This year’s survey was not actively promoted outside of the English-speaking world. Without the support of suppliers and others it is frankly beyond my means and ability to attempt a truly global survey.

Nevertheless a few readers of my blog and followers on Twitter did take the time and trouble to answer the survey in English – and I am extremely grateful for their support.

With such limited numbers it is not possible to gain any kind of accurate picture of the international scene but the answers are nonetheless interesting.countries

There were 7 responses from 4 different countries.types

Library types were mixed – including the only National Library to have responded to this year’s survey.uses

Despite the low numbers one obvious difference between these European libraries and their counterparts in the UK, ANZ and North America is the extent to which RFID is being deployed. Everyone uses RFID to prevent theft with only one not also using it for circulation but beyond these two functions the number of libraries using RFID for User Identification, monitoring in-house use of stock and automated materials handling were all proportionately higher than outside of the European market.suppliers

Bibliotheca+3M were once again in the majority in these European libraries with both Nedap and Autocheck appearing for the first time in this survey – both in the Netherlands. One other Dutch supplier – that I know very well! – also completed the survey but their answers are not included as I was only looking for the opinions of librarians.

All the respondents use HF frequency solutions and all use SIP to communicate with their library management software. Only one also used an API to deliver additional functionality.

Only Bibliotheca+3M libraries replied in sufficient numbers to be worth analysis and their results are given in the following table,

Poor Not very good Good enough Very good
Answering helpdesk calls? 0% 0% 100% 0%
Responding to development requests? 0% 50% 50% 0%
Quality of their advice? 0% 0% 75% 25%
Resolution of hardware problems? 0% 0% 75% 25%
Quality of project management? 0% 0% 50% 50%
Response to equipment failures? 0% 25% 50% 25%
Response to software problems? 0% 25% 50% 25%
Speed of implementation? 0% 0% 75% 25%
Relationship with your ILS/LMS/ILMS provider 0% 0% 75% 25%


Finally three libraries had found other uses for their self-service kiosks – all three allowing users to make catalogue enquiries. No-one used their kiosks for non-library services and no-one had, so far, allowed library users to use NFC equipped smartphone in conjunction with stock.

There were no additional comments.


A very low response from the USA this year, but a better one from Canada so I have combined the responses from both countries to produce a view of the North American market as a whole.types

A total of 24 organisations responded 18 from the USA and 6 from Canada. In both countries the public sector appears to have invested most heavily in RFID (100% in Canada). The ‘Other academic’ category comprised 3 community colleges and 1 research institution.uses


Circulation and theft prevention tied for the most popular use of RFID at 23 each. Both collection management (13), and automated materials handling (12) were more popular than in previous surveys, AMH significantly higher than in either of the other international markets examined so far. Each of the bottom four applications listed here represents only one library – relatively lower than in the other markets examined.frequencies

North American users appear to be much better informed about the frequencies they use in their library RFID solutions. Only 1 library claimed to be using UHF supplied by a company that does not supply this option. The rest either identified HF as their chosen frequency or did not answer the question.ils

Dependence on SIP in North America is the highest of all the markets analysed. Only one library was not using SIP – 4 used both SIP and APIs. The most common use of APIs appears to be in conjunction with Automated Materials Handling (AMH). This is an area of library activity that in the USA in particular appears to be more open to competition than elsewhere with several respondents indicating that they had purchase an AMH solution from a different supplier to that which supplied their other RFID applications.suppliers

A very similar pattern to the UK and again completely different to Australia and New Zealand Bibliotheca+3M dominate the North American market. (All the Canadian libraries that replied were their clients except one that declined to give a name).

The list of ILS/RFID partnerships is as follows,



Innovative Interfaces & Bibliotheca+3M 5
SirsiDynix & Bibliotheca+3M 4
Ex Libris & Bibliotheca+3M 2
Polaris & Bibliotheca+3M 2
Evergreen & Bibliotheca+3M 1
Polaris & Envisionware 1
Polaris & Techlogic 1
SirsiDynix & Checkpoint 1
SirsiDynix & Sentry 1
SirsiDynix & Techlogic 1
TLC & Techlogic 1


Supplier satisfaction tables for each of the nine areas assessed follow below,










I asked respondents if they wished to make any additional comments about supplier performance. There were a few (5) concerns expressed about the changes at Bibliotheca+3M – about the same percentage as in the UK. I’ve omitted those from those from this very short list,

  • We’ve ended up developing local expertise for our sorting system, and call (our supplier) much less frequently.
  • Ordering RFID tags takes forever! Communication is terrible. Wrong send to name, shipped to wrong address, no response, etc.


Only one (Canadian) library indicated that their members had access to NFC applications that interacted directly with library stock, which allowed them to  discover related items. Four used self-service kiosks for operations other than circulation, one for booking library assets and two for catalogue enquiries, the remaining one did not say what else they did. No libraries used library kiosks for non-library purposes.

Finally, respondents were asked to share any additional thoughts they might have about the survey or RFID in general. There was only one reply – from Canada,

  • I would like to see smartphone apps that will check out library materials and disarm the security to cut down on the need for self check out stations, etc.

