UK data standards – the 5 minute guide

For different reasons I have been looking at specifications for RFID systems from three different library services this week. They are from academic as well as public libraries, and from several years ago as well as the present day, and they all have one thing in common. Their authors are still unclear about the precise nature of ISO 28560. So here’s an attempt to clear that confusion.

RFID is brimming with standards and the library market is no exception. Suppliers are fond of quoting standards as evidence of their compliance – and of course it is – but since all the UK’s major suppliers adhere to the same standards the numbers aren’t much help in understanding what matters to the library. The one area that arguably matters most has been overlooked for years in a kind of voluntary conspiracy between the libraries and their providers.

A key question that some libraries asked when they first purchased RFID was “Will I be able to read your tags with someone else’s hardware?”

So many libraries made this a mandatory requirement that suppliers found a variety of ways of saying “yes”.  The answer “it’s impossible to know” would have been more accurate, but it would also have meant that the bid failed and that both parties walked away empty handed.

There was, and is, a huge  momentum behind RFID so not buying is not an option and UK libraries took comfort from the obvious fact that many libraries were already doing this overseas, without really understanding why the way they were doing it was different in one crucial aspect.

One way to say “yes” is to focus on all the standards mentioned above. Adherence to all the “air interface” and encoding standards will enable you to read the tag but what you read will make no sense unless you have the means to decode it.

Most often the means to decode it will be the data model that was used to create it in the first place. The data model tells the system where on the tag to look for data, and what that data is. A common data model is the almost certainly the best guarantee of being able to answer “yes” to that key question – and Scandinavian countries, the Dutch and the French understood this – but in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand and many other countries we decided to do without one. Early adopters are now discovering the consequences of that decision…

Last year the market as a whole set about putting that right. BIC, CILIP and the RFID Alliance all agreed that we had to adopt a common standard and chose to use ISO 28560 – the global data model for libraries. This is not yet published – so RFPs should be saying “Will you support it?” rather than “Do you support it?” – and when it is published it will support vastly more information than anyone is ever likely to need.

So we sat down again – the RFID suppliers, the LMS providers, some library suppliers, libraries, and me – and went through 28560 to pick out the useful bits. This is the “UK data model” and this is the really important bit to put in the RFP.

So in summary:

ISO28560 is a data standard

ISO 28560-2 is the chosen version upon which the UK will build future RFID solutions

The UK Data Model is the subset of ISO 28560-2 that suppliers have pledged to support.

Of course – if you’re still not sure – you can always ask me.


  • Matt

    Aggghhhhhhh !!!!

    I am a mature student at the University of Bath writing adissertation on the use specifically on NFC and its possible uses in logistics (it wont work its pants) however there we go. Im proving that…

    Now the RFID data standards cause me some interest.

    Basically you have said I think that your ideas relate around RFID and libraries, have you looked further than this- sdtandards in other applications?

    Any ideas on movements in industrial standards would be welcome.

    In fact any ideas really……on anything would be a welcome distraction !


  • admin

    Hi Matt

    Nil desperandum! No I wouldn’t say I’ve looked very hard at standards in other areas that much. I have had some involvement with LASSeO and smart cards standards and those guys are also looking at NFC (as are many in library world). My real interest in RFID comes from the “library” bit rather than the “RFID” bit. Having run the old Dynix Europe operation for my American masters for some time and working in automation in libraries since Adam was a lad I’m intrigued by the potential that RFID offers to libraries and their apparent willingness to invest heavily in RFID powered solutions despite the very limited ways in which current levels of RFID/LMS integration operate.

    Since most libraries looking at RFID already have major investments in management systems to protect they are effectively prevented from taking advantage of much of the potential advantages that RFID could bring and limit themselves instead to simply replacing barcode based solutions with electronic ones. One of the many obstacles to overcoming this state of affairs is the absence of standards governing the ways in which data is both stored and communicated in and between systems. Library Management Systems and RFID solutions are shackled together like a horse and cart – so it’s no use replacing the horse with a Ferrari if the cart can’t move any faster.

    Sorry that won’t help you much in your quest but I’m sure there are plenty of other examples out there where existing systems prevent rapid progress.

    Best wishes


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