“On the fly” conversion from Bibliotheca

New alert on Twitter this morning linking to a new story on the Library Technology Guides website:

Bibliotheca announced non-proprietary “on-the-fly” RFID conversion software that allows libraries equipped with barcodes the flexibility to convert to RFID at the self-check station or book return as patrons complete routine check-out/check-in of library materials. The RFID conversion software helps unburden libraries from the amount of time, labor and cost needed to convert entire collections from barcodes to RFID. Bibliotheca’s flexible, patent-pending BiblioChip conversion software will work with Bibliotheca’s line of self-check stations and book returns, as well as products from other vendors.

A quick scan of Bibliotheca’s website fails to reveal the original story but hopefully it’s me, not the website that’s up too early in the day.

The solution on offer offers:

  • Smooth implementation of new data formats as they evolve
  • Simultaneous reading of multiple formats
  • Reading/writing of different vendor formats
  • Reading/writing of older, non-standard chips

There would seem to be little that has been overlooked in the wish list of most librarians struggling to make sense of emerging standards, competing frequencies, data models and data content and hybrid solutions.

The focus for this operation is self-service. Items are read, re-programmed and processed in one smooth operation at the point of issue or return. A “hybrid” self-service variant will even manage electromagnetic security at the same time. However no mention is made of how other library operattions will interoperate with blank tags for example.

There are a few questions that spring to mind to which the article, and the Bibliotheca website, offer no answers at the moment. Off the top of my head at 7am these include:

  • What is the impact on processing time of simultaneously reading and writing multiple formats at the pointm of issue?
  • How does the system identify which EM tagged items in a stack it should activate/deactivate?
  • How do borrowers know which items have been RFID processed already? (Or do they continue to read barcodes, one at a time forever? In which case what’s the point of RFID?)
  • How do shelf reading operations cope with multiple formats – or items that haven’t been borrowed yet?
  • How do consortia circulate stock if they’re not using Bibliotheca hardware?

I confess to being a little diappointed that one of the major RFID suppliers has developed a solution that seeks to circumvent a common standard rather than endorse it, particularly as the rest of the UK market is so close to agreement on a national standard. Perhaps the absence of Bibliotheca’s UK representatives (D Tech)  from the January 19th meeting was more significant than I realised at the time?

Whilst appreciating the sales appeal of a “one size fits all” solution, I’m not sure if this solution delivers on that promise. Perhaps things will become clearer soon…


  • …I just came to post this news story, and you beat me too it! Poses lots of questions in my mind – some of them pretty major issues, and I think you’ve mentioned most of them in your post.

    I’m kind of cautiously optimistic that this could be used to re-write tags on the fly to ISO28560 compatibility, but also a bit concerned (as you are) it could be used to circumvent the standard.

    Will be interested to see if more detail on this comes out – hopefully Bibliotheca / D-Tech will be able to tell us more shortly?

  • Mick

    Morning Mark! A sleepless night contemplating the importance of an email from Civica Australia meant I was awake rather early in the day. 🙂

    Having read this through again I find myself with more and more questions but will wait for some kind of announcement from D Tech before saying too much more.

    I think the main questions I have are that, even given the best possible interpretation of how this might work, I can’t see a) how you can read a stack of items simultaneously (because you will always have to read the barcode) – surely the main timesaver for self-service? or b)how you can perform any kind of shelf checking operation with any degree of certainty whilst some of the items will not have been loaned (and therefore still have blank tags)?

    It seems like more of the same to me. If everyone continues to think RFID=self service then we will damage our capacity to interact with stock in any other ways. It seems that even one of the major suppliers haven’t caught on to that fact yet.

    We could of course simply decide that we now need TWO ways to identify our stock – RFID and barcode, and expect the borrowers to figure out which technology they should be using at the issue station…

  • What Consultants have to do to quantify there existence!
    Perhaps you are not following this as closely as you think, Mick. We have sent you an official response after your last remarks about D-Tech’s uptake and stick by that provided statement, which has also been posted for over a month on our own website.