Having visited several Australian and New Zealand libraries over the past ten years I understand that there are very significant differences between the two countries! However, in terms of the supply and deployment of RFID technology they are very much closer to each other than to other significant library RFID markets so I hope my ANZ followers will forgive me for analysing their results together.types

A total of 79 organisations responded to this year’s survey 66 from Australia and 13 from New Zealand. In both countries the public sector appears to have invested most heavily in RFID (although the figure for New Zealand was slightly lower at 63%). This contrasts sharply with the picture in the UK where universities have long been in the majority – certainly in terms of their willingness to complete the survey!uses


Circulation (76) is once again the major use of RFID with theft prevention (63) in second place. These are followed by collection management (42), and monitoring stock use in the library (33), access control (10) is however much less popular than in the UK while acquisition and accession handling (22) and automated materials handling (18) are both relatively more widely deployed.frequencies

As I have mentioned elsewhere my reason for including this question is twofold. Knowing the frequency s probably the single most important thing to understand about an RFID installation so the answers to this question help me gain an understanding of how much librarians understand about the technology. A secondary reason is to assess the extent of the library UHF market.

In Australia and New Zealand, like the UK, the probability of libraries using UHF is low (although there are more UHF suppliers) as major RFID suppliers in the two counties only supply HF solutions. Of the 15% that reported using UHF solutions 75% said they bought them from FE Technologies, the rest were equally divided between Bibliotheca+3m and Checkpoint whilst one declined to give the name of their supplier.sip

Dependence on SIP in Australia and New Zealand is significantly higher than in the UK (it will be interesting to see the US numbers). Both libraries that reported using an API were clients of the same supplier (FE Technologies) though neither appeared to be using functionality over and above that already supported by SIP (and both reported using SIP as well).  It would be interesting to know what the APIs are being used to provide but only one of the respondents indicated a willingness to be contacted while the other has not replied to my enquiry.suppliers

A chart that speaks for itself. FE Technologies were already the major force in the market when I conducted the last survey in 2014 and their acquisition by Invengo appears to have increased their momentum significantly.

FE Technologies dominance of the market almost renders comparative analysis redundant but there is always a demand for information about which ILS and RFID suppliers work with each other so here’s that list,



SirsiDynix & FE Technologies 18
Libero & FE Technologies 8
Softlink & FE Technologies 8
Civica & FE Technologies 5
Access IT & FE Technologies 4
AMLIB & FE Technologies 3
Ex Libris & FE Technologies 3
OCLC & FE Technologies 3
SirsiDynix & Bibliotheca+3M 3
Civica & Bibliotheca+3M 2
Aurora & FE Technologies 1
Capita & Checkpoint 1
Civica & Envisionware 1
Innovative Interfaces & FE Technologies 1
Koha & Bibliotheca+3M 1
Kotui & FE Technologies 1
Softlink & Envisionware 1


The remaining charts show the results for one of the main areas of interest for librarians – supplier performance. I asked how well each performed against nine criteria. Each bar represents the percentage of users of each solution expressing that opinion.











I also asked respondents if they wished to make any additional comments about supplier performance. Here’s what they said,

  • We had unacceptable service from 3M here in NZ, and from other libraries I’ve spoken to, our situation is not unique. 3M are now out of libraries in NZ, and have handed over to Bibliotheca.
  • Bug fixes seem to take a long time to be developed
  • I find that from the purchase of the item to the installation, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of communication between the sales person and the installer.
  • It took some weeks to resolve all issues on a branch new kiosk this year.
  • The provider responds to problems quite well, HOWEVER, the problems we have with the product are huge. Every day there is something that doesn’t work and we are tired of calling and calling to have things fixed.
  • It is proving much more difficult & far slower than it should be to get our RFID provider, our library consortia’s tech helpdesk and our LMS provider to communicate with each other to resolve interop issues between our RFID gear and the LMS, and to keep us (the library) in the loop. This feels like pulling teeth.
  • We find that the company don’t follow through unless we push them and keep on contacting them.
  • Communication is below standard
  • Response times have improved
  • They are quick to answer calls and log them, but fixing problems tends to take a long time


Only two libraries indicated that their members had access to NFC applications that interacted directly with library stock, one of them for self-issue and the other for discovering items related to items in hand. Ten reported using the self-service kiosks for operations other than circulation, two for booking library assets and five for catalogue enquiries, the remaining three did not indicate the other purposes for which they were used. One library reported using library kiosks for non-library purposes but declined to say what these might be.

Finally, respondents were asked to share any additional thoughts they might have about the survey or RFID in general. This is what they said. I have emphasised areas to which I will return in my final summary of these results at the end of the week.

