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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
|OCLC & 2CQR||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.