be responsible for the disconnect between library management systems and RFID based solutions that appears to exist in some librarians’ minds.

In reality RFID applications generally don’t exist in isolation but are inextricably linked with the LMS/ILS – not always in as integrated a manner as we might hope – but reliant to a very large degree on each other.

So why have different events for management systems and RFID solutions?

Then there are the new mobile technologies – NFC equipped smartphones and tablets bring new apps and location-aware services into our increasingly mobile lives. How do they fit into the bigger automation picture?

So when Andy Walsh and I followed the R2 conference on Twitter last year we made contact about the possibility of running something similar in the UK. Andy – being a far more industrious person than I put in a prodigious amount of effort into venues and programmes and announced that a new event – i2c2 – would take place in Manchester from 6th-7th March 2014.

I’m delighted to have been asked to help promote the event – and to try and persuade the RFID industry to do likewise. The aim of the conference is to encourage innovation, inspiration and creativity in libraries. My hope is that this won’t just apply to the many librarians that will be attending – but also to the suppliers that will hopefully help to make it possible. Closer contact between technology suppliers is as essential as between them and their clients.

So this year there will not be a CILIP RFID in Libraries conference in November. Save your pennies to get to Manchester in March 2014 instead!

19. April 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Last week I accepted a long-standing invitation to visit Bibliotheca’s impressive new facilities in Cheadle Hulme. Happily for me the meeting (almost) exactly coincided with the launch of their latest library products. More »

01. February 2013 · 6 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

 

It has been a far from quiet week in library RFID land…

One issue has been exercising librarians on both sides of the pond this week – security. More »

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