  • I don’t think libraries are currently using RFID to its full potential. Having worked at several RFID enabled libraries, they mostly use them as barcode replacements. I’m still waiting for the next level innovative use of RFID technology. Additionally, while our RFID system doesn’t directly use SIP2 to communicate with our LMS, the SIP2 connection is antiquated by today’s standards. No secure encryption, limited query fields to name but a few. Direct APIs or the fabled ‘SIP3’ with https enabled has been too long coming. I have questioned RFID vendors who use SIP2 to send client data to off site servers about security and have got unsatisfactory answers.
  • We are building a new library and will not be installing RFID.
  • We are very happy with our RFID system and our customers take up of it.
  • We’re keen to see what opportunities that the combination of NFC & our new web-based LMS can offer us in terms of enabling mobile library / pop-up library functionality, fully connected to real-time circulation functionality. However, it seems that we’ll need to initiate our own investigations to go down this path, as neither our RFID provider nor our LMS provider have as yet laid out any ready-to-go plans / offerings on how to do this, or intimated that such things are in the works. In any event, we figure that this should be possible with minimal capital outlay, once we can put the pieces together (NFC-enabled smartphone / tablet, & NFC / barcode apps that integrate well with the LMS).
  • We love the (supplier’s) RFID system as it is user friendly for the customers and it is a very reliable system but we get frustrated with the consistency of support the company provides. We feel we have to keep sending messages asking for an update on the situation.

This survey required a technical knowledge that I don’t have. I was not the person who managed the implementation of the RFID technology, they have since left.  I manage the technology and when there is a problem I report it to the help

A total of 115 UK organisations responded to this year’s survey – down from the 144 that completed the last survey in 2014. This is perhaps not too surprising partly because this year’s survey received no external support or publicity and partly because of the growth of consortia. In London for example there was no response from London Library Consortium (LLC) members – previously most members had replied individually. This may in part account for the apparent decline of the public library sector’s share of the library RFID market.types

A total of 57 universities and 41 public libraries replied this year. This is far from being a representation of the numbers of UK libraries using the technology. In 2014 I aggregated responses from all the previous surveys and listed 141 public libraries that were known to be using RFID then. It seems unlikely that any of them have disposed of the technology since so the real number is likely to be even higher now.

Other sectors represented include Health (6), Other Academic (mainly 6th form colleges), Schools (2) and one that self-identified as being both public and school.uses

As might be expected circulation (105) remains the major use of RFID with theft prevention (81) following close behind. However other uses are clearly on the increase with collection management (42), monitoring stock use in the library (35), accession/acquisition management (22) and automated materials handling (mostly sorting) (22) becoming more common than in previous years.frequencies

This is one of my pet questions and has appeared in every survey since they began. My reason for including it is in part to try and assess the level of understanding of the technology among librarians and partly to track the spread of UHF solutions in the global library market.

In the UK the probability of libraries using UHF is actually quite low as all of the major RFID suppliers in the country only supply HF solutions. Of the 13% that reported using UHF solutions 67% said they bought them from Bibliotheca+3M, 20% from 2CQR while 13% did not identify their supplier at all.sip

A question designed to determine how dependent the industry is on the SIP protocol.

All RFID solutions (for the moment) rely on data exchange with the LMS to determine what course of action they should take with every transaction. Historically (the protocol is 30 years old now) this has been achieved using the Standard Interchange Protocol (SIP) originally designed by 3M. More recently we have seen a growth in the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to provide additional functionality unsupported by SIP.suppliers

In previous years the overall share had been dominated by Bibliotheca and 3M and the newly combined company still retains the lion’s share of the market. 2CQR and D Tech continue to provide the main competition but two new players have emerged since 2014 – Solus and SA Secure (each reported by a single library).

Axiell’s showing remains quite low despite the changes in their supply model that I reported on earlier in the year. Paradoxically – given Axiell’s advertised intent to be a one-stop shop for LMS and RFID their only showings as an LMS supplier in this year’s survey showed them paired with D Tech and Bibliotheca+3M whilst their single RFID site uses Civica’s LMS. The full list of LMS/RFID pairings is as follows (LMS first):


Ex Libris & Bibliotheca+3M 16
SirsiDynix & Bibliotheca+3M 14
Capita & Bibliotheca+3M 13
Axiell & Bibliotheca+3M 8
Innovative Interfaces & Bibliotheca+3M 7
IS (Oxford) & 2CQR 4
Civica & Bibliotheca+3M 3
Capita & 2CQR 2
Innovative Interfaces & 2CQR 2
IS (Oxford) & Bibliotheca+3M 2
PTFS/Liblime & Bibliotheca+3M 2
SirsiDynix & 2CQR 2
SirsiDynix & DTech 2
Axiell & DTech 1
Capita & DTech 1
Civica & 2CQR 1
Civica & Axiell 1
Evergreen & Bibliotheca+3M 1
Ex Libris & 2CQR 1
Ex Libris & DTech 1
Infor & Bibliotheca+3M 1
Innovative Interfaces & DTech 1
IS (Oxford) & DTech 1
Koha & Bibliotheca+3M 1
Softlink & Bibliotheca+3M 1

The next section of the survey focused on customer service. Responders were invited to assess their RFID supplier’s performance in nine areas. I have excluded Axiell, Solus and SA Secure from the analysis since only one customer replied for each of them. Whilst there may well be more customers out there for all three I have no way of knowing, and since I guarantee the anonymity of everyone’s responses I have no choice but to exclude these three companies to protect the identity of my contributors.

The results for 2CQR, Bibliotheca+3M and D Tech follow in the next nine tables.










In addition to asking respondents to assess specific areas of supplier performance I also invited them to make any additional comments they felt might be relevant.

The following is a selection of the more printable comments.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (change is always difficult) there was considerable concern over the merger of Bibliotheca and 3M. I have not included them here to protect their author’s anonymity. Anyone who wishes me to include their comments please let me know and I will add them (unattributed) to this post.

