“The wonderful thing about standards is there’s so many of them…”

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. 🙂


  • John Reese

    Are there statistics on how many libraries have moved to RFID? I am particularly interested in US and UK.

  • There are no firm statistics of which I am aware. I was asked to try and gather this knowledge for the UK some years ago by Museums Libraries and Archives (the then government agency for libraries) and ran a series of surveys seeking information, first about the UK and subsequently the US and Australia. Details of those are on the website at http://www.libraryrfid.co.uk/surveys.html but they are far from comprehensive and I have now abandoned the task due to lack of resources. Some RFID suppliers send information to me from time to time but their counting is rather similar to ILS/LMS suppliers – some count sites or branches, some count authorities so it’s difficult to reconcile the claims made by some of the largest companies (to have over 3000 libraries installed worldwide) with the survey results. Having been involved with RFID for some years now I would say that the UK and Australia have probably invested the most in the technology. The US have not been so quick to follow through their early promise – and have chosen not to follow standards or guidelines on frequency usage so much as their European counterparts.

Have a view? Please share!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.