The UK Data Standard – What Does it Mean?

The title comes from a question I was asked at the recent Library RFID conference in London. It’s a REALLY good question because it’s extraordinarily difficult to answer. I was also challenged to rewrite a simple guide to RFID in the light of the changes taking place and while both of these projects are dear to my heart they will take a little time to complete.

In the meantime, judging by the number of emails and phone calls I’ve had since last Tuesday a lot of libraries are in a hurry to buy the technology and want some quick answers to key questions.

The Standard – for the non-technical

Rejoicing in the snappy title of ISO 28560-2, the UK data model has now been adopted by all the UK’s major RFID suppliers. That means that from January any library wishing to deploy RFID will, for the first time, be able to do so confident in the knowledge that their solution will REALLY be compatible with any other on the market.

Many libraries believe they are already in this happy position – and then there are the unhappy few who know otherwise. But since the RFID Alliance has undertaken to migrate all existing users to the new standard should they choose to do so, everyone can join the party if they wish.

The full standard allows for 25 data elements with multiple values available for each element but that’s only because the far-sighted people who designed it are thinking ahead to a future where even Library Management Systems as we know and love them today may no longer exist, and we may be interacting with objects in an entirely different way in an “Internet of Things”.

But for now only a handful of elements will be used and since these are pretty much those already present on existing tags in some form or other, migration should not be a major undertaking. And only three elements are compulsory.

So what was all the fuss about?

The “fuss” dear reader was mostly wind and fury – signifying nothing. RFID companies now have to give up their mini-monopolies so some of them have had a bit of a vested interest in trying to make me look like I’m being negative about the whole technology, rather than trying to stop them protecting their markets. But that all ended when the RFID Alliance announced that creating the standard was their idea all along…

I am on the record as saying that we needed a standard, ANY standard. We (the suppliers and the users) chose this one “because it was there” and because it offers much greater scope for future development. Whether we will ever that  potential is for the market to decide.

So what changes?

One thing that might change right away is the way you buy RFID. Up to now you had to buy all your RFID toys from the same toyshop. (Did no-one ever wonder why?) A few have successfully bucked this trend by finding ways around the problem of different data models but that usually by getting one supplier to change their software to read another’s tags – or changing all the tags. Not what an IT person would call “interoperability”. Now we can do as the Danes, Dutch, French, Swedes, Finns…  have been doing for years and choose where we buy our gates, our kiosks, our sorters and yes, even the wands that seem to sit under so many desks around the nation.

That means we may have to rethink our purchasing strategy as well. Framework agreements like Catalist and ESPO are predicated on a different model and will have to change – unless consumers choose to be locked into the past. Likewise a “pay as you go” approach to acquistion might make less impact on capital budgets and make it easier to fund transformation programmes. RFPs might need some reworking too…

For public libraries there is another major benefit in the potential to create a national ILL service in which at least the items circulated can be readily identified. One of the compulsory fields is the ISIL unique identifier for the owning library and Danish libraries already use this to manage a nationwide circulation system.  – Now that will really help the SCL’s inititaive.

So What Should I do?

Insist on the UK Data Model. Your stock has to be tagged according to some kind of data model so why wouldn’t you choose the UK standard?

Ask for guarantees. Until some way is found of “certifying” the compliance of tags the only way you can be sure that your supplier meets the standard will be by testing it yourself – or paying someone else to. If a supplier tells you that their tags can be read by anybody else ask them to prove it.

Consider consortia deals. If all tags can be read by anyone there’s no longer a requirement to buy your tags from your RFID supplier – or even just for your library. I know that some libraries in the south east are already doing this where they share a common supplier but now anyone can join together. I may even start up my own co-operative… 🙂

Those are a few thoughts to begin with. I welcome corrections and opinions from anybody so please jump in!