  • Our ILS provider does very little with SIP compared to our previous provider. Obviously not a priority in the States so no development work carried out over here.
  • Not been able to fully implement self-service. have now decided to abandon this supplier.
  • We work on a partnership basis with (our supplier) – it is a positive relationship – and a longstanding one.
  • General communication is very poor.
  • Not good at keeping software at up to date versions and same versions across all kiosks and other software
  • Handheld scanner has never worked – given up trying to resolve this.
  • Moving our ILS into a hosted SaaS environment, establishing a more secure connection to the new server. Looking into SIP over https.
  • Quick enough to get a contract – not sure what we pay our service contract for as I seem to have to do most of the initial troubleshooting and issues are still problematic years after implementation.
  • Account management is non-existent. It seems the lack of competition in the marketplace allows them to simply not have to try, in any respect.
  • A lot of RFID suppliers, our current one in particular, are still selling overpriced equipment, with similarly overpriced support contracts, whilst offering a much lower level of support… They are still seeing local authorities as a cash cow. Considering the cost of the component parts have dropped by an enormous amount since our last implementation, the equipment from the majority of suppliers has not followed suit.  This is seriously bringing the viability of continued use of RFID for self-service and security in to question.


  • We got a book sorter in late 2011. It took over a year to get it working reliably.  However, it is now integral to the library workflow — it is a major problem if stops working.
  • The service we receive from the online helpdesk and remote first line support is laughable. The engineers who visit to fix things are generally very good. My complaints are less to do with the equipment which is fairly reliable, and more to do with the cutting corners approach adopted by our supplier which means that problems take far longer than they should to be resolved.
  • Suppliers should take on duty and cost to use ISO standard RFID tags (upgrade hardware and software)
  • One of our biggest challenges at present is remote support. Our supplier can’t diagnose issues remotely and wants access inside our corporate network but IT security policies block this. Sometimes our supplier then refuses to send someone out and we have to do triage to prove the issue is hardware.
  • Week commencing 24 October 2016 I enquired about having the customers lending history on the kiosk and was told it would not be available for at least 2 years.


The next question sought to determine whether Near Field Communication (NFC) was being used in library operations at all. NFC is the technology behind a number of smartphone apps – such as Apple Pay – and allows users to interact directly with library stock. Having seen examples of this capability in action I was eager to discover whether many UK libraries were yet using it.

The answer was yes – from 4 libraries. One was using it to enable library users to borrow their own items the other three were using stock as a discovery tool by reading the RFID tags. (An extension of the solution implemented by Oslo public library that first featured in one of my presentations four years ago). I have not produced a chart for such a low level of activity.

Similarly I asked if libraries were using their circulation self-service kiosks for library purposes other than circulation. 14 replies said ‘yes’ although some implied that they were in fact using separate kiosks rather than those used for circulation. The other uses were:

Booking other library assets                                                                      5

Catalogue enquiries                                                                                      3

Managing printing                                                                                         5

Tourist enquiries, Flickr,  Heritage (separate kiosks)                        1


The penultimate question asked whether self-service kiosks were being used to deliver non-library services – like paying council tax bills etc. No-one was.


Finally I asked for comments on any aspect of RFID/NFC use that respondents felt moved to make. Here is a selection of their replies. I’ve emphasised some of the points in bold. I’ll be returning to these in my analysis at the end of the week.


  • We have just changed LMS provider and are hoping to develop the use of NFC and RFID further in the coming year.
  • SIP2 constraints are proving a real headache and mean we’re providing a 2nd rate service to our RFID branch users.
  • In relation to NFC, we are aware that our users have access to apps on Android devices that would enable them to do things with RFID tags. However, there is no library app.
  • When we refreshed our RFID solution we asked (our supplier) to also have their tagging software installed. Thus allowing staff/volunteers to tag new stock or check the status of tags at the kiosks rather having to take the borrower to a staff PC to check this. This has saved us valuable time and helped us complete the customer journey at the kiosk instead of going from the kiosk to the staff PC and then back to the kiosk. We also wanted to launch chip and PIN payments on our kiosks but due to the high fees that the card payment provider was going to charge that (our supplier) put us contact with we were unable to offer this facility. Hopefully now that we are with (new supplier) we may be able to offer this service. We are also looking to offer self-service kiosk (desktop version) on our mobile library service too going forward.
  • The market in the UK has contracted significantly – this is a concern for the future.
  • Our RFID supplier has added all manner of bells and whistles to the kiosks’ capability but we aren’t interested in that. (In response to using kiosks for non-library service delivery)
  • Would like an RFID accessioning solution that integrates with Aleph
  • Looking to the future the developments around NFC are potentially exciting and we are keen to explore them; the idea of our Library users carrying out their own circulation transactions AND supplying the hardware is interesting! However, there is potentially risk around the use of NFC and I don’t feel that I’m particularly up to speed on that front. We are also keeping half an eye (thanks BIC for monitoring this on our behalf) on developments around potential EU requirements in respect of RFID privacy.
  • I felt that this year’s survey could have done with some questions about the longevity of the hardware in service. Although the cost of RFID self-service machines has come down quite a lot over the last 10 years, many users who run multi-site operations will have made a substantial investment in this kit. Many of those who’ve adopted solutions over the last few years won’t have run up against the problem of what to do about replacing it yet but some who’ve been using RFID for a while longer may have found themselves shopping for new kit after their existing hardware has, apparently, become obsolete overnight for no obvious technical reason. Many suppliers claim that they have a customer in a library somewhere in the depths of England who still has a kiosk that was implemented in Roman Times that is still going strong but it would be interesting to know how this experience tallies with the typical experience of customers. Having said this, perhaps the only thing that is sure if you buy an RFID system today is that it’s got an even chance of lasting as long as the supplier who sold you the kit. This is true irrespective of whether you buy it from: a bloke operating from the garden shed who could decide to retire to Bognor Regis as soon as your payment has gone through; a large multinational company with many fingers in many pies who could decide tomorrow on a whim that they’re a bit bored with RFID; or from an international specialist supplier that is backed by an investment capital company, which could turn around tomorrow and decide to cut its losses and sell the whole thing to an unsuspecting punter for £1.


