23. May 2012 · 3 comments · Categories: Uncategorized

Over the last few weeks I have been deeply immersed in the results of the 2012 RFID survey. The ‘high level’ results were published on my website earlier in the year but with three international conference presentations and two articles to write before September  all based on the findings – I’ve been drilling down into the replies from the confused and confusing world that is the global library RFID market.

With my first deadline approaching on Friday I had better not take too much time over this post but there is so much going on at the moment that I risk communication failure on a massive level if I don’t share some news – and some concerns – right away.

The first of these concerns the tender process.

In the last 72 hours I have had the opportunity to read through two current RFPs issued by libraries in Canada.

Up until relatively recently the Canadian library RFID market has been quiet. In conversations with Canadian librarians and consultants it seemed clear that since, like the UK, Canada had no advisory body available to give advice and consultation on such matters most librarians there had opted for caution.

Ottawa and Calgary I know did the research and opted to mandate adherence to ISO 28560-2 but it seems that now libraries simply want to buy whatever is on offer – as their UK counterparts did for many years.

This is of course an approach that operates very much to the advantage of some RFID suppliers. One recent tender (issued in the last week) simply has a shopping list of tags and hardware that will be required. No consideration appears to have been given to whether the solution they will eventually buy will interoperate with anything else.

So when smartphone applications built to work with ISO 28560-2 begin to appear that library will be left wondering why their users can’t use them. When some RFID suppliers release upgraded services that operate only with ISO 28560-2 tags (and they’re building them now) that library will presumably still be wondering – “what’s a data model?”

There were two reasons why we – suppliers and librarians – spent so much time working to create a national data standard. The first was to end the technology ‘lock-in’ that either prevented libraries from ever buying any other RFID system – or tacitly agreed to forever limit themselves to using such functionality as can be supported by a barcode.

The second reason was to create a more open market – and a more homogeneous platform – in and upon which suppliers could create new functionality for a global market – rather than for a single library. Better stock management, ILL, offline circulation and smartphone integration are just a few of the things we can now confidently expect to see appearing as a result.

Anyone still buying RFID ‘by the yard’ (from less scrupulous suppliers – as my headline suggests) may as well simply ask “how much can I get for £50,000?” You have thrown away your options before you begin. Buying a system that doesn’t support a data standard was perhaps forgivable when there was no other choice. To do so now borders on the irresponsible.

Before too many UK librarians begin to feel smug about having ticked boxes their Canadian colleagues appear to have ignored they should perhaps consider whether they have done very much better.

It’s not just a matter of including “28560” in your RFP. Many UK libraries appear to believe it is. The survey showed clearly that most UK librarians still have no idea that there is a national data model or that there are different versions of 28560. For that matter, most have no idea that there are different – mutually exclusive – ways to implement it. One even insisted that they had implemented a version that their supplier does not support.

That’s without even starting to think about HF and UHF frequencies, the new EU privacy regulations, the BSI’s current efforts to issue a privacy standard for the UK or the vexed question of how best to integrate all this with existing investments – like the LMS for example. (SIP 3.0, BLCF, web services?)

The NAG/BIC guidelines on RFID procurement – or “How to write and Invitation to tender that will secure your library’s future” as I prefer to call it – has, I’m told by suppliers, been used by at least four authorities since it was published last year. Only one of them actually used it as the basis for developing a requirement for their library. The remainder simply attached it to an email or notice despite the fact that it contains multiple, mutually exclusive options.

NAG are running a seminar in Manchester on the 19th June to help those trying to do the best for their libraries get to grips with specifying their RFID requirements. There will be discussion, worked examples, guidance for scoring and evaluating bids and an update on the (fairly dramatic) changes taking place in the industry.

I’ll be there – will you?


  1. You are confirming what we have seen all along – the cache of buying RFID far outweighs the true understanding of it, the issues associated with it and future interoperability concerns. It often seems that whoever is making a buying decision treats RFID almost like a USB port, “Yea, it will work”….we are headed for some interesting times ahead when the s–t will hit the fan 🙂

  2. Helen Westmancoat

    We are not yet users of RFID, but it looks like a lot of thought is needed to ensure sustainability for the future, and as always the devil is in the detail. I have booked to attend the workshop, and will look forward to learning more and hopefully getting a better idea of what needs to go into our specification, so that we end up with a solution that works into the future.
    See you there!

  3. You mentioned that Canada had no advisory body available to give advice and consultation therefore most libraries opted for caution. Are you interested in leading a task group and form an advisory committee?
    I am currently investigating RFID solution for the Ryerson University Library (Toronto, Canada) and found your articles are very beneficial! I am sure others will benefit from this initiative and I am more than glad to volunteer.

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