2014 Library RFID Survey – Part One

With so many replies to this year’s survey I will be publishing the findings as a series of posts – reflecting my progress in analysing the data. Today we begin with the basics – where the replies came from and how the respondents are using RFID to enhance their operational abilities.

This year has been more successful in gathering data from beyond the English speaking word than in previous years and future posts will compare the situation in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand with some of the more mature European RFID markets – in France, Germany and the Netherlands. For now however I hope this first post will be of some interest…

This year’s survey was carried out between 12th April and 25th May and produced a record number of replies. With fewer questions than in previous years the survey’s primary aim was to take an audit of systems in use, the level of adoption of standards and hopefully detect any signs of innovation in the market. I was very lucky to receive moral support – in the form of promotion on the lists and via social media. I am indebted to many friends and colleagues, in particular Marshall Breeding in the USA who helped promote the survey via ALA Techsource, Ophélie Ramonatxo of the Institut Français in London (who virtually wrote the French version for me!), Dr Frank Seeliger (who runs the best library RFID conference in Europe) Marc de Lange and Aart Nieuwland in the Netherlands and other colleagues around the world too numerous to mention.

In all 574 replies were received. Some duplicates and responses from RFID companies (the survey wanted consumer opinions rather than suppliers’) were removed, leaving 419 different organisations represented in the final results. 16 countries are represented with the United Kingdom – as in previous years – forming the largest contingent.


United Kingdom 144
Australia   86
United States   68
France   60
Germany   19
New Zealand   11
Netherlands   10
Canada     8
Switzerland     3
Belgium     2
Ireland     2
Malaysia     2
Guadeloupe     1
Indonesia     1
Martinique     1
United Arab Emirates     1

Public libraries remain by far the largest single group of RFID users followed by the universities. This almost certainly is not genuinely representative of global distribution; rather it probably reflects the ease with which these communities can be reached with social media, online lists and forums.

Public 251
University 107
Other academic 28
School 18
Health 6
Special 4
National 3
Regional and University Library 1

The history of RFID use in libraries has been predominantly a history of self-service loans and security systems. Until 2011 many of the world’s major markets bought primarily from companies that were themselves still learning how to get the best from the technology and still discovering new ways in which it might be used in library operations.

Self-service and security are very simple processes to manage with RFID and outside of a few European markets – most notably Scandinavia, France and the Netherlands – suppliers were left to determine for themselves how best to use tags to support these functions. Until 2011 only a few countries had established standards for data and most RFID systems on offer in the USA and the United Kingdom were single supplier, single solution (combined self-service/security) only.

Since 2011 the publication of ISO 28560 most markets have seen a steady move toward adopting this international standard for data. At the same time more libraries are beginning to use RFID for operations other than self- service loans – perhaps as a consequence. This growth is beginning to show up in the survey results in response to the question, “For what purposes do you use RFID in your library?”:

Self-services – library devices (e.g. kiosks) 342
Theft prevention 307
Collection management 180
Access control 116
Acquisition/accession 102
Automated Materials Handling 94
Monitoring collection use in house 78
User/Patron identification 60
ILL management 47
Secure shelves or lockers 21
Supply Chain monitoring 9
Self-services – users own device 8

Another recent change has seen libraries beginning to use Near-Field Communication (NFC). This is a form of RFID that uses the same frequency as the majority of library tags but requires the user to be in very close proximity to the tags. An increasing number of android-based smartphones and tablets have NFC scanners on-board – a characteristic that is beginning to be exploited by “app” providers in the library context.

Respondents were asked if they using NFC in their libraries, and for what purposes:

Access control 12
User/Patron identification 8
Acquisition/accession 2
Automated Materials Handling 2
Self-services – users own device 2
Supply Chain monitoring 2
At shelf operations 1
Collection management 1
ILL management 1
Monitoring collection use in house 1
Secure shelves or lockers 1

I would expect this still rather modest list of library applications to grow as more “apps” appear on the market. Expect smartphone self-service loans to become the norm in the near future – especially in the academic sector.

Some libraries reported using both technologies for one or more of these functions. In total the number of libraries using one or both technologies to support these functions was:

Self services – library devices (e.g. kiosks) 344
Theft prevention 310
Collection management 183
Access control 131
Acquisition/accession 106
AMH 100
At shelf operations 97
Monitoring collection use in house 79
User/Patron identification 68
ILL management 49
Secure shelves or lockers 22
Supply Chain monitoring 13
Self services – users own device 11


Several libraries mentioned other ways in which they are now using RFID/NFC in their libraries including:

  • NFC for marketing.
  • Smart shelves for reserved items.
  • Stocktaking (inventory) using a wand paired with a smartphone.
  • Contactless payments for printing and photocopying.

One that interested me the most – because it shows how inventive the market is becoming was the use of NFC (or QR codes) to explore display items (e.g. by playing music scores). You can view this product in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KT-07JWMNw .

That’s it for today! Upcoming posts will report on the nature of assets being managed; the growth (or otherwise) in the use of national and international standards (and what impact, if any, this is having on the market; the great frequency debate – is UHF gaining ground? – and of course what you think about your RFID supplier’s performance over the last 12 months!




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