This year’s survey closed on 15th November and drew 356 responses – mainly from the UK, Australia and New Zealand – but with some contributions from North America and English speakers elsewhere.

There were 356 replies in total but after removing the mischievous, malicious and an unusually high number of duplicates entries only 207 ‘valid’ entries could be processed.Muntpunt checkout

Duplicates – by which I mean additional replies from the same organisation – are always a problem as there will always be members of staff with different views on issues like levels of service. Wherever possible I verified which respondent had responsibility for managing RFID systems and used their responses. Where this was not possible I selected the responses that had shown an understanding of RFID – knew which frequency was in use, knew the name of their ILS/LMS system for example – rather than the ones that only answered the questions on supplier performance (many of which were either entirely very positive or very negative).

There were several reasons for conducting the survey. I wanted to establish whether the obvious potential of RFID for library service development was showing any sign of being realised. With Near Field Communication (NFC) – a technology that enables smartphones to interact directly with library stock – now widely available I wanted to try and discover whether it had yet found its way out of the laboratory and into the commercial sector.

Another area of interest is the extent to which RFID devices designed for library use were being used to deliver other services. In 2013 Lambeth announced its intention to spend £373,420 of its library budget  on a product called ‘My Community’ – designed to deliver council services via self-service kiosks. I wanted to discover how successful that initiative had been.

Finally I wanted to try and ascertain how well suppliers were serving their clients. This was because of a growing number of emails received expressing concerns about deterioration of service. It’s a perennial complaint, I just wanted to try and gauge whether it was any worse than in previous years.

With the UK and ANZ accounting for most of the replies received I’ve decided to publish theirs separately this year, beginning with the UK. Both markets are dominated by a single supplier – Bibliotheca+3M in the UK and FE Technologies in ANZ – which tends to influence the ways in which their library RFID markets have developed and it seemed more helpful to analyse them individually.

Publication will start tomorrow with the UK results, followed rapidly by ANZ, North America and everywhere else. My analysis will follow on Friday. Between now and then I welcome – as always – your observations, comments and opinions.

I am indebted to both the National Acquisitions Group and Book Industry Communication (BIC) for sponsoring me to write a revised version of the widely used (and much copied!) Guide to Library RFID Procurement published in 2011.

A great deal has changed in the 5 years since the old guide was published. RFID has found its way into many more aspects of all of our lives, libraries included. The emergence of mobile technologies that can read library RFID tags by using an RFID technology called Near Field Communication (NFC) has opened up even more possibilities for using the technology and new applications are now appearing almost daily – some of them written by enthusiasts and students rather than the big commercial companies.

Libraries around the world can now use RFID to help them manage many more processes than simply self-service loans and returns – from building access to stock disposal and everything in-between.

So writing a new guide was something of a challenge! I should warn any plagiarist that they really won’t be able to simply this guide – or even the specification of requirements – in support of a procurement process without doing some work of their own. This guide focuses on helping you define what you want to achieve with the technology – rather than enabling suppliers to tick some boxes on a form before you hand over large sums of money for a solution that doesn’t quite deliver what you expected.

But before anyone criticises me here for being negative about those who use or supply RFID solutions I should say that both constituencies have been equally vocal in urging me to “do something” about the procurement process for some time now. It clearly helps neither party if requirements are ill-defined.

So this guide seeks to steer you toward a better definition of your needs and desires for this still developing technology whilst still ensuring that you ask the right questions – about standards, privacy etc. – of potential suppliers. Who knows what you might be able to achieve with RFID over the coming years? You may surprise yourself!

I am however mindful of the fact that many procurements are still driven by a desire to replace staff so I have tried to emphasise the questions that still need to be asked of potential suppliers to do that, so that even if you have no interest in making stock interactive, automating your accessions processes, saving money on kiosks by encouraging users to use tablets and phones, using the technology to improve user experience, facilitate consortia creation and co-operation or any of the many other things you ought to be doing with RFID you will still find it useful.

You can download a copy of the new guide here.

Pleased as I was to reach my holiday destination (Cartagena in Colombia) yesterday I was almost as excited to receive the news that self-service loans – and more – are at last available for library users in the UK.
SOLUS are, like me, based in Scotland and like me are eager to find ways to exploit the full potential of RFID and the new app does just that. Borrowers in RFID equipped libraries will be able both to issue items at the shelf and clear security in a single operation. Those still using barcodes will be able to use their devices cameras to issue items but will still have to deal with whatever security system (if any) is in use separately.