Opportunities for Change – The View from London and Copenhagen

Last Tuesday saw the (for me) long awaited CILIP RFID in Libraries conference at the King’s Place close by King’s Cross station in London. Having been asked by CILIP to put together the programme and open the event I was more than a little concerned that delegates would feel they had received value for money.  Beyond this I was hoping for some lively discussion and debate around the whole issue (no pun intended) of RFID use in libraries – specifically UK libraries.

From the comments received it seems reasonable to make the claim that almost everyone felt the conference was valuable and relevant. The number that felt there was too much of a technical nature was balanced by a similar number that felt there wasn’t enough – and that’s about as balanced as one might reasonably expect I suppose!

The word “buzz” was used quite often in tweets and emails received during and since the event and I confess it felt livelier to me than in previous years. Maybe there’s more fear around about the future of the profession?

Certainly there are plenty of libraries seeking to find some kind of salvation in the technology. The desire to invest first and ask questions later was sadly still very much in evidence in some of the conversations I overheard between suppliers and their potential clients. Indeed the first question asked at the end of the first session was “How much will it cost?”

How much will WHAT cost I wondered. An answer would have been possible had the question been about Mars bars or even what model of car to buy, but even then some idea of appetite and function would have helped formulate a response. But not about RFID surely?  Having prepared myself to answer anything from “why are there three parts to the standard?” to “why do you believe we need to re-examine communication protocols?” I was at a loss. RFID is a technology not a function. How much it costs depends on what you want to do with it.

From there on however, things improved and we were entertained, provoked and educated in equal measure by some fine presentations from stellar performers. The conference review will appear in the next CILIP Update – don’t miss it!

I hope that everyone understood what seemed to me to be the clear message from all sides – insist on the new data standard to protect your investment if you haven’t yet made the jump to RFID; consider migration if you want to benefit from future innovation if you have already.

Welcome to the DLA
Next day I was up early and on my way to Denmark – almost the spiritual home of RFID, at least in Europe. Having kindly been offered the chance to meet the architects of ISO 28560 at the Danish Agency for Libraries and Media, I was fortunate enough to have also been given the opportunity to visit two libraries that have been using the technology for many years.

My first host, at Lyngby, was Poul Tørslev-Thomsen. Despite my arriving well ahead of schedule Poul answered all my questions with great good humour and obvious enthusiasm for his topic. Lyngby had been almost the first library in Denmark to install RFID and had “made all the mistakes” already. Nevertheless, despite the pain of being a real early adopter the introduction of RFID had seen nothing but benefits for the library and its users (who were present in considerable numbers for a Thursday morning!).

During the five years they have had RFID Lyngby has replaced security gates, re-programmed tags and switched self-service units as standards emerged and more choices became available. It was interesting for me to discover that Danish libraries do indeed exercise the freedom of choice that using a common data model has given them – one of the outcomes predicted both at the London conference and in the “RFID Alliance” press release.

Lyngby sorter smLyngby has invested in self-service in a big way. Their automated sorter has two inputs linking to a single conveyor to which no less than 16 “ergo stack” trolleys are connected.  Two of the many self-issue machines were being used by two gentlemen even older than me – evidence of acceptance by the public I think, and security gates, originally designed by one company but now driven by technology supplied by another, protected the exits.

This is the Danish library world so often cited by UK librarians as being the exemplar of transformational technology in action. It is vitally important however  to remember WHY this has worked so well for the Danes.

Firstly they have had a common data standard almost from the beginning. The Danish Agency for Libraries and Media advised RFID suppliers that they would not endorse any solution that did not support a common standard. Without this endorsement there was virtually no market, and so the Danish Data Model was born. (If only we had a UK Library Agency….)

Secondly, and perhaps only slightly less important, is the fact that 85% of Danish public libraries use the same Library Management System (a statistic supplied to me by Henrik Wendt at Tårnby – my host on Friday). The Danish public library system already allows the public to borrow and return books wherever they please – a development no doubt made much simpler by a more unified approach to LMS and RFID supply.

RFID has certainly made its mark in Denmark though they still share many of the same concerns as do we, over the efficacy of CD/DVD security (although recent changes in tag design are helping), and neither library I visited used stock management devices (a point repeatedly made in London on Tuesday).