    Your concerns regards the standard are based solely on the UK as ours are. Bibliotheca have a global approach and status to consider and shall naturally develop products accordingly. RFID still provides enhancements in circulation, security and inventory and that remains a fact of life, the future standard once ratified will be fully supported by D-Tech and had you researched or taken a consultative approach to this, you might have found out a little more on this matter.

    You clearly do not understand the Bibliotheca software product range nor the dynamics of the labels, if you did you would probably understand the process better. There is no requirement for you to question the workings of Hybrid technology, which the UK do not use in SelfCheck units as it does not affect your specific strategies, migration or cost processes. Perhaps concentrate on the standards and getting it through without cost implications to RFID vendors and ultimately to the end users. We look forward to a free and sharing world with ISO 28560-2…yours Tim Pond

  • Mick

    Hello Tim!

    Eloquent as ever :-).

    I am happy to confirm that, after a call from Marvin Crisp this afternoon, I am now aware of D Tech’s committment to ISO 28560-2 and can confirm that a statement now appears on their home page. For some reason Tim resisted the opportunity to post the link so here it is.

    It was one of your customers who told me some time ago that you would be posting a statement – which I applauded on the RFID list and elsewhere at the time – as other readers of the list will no doubt confirm. I confess I had rather anticipated that you might have told us when you posted it rather than wait for me to go and find it, but I see that reticence persists even now as you did not post the link in your comment.

    Actually my concerns are not just about the UK but about library use of RFID in general. I have had an interesting exchange with colleagues in Australia on the subject of UHF vs HF tags during the last week – a summary of which will appear here shortly. I am also a regular contributor to the US list at Oregon.

    The concerns I express in this post are in fact shared by many colleagues – and people with much larger brains than my own – in the US and Australia, as well as quite a few in the UK and Europe. You will note that Mark Hughes of Swansea has expressed interest as well.

    In fact I did take as consultative approach as was possible on this particular issue. I’m still waiting for you to make the phone call you promised back in November 2008…

    You’re right about one thing. I don’t understand the new product. That’s why I asked questions about it. I’m not sure either why I (or anyone else) shouldn’t be interested in hybrid EM/RFID solutions either? That sounds just a bit patronising.

    I’m not entirely sure you do know what my strategy is, but for the sake of clarity it is to end the existing (accidental) monopolies of RFID suppliers and introduce more freedom of choice, to create opportunities for the development of better services and functionality and try and discourage libraries from investing in solutions that have nowhere to go. I’m sure I can count on your support for those aims – can’t I?

    Maybe you could join the debate rather than stand on the sidelines and cast aspersions on my understanding? That might be a bit more constructive. The blog, and the list are there for that purpose, please feel free to pitch in.

  • Well, possibly not the most auspicious start, but at least we’re having a debate! Would be in the best interests of *all* of us if we keep it constructive – just a thought.

    Glad to see the statement of ISO 28560 support from D-Tech – I think thats everyone in on this now (?).

    Tim, just to clarify, I, and many others including Mick & yourself (I am sure), are in this purely to try and safeguard / promote the future of RFID in Libraries, and to that end I really think we need to work together far more than we have in the past – that’ll probably mean us all bumping against a few rough edges now and again, but that’s just something we have to get used to & deal with.

    Speaking personally, I’m interested in the new Bibliotheca Conversion unit (as I would be in any similar technology) because I’m optimistic it might help solve some of the migration problems a lot of libraries may have when the time comes to move over to ISO 28560 – thats something to be applauded.. as I said before, I’m also a little concerned that something like this could be used as a workaround to the standard… but thats not necessarily a criticism aimed at anyone, it’s just you can misuse most good ideas if you try hard enough 🙂

    As for the scope of this debate, yes it has been pretty UK centric up to now, but we do need to look to widen it out and that has been happening recently – there is interesting stuff happening with RFID in libraries all over the world, so we should be plugging into that and either taking ideas or offering our best practice and experiences as appropriate.

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