Returns can also be handled using mobile devices.

Dovetailing with the launch of “self-service” within the Library App, SOLUS has also announced the Q1 launch of “SOLUS Pay”, its mobile payment solution, which will allow users to make payments from within the App.

Initially aimed at library charges there are no payment limits with SOLUS Pay so both library services and their wider parent organisations will be able to pay other service charges through their Library App.


Full press release available here.

On Wednesday NXP made a seemingly routine product announcement about their new RFID chip designed especially for libraries – the reassuringly geeky sounding ICODE SLIX 2.

The press release doesn’t say very much about the reasons for the chip’s development, rather it concentrates on the improvements it will bring to library users of RFID technology. The more technically minded can download the full specification of the chip here.

The poor benighted librarian reading this announcement – which has been duplicated by the excellent Marshall Breeding on his website – will however probably be simultaneously confused and reassured. After all just about all the major players (in the UK RFID market at least) have made supportive and excited noises about the significance of the new product in the announcement – and I know from my annual surveys that librarians trust their suppliers above almost everybody else in the market (apart from other librarians) when it comes to RFID.

So why this post?

Well you can call me a sceptic (people do you know) but I take very little at face value and there are some threads running through this announcement that raise questions in my mind. Coupled with other information I received last week I’m beginning to wonder whether we’re about to see a realignment in the library automation world that we haven’t seen the like of since the birth of the Internet.

Let’s look at what the statement says and try and figure out what’s going on here.

After the usual “it’s all going to be so much better” messages we are told that,

“The SLIX 2 is fully compatible with existing ICODE library systems, ensuring that over 5000 public and university libraries already using ICODE SLIX and ICODE SLI based labels can migrate and benefit from the latest technology without difficulties”.

Which is good news for the 5000 (where ARE all these libraries, and how are they being counted I wonder?) but there will be many more libraries out there NOT using the ICODE family of products that won’t. Unlike most RFID users libraries tend not to replace their RFID tags – and their “product” lifecycles are significantly longer than in retail for example.

So the chances are that many libraries will still be using tags that even predate the existence of the ICODE family of products. An obvious point I know – but I know some librarians who will think that this statement means everything’s fine. When it may not be.

The next point that caught my eye was,

“In addition to improved scanning and reading capabilities the new SLIX 2 introduces near field communication (NFC) technology to enhance library services.”

Now THAT’s a really interesting way to present information that already applies to ANY RFID tag using 13.56 MHz tags (and that’s ALL of them in the UK by the way).  Regular readers will be aware that the potential for NFC devices (like smartphones and tablets) to be used to alter or delete data on RFID tags is something of an obsession of this author’s. It’s been possible for years now, what’s different is the recent surge in the number of NFC devices on the market. To me this sounds like spin – the implication that NFC has been “added” suggests that it hasn’t been possible before. But it has. For ages now.

What the data sheet will also tell you is that NXP are introducing a number of new features on this chip that will enable suppliers to password protect, and even kill tags. Librarians should consider two aspects of this news.

Firstly that this protection will only available on the new tags, and secondly that password protection may not be the answer to the problem because of the way in which libraries actually work (something frequently misunderstood both by RFID suppliers and manufacturers alike). Integration with an LMS might indeed be made more difficult if RFID suppliers start to manage additional aspects of the circulation process – and that’s one of the reasons for my opening, somewhat hyperbolic(?), remarks about change.

The last part of the announcement to which I want to draw your attention is this one,

“The new chips offer additional memory space to store dedicated URLs without compromising the library management memory areas. The URLs will point to internet spaces that contain additional information related to the book or media.

Sophisticated content, such as movie trailers, author bios, book reviews, and much more, becomes automatically accessible through NFC-enabled mobile devices as they tap marked areas on the books. “

Sound familiar?

Again regular readers (and those who have attended any of my conference presentations in the last few years) will be aware that I have long advocated the use of physical stock as a discovery tool for other resources. Examples of this obvious benefit already exist in libraries as far apart as Australia and Norway. By linking with a discovery system – or even an OPAC – library users can already enjoy the benefits of using books, DVDs etc. to discover author interviews or live performances for example (it’s already documented on this blog).

But the difference here is that the URLs that make this possible will be stored on the chip – rather than on a remote database which, in the light of the recommendations on user privacy in the EU’s mandate to standards bodies – M436 (as discussed at length on this blog and elsewhere), may be almost culpably reckless. The mandate isn’t only concerned with the data present on tags but also with what might be inferred from it. Someone carrying an item with a URL on it could easily be inadvertently advertising a personal or commercial interest to someone equipped with the right (and probably free) software on their smartphone.

So what to make of all this?

To me it all sounds like the RFID market has run out of existing products to sell to its traditional library market and has decided to take on the LMS companies for their circulation business.  It’s not a surprising development – the potential has existed for many years now, what was missing was a chip that could support the additional features that would make an entirely RFID based circulation solution possible. Until now.

Of course this is not an overnight process. First librarians will need to buy the new chips that make the reinvention of circulation possible.

I wonder what they cost?

NFC in the libraryFor some time now I’ve been trying to interest librarians, RFID and LMS suppliers and, well pretty much anybody who’ll listen, in the potential of Near Field Communication in the library. So far the response has been rather less than I’d expected. Bordering on complete disinterest in fact.

I did manage to join in a brief Twitter conversation on January 5th with American colleagues interested in getting more out of NFC initiated by NISO Director Todd Carpenter but nobody, including me, knew of any library anywhere that was using NFC for loans (or “checkout” as it’s known over there). Todd speculated that NFC adoption might happen faster outside of the US as there was wider acceptance of the technology in other parts of the world. Tom Bruno of Yale University thought that NFC might succeed where QR had failed.

Personally I felt that it would be the lack of data standards adoption in the US that would be a bigger obstacle to developing the potential of the NFC market since any company seeking to use anything other than the unique ID on an RFID tag would have to develop different solutions for each library. The UK and Australia I felt offered the best opportunity for developing new applications.

I’m in the process of writing a new book on RFID use in the library and spend many a happy hour trawling the internet for innovation. I recently discovered another Norwegian project called “UBook” that used NFC in some very imaginative ways way back in 2012. It made me wonder if there’s something in the water in Oslo since their Deichman public library has been providing me the best example of using RFID to link a library’s physical and virtual collections for some time now.

I have been speculating for some time now that in a library with public access wifi library users with NFC enabled smartphones ought to be able to take a book from the shelf, scan the tag and link directly to the library’s database to find whatever related resources – physical or virtual – the library has identified as perhaps being of interest.

Yet even in Oslo – where they clearly have talent and imagination – this doesn’t appear to be happening yet.

So what are the obstacles to making such a seemingly simple step I wonder?

Librarians I have spoken to tell me that there’s no point in creating a service that isn’t open to all, but that sounds increasingly like an argument against change to me. If I’m not housebound should I deny that service to those that are?

RFID suppliers have hinted that they are actively planning NFC developments  – FE Technologies (now part of Invengo)  in Australia and New Zealand and Bibliotheca in the UK for example – but there’s little hard information from either so far. Bibliotheca did bring an RFID scanner (attached to a smartphone) to market in 2013 but it wasn’t NFC and it was for staff use only.

Meanwhile Solus – a relative newcomer to the RFID market – tell me they have developed and even demonstrated NFC powered loans to a Scottish university but there was no interest in pursuing it any further than proof of concept. My recent suggestion – again on Twitter – that allowing users to use their own devices to borrow and return books might save expensive investment on self-service devices was met with at best disbelief and at worse ridicule – from librarians not suppliers. I still don’t know why.

Perhaps there are vested interests here that have persuaded the market that NFC has nothing to offer? RFID suppliers might not want to see their self-kiosks being replaced by smartphones perhaps? Particularly those that seek to extend their reach into new local government markets by developing new, non-library functionality for them? That seems unlikely. Why not develop smartphone apps instead?

Besides I spend a lot of time working with suppliers – LMS and RFID (and others) – and many of them are eager to find new markets for innovative products. It’s the librarians that are unenthusiastic they say.

Unenthusiastic? Or broke? If it’s the latter then surely transferring some of your service costs (painlessly) to your clients might help? A Belgian colleague disagreed. A 20% reduction in self-service kiosk demand wouldn’t result in a commensurate reduction in costs. Not even in the largest libraries? Not if ALL smartphones had NFC (which looks a pretty good bet for 2016 if not this year).

Ho hum. I guess I’d better get back to the day job. And the book.

But if anyone out there is – or plans to – start using smartphones for loans, returns, enquiry or exploration…you will let me know won’t you?

A recent article in Public Library News by my friend Ian Anstice talked about his experiences at the recent Spanish library conference in Badajoz. He had been invited to talk about the current situation in the UK – which horrified his audience – but it was another presentation that really set him thinking.

Jane Cowell – the Director of Public & Indigenous Services at State Library of Queensland in Australia – talked about library security and that set several hares running through Mr A’s thoughts – why do we need it and is it value for money being very prominent.

From my perspective it was quite refreshing to see these questions being asked at all. Security is a subject of many conversations in the world I most frequent – RFID.

In the confused and often confusing world of RFID the usual starting point for conversations I’ve had with librarians over the last seven years is not whether but when they should invest. Back in 2006 my advice was to wait until the market stabilised.

In effect that happened in 2011 when suppliers agreed to use common standards. By then more than 50% of UK libraries had spent the money anyway. Which I found rather ironic as if libraries hadn’t been so eager to buy non standards-based solutions we could have created a more open and integrated market rather earlier.

But that was then, and this is now. The main question Ian raises is, essentially, do we really need security? Which made me wonder if he has a point…

There’s not much advantage in investing in security if the cure is worse than the disease. To put that another way – is the cost of providing a solution higher than the cost of the losses? In my naïve, simplistic way I always assumed that someone somewhere does the sums when libraries go out to market for security solutions. But after reading Ian’s piece I’m not so sure.

In calculating the cost of losses we must take account not only of the actual cost of purchase but any intrinsic value of items. Are items irreplaceable, in heavy use, reference only? Would there be a reputational cost to the library of any losses? So calculating that side of the equation clearly isn’t straightforward, but is it done at all?