There has also been very little done on developing new interfaces to RFID tags. WG11, the group that brought us ISO 28560, has not been disbanded, partly because its members have seen the potential for the technology to play an even greater role in the modernisation of services through new applications and new communication methods. There was real interest in BIC’s recently announced project to re-examine and re-evaluate SIP, NCIP and web services as means of interacting with RFID.

So with the publication of the data standard in January UK libraries at last have the chance to reap the rewards from which the Danes have benefited these past five years. They also have a chance to work together with our European neighbours to build better systems in the future.

Will they accept the challenge and learn how to make the technology work for us?

Or just ask how much it costs?

RFID Alliance to unlock library potential

The following press release from Carolyn Long at the McOnie Agency reached me via a somewhat circuitous route this evening.

Informally I learned some time ago that a statement of this kind was being planned by the UK’s main RFID suppliers some time ago but one company was apparently not co-operating at that point in time so the message has been delayed until now.

It is obviously good news for the UK library community that the main suppliers have seen fit to back up the commitments they made back in January and April (and widely reported on this blog, the UK RFID list and by BIC and CILIP at the time).

It seems a pity that the suppliers felt unable to recognise the huge contribution that BIC, CILIP and the library community have made to this process  but we should all rejoice in the news and look forward to even greater co-operation as we move to the next phase of RFIED development. BIC announced today (by an amazing coincidence precisely one minute earlier than this email was sent out!) that the RFID group will meet again early in the new year to review the data transfer protocols driving the new standard.

3M’s announcement follows:-


 3M joins other major players to support adoption of technology in UK libraries

For the first time in the UK market, an alliance of leading library suppliers including diversified technology company 3M, 2CQR, Axiell, Bibliotheca, D-Tech, Intellident, and Plescon Security Products, have come together to support the ISO 28560 tag data standard and the UK National Profile that relates to how this will be implemented in UK. The soon-to-be-released standard will help Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) take a huge step towards becoming a universally adopted technology in UK libraries. 

In forming the Alliance, each member has committed to help deliver ISO-based solutions to the library community and achieve the ultimate goal to make all library items interchangeable between libraries, regardless of the self-service equipment deployed. The benefits of this agreement could be instrumental to the wider public use of library facilities, as the loaning and returning items could be completed at different venues, allowing for much greater flexibility.

The move to form an Alliance has been made possible by the development of the new standard from the global ISO standards body. ISO/DIS 28560 relates to how information is stored on an RFID tag and, as a result, all new tags can be read in the same way, allowing interoperability of disparate self-service solutions.

The agreement is a breakthrough for the use of RFID technology in libraries as it will provide a single standard that every member can work to. The Alliance between these leading vendors demonstrates that although competing at a solution level, they share a common belief in promoting standards and recognise that tagged items should be interchangeable between libraries.

Importantly, for existing customers of the Alliance suppliers, each has committed to supporting their historical customer base with the move to the new standard as and when required.

With the Alliance agreement in place and ISO/DIS 28560-2 setting the standard for all future tags, the next logical step is for libraries to act on this to further improve their services. The development and wider acceptance of RFID is growing at a pace, with the UK now the market leader in the deployment of innovative technology.

Paul Sevcik, Senior Product Development Specialist for 3M and a member of the ISO working group responsible for the standards comments: “The development of the ISO 28560 family of standards is critical to the continued growth of RFID applications in libraries and to providing a return on the library’s investment in RFID.  We are very excited about this Alliance and the commitment of the players involved, to make interoperability a reality for our customers.”

Members of the Alliance will be in attendance at the RFID in Libraries Conference, organised by CILIP and sponsored by 3M, which takes place on 10 November 2009 in London.

3M is a leading supplier of technology solutions to libraries. The company offers a wide range of options to suit all libraries, including RFID systems, SelfCheck systems, Tattle-Tape Security technology and applications, detection systems and circulation accessories.