Then there’s the efficacy of the security. Reports from libraries switching to RFID suggest that even with pre-existing security systems up to 30% of stock listed in the catalogue cannot be traced when items are tagged. Many libraries used some form of security before they switched – and some even bought RFID solutions from the same company that sold the system being replaced. (I wonder if they got a discount on the new security system to compensate for the shortcomings of the original.)

These concerns apply to any form of security of course but – as you might imagine – my primary interest lies in the use of RFID. Are things different when the security system is based on that technology?

To answer that question let’s first return to the scenario that Jane spoke about in Spain – and that has been implemented in West Downs Library in Queensland.

West Downs use Civica’s Spydus software as their management system (variously known as the LMS, ILS and even ILMS in Anglophone countries).  Only one of their nine branches has any form of security at that one is based on UHF RFID.

Spydus – like many LMS providers these days – offer a library “app” for readers to use on their smartphones and tablets. Once “logged in” a user is known to the system and can – if the library allows it – use the app to borrow and return items. This is done by scanning the item barcode using the mobile’s camera.

In the eight branches without security theft is of an order of magnitude that the library determined to be acceptable when they did their initial analysis. Sylvia Swalling (Library Service Coordinator at West Downs) suggested to me that this is “perhaps because we are a regional library service and things are a bit more personal… ”.

In the ninth branch the security is based on a UHF solution. Unlike HF – the predominant system in use in the world’s RFID equipped libraries – UHF doesn’t use security on tags as such. Instead the status of an item is set within the LMS once the barcode has been read. If the reader tries to remove an item that has not been released the gates will sound an alarm.

In an HF system the security gates generally have only to scan a security bit on the tag to determine whether items may pass but in the UHF model every item has to be verified with the LMS. This can cause delays in busy libraries and is perhaps one reason why using security at all is viewed rather differently in Australian libraries than in say a busy Inner London authority.

In another popular form of self-service in the international market sees readers store their user ID as a barcode in an app. Users then use this “electronic” barcode in the same way as a membership card and take their device to a staff or self-service device to scan in the usual way. My local supermarket uses the same solution for crediting my loyalty account. Whilst this is sometimes represented in the literature as being a “mobile” solution it barely qualifies as such since security and validation are entirely separated from the “app”.

For those libraries (the vast majority) using HF RFID the most attractive, value for money, option would be to have the user use their own device to issue items to themselves. Since HF based security systems rely on data being written and read directly to and from the tag (rather than by having to link to the LMS) a truly mobile solution requires that devices not only read item IDs but can also write the necessary data to an item tag in order for it to be removed from the library.

This can now be achieved using devices that are NFC (Near Field Communication) enabled. But devices also need to have NFC “opened up” for use by applications – and despite introducing the technology in the iPhone 6 and 6s Apple has not yet allowed anyone else to use it. So for the moment we’re talking about Android devices only.

In one scenario a user might identify an item they wish to borrow and interact directly with it via the item tag using NFC. Then, in the same way as kiosks interact with the LMS to establish if an item can be borrowed (interpreting loan rules, checking reservations etc.) If the device receives a positive response from the LMS it can write the necessary data to the tag allowing the item to pass the security gates. Otherwise the user will be told to replace the item.

Using this approach a significant amount of the cost of expensive self-service equipment is passed onto the library user. As the number of NFC devices owned by the public grows so the number of kiosks required might be expected to fall. Security costs fall commensurately.

So far I haven’t found a company that offers this option although there are variations that come close. In the UK and ANZ some RFID suppliers now enable staff to issue items at the shelf, either via NFC Android devices or using a standard 13.56 MHz RFID scanner attached to a smartphone. It’s a halfway house to full user-powered self-service.

This recently created (and almost accidental) ability of smartphones to communicate with stock opens up a number of other possibilities for interaction of course. In house use could be monitored, linking to related resources becomes possible via the physical item and not just via the catalogue, other RFID enabled items in the library landscape might be read in the same way as QR codes – with the advantage that RFID tags are dynamic and the data they contain can be altered, whereas QR codes are static.

Now all of that is still in the future – though probably not much more than months away. So for any librarians that are now pondering whether they should ditch their expensive RFID security systems and absorb the possible consequential losses I have another suggestion. Wait a while. If you were wise enough to buy after 2011 (or have subsequently migrated to the data standard) your original investment decision may be about to unexpectedly pay off more than any of us could have imagined as RFID delivers new ways of exploiting both your physical and virtual collections.

Of course if you bought non-standards based solutions – or the UHF form of RFID none of this applies. NFC only operates at HF frequencies.

So is library security worth the money? Well like everything else, it depends. The Australian solution works in their circumstances, and could work in some UK libraries too.

But if, like most UK public libraries, you have already heavily invested in RFID I think it’s a very different matter. Can you buy RFID without the security? Yes – but why would you? The only component that would be an extra cost would be the gates – and as others have pointed out – that’s nothing like as big a figure as the rest of the RFID infrastructure and software. Consider too the possible savings to be made on staff and self-service terminals.

As with most things it pays to look at the whole picture. That will become even more important as RFID solutions become more sophisticated. The important thing is to do your homework.