Bibliotheca and D Tech – battle lines being drawn?

Interesting post from Catherine Dhanjal on the lists this afternoon announcing their intentions.

From other correspondence received it seems clear that the “rough wooing” of existing D Tech clients has begun in earnest with Newcastle now being singled out already as a key Bibliotheca site.

How this pans out in contractual and support terms is, of course, entirely a matter for the parties involved and hopefully solutions that suit client’s needs will be paramount in everyone’s mind as the story develops.

From my own perspective – and increasingly from the point of view of all those who seek to create more co-operative service models in the future there are still one or two slight concerns niggling at the back of my mind.

Last week I was delighted to report that progress toward the publication of ISO 28560 in all three parts was proceeding as rapidly as could be expected. The creation of a common foundation for RFID development is in my opinion, as regular readers will know, key for both library co-operation and future service development so anything that might prevent us from achieving that goal makes me nervous.

I wrote to Matthias Joos expressing my concern that Bibliotheca’s web pages gave strong endorsement to ISO 28560-3 with no mention of the UK’s preferred option of 28560-2 and he was quick to reassure me that Bibliotheca intend to support both versions.

He also used the opportunity to promote the same “dual data model” self-service kiosk that I have already criticised on these pages (when D Tech took me to task for doing so!).

This is the kiosk that can convert data models “on the fly”. The claim is made that by using it you can convert all your stock in 3-4 months.

My question previously “how do you manage the stock that isn’t circulated in this period?”  wasn’t answered then either. From the responses I’ve had to the question I asked earlier in the week it seems that only a small percentage of stock would have been circulated in 3-4 months, leaving a huge amount unconverted.

Since self-service is only one aspect of RFID stock management how does a library identify which items on the shelf have which model? The answer that most UK RFID suppliers seem to have reached is to enable all their devices to read two models. Hopefully that will be Bibliotheca’s conclusion as well.

This is a minor concern though. The phrase that worries me in the press release is “… supplying customer-specific state-of the art RFID solutions” (my emphasis). I’m sure it’s more a question of “lost in translation” rather than indicating a return to a proprietary approach but I really hope it doesn’t mean that libraries will be encouraged to operate outside of the new standard.

Those concerns aside it is of course good news for UK libraries that another major player has arrived – and just in time for the November conference too! I’m really looking forward to meeting them there!

Quick update on ISO 28560

WG11 – the working group tasked with delivering ISO 28560 met in London last week.

As always its deliberations are not published but I hear from reliable sources that the meeting agreed to allow the final stage – voting on the FDIS – to begin in November, closing in mid-January 2010.

Actual publication looks likely to be slightly later since work has to be done to ensure that the final version is both completely understandable, accurate and that most of the likely questions that might arise have been answered through FAQs.

Once the standard is finally published the real work begins. The Germans are already working on compliance and perfomance certification. It is to be hoped that the UK might join that process.

But beyond the perhaps slightly more “technical” issues is the future relationship between RFID and LMS(ILS) systems. One of my regular correspondents puts it this way:

“The LMS – RFID interface needs to be addressed, too.  It is no longer about using the bar code number (primary item identifier) as the sole conduit between these systems.”

Whether this conduit – barcode or not – continues to be SIP, or is replaced by a newer technology (as I suspect it will HAVE to be), will be discussed by the next BIC/CILIP RFID Technical Committee.

Before that of course we have the chance to start the debate at CILIP’s RFID in Libraries conference in London next month.

D Tech Responds to Bibliotheca

Following yesterdsy’s announcement from Biblitheca the following statement arrived from D Tech esrlier today. Apologies to all for the delay in posting but your correspondent has been travelling since 6 am..

D Tech Spreads its Wings

D-Tech has announced that they have ended their Distributor Agreement with Bibliotheca as part of their forward strategy to extend their range of innovative and competitively priced products for the UK RFID market. 


Marvin Crisp, Managing Director of D-Tech said:  “Our decision to agree to terminate the agreement with our RFID supplier was based on our strong desire for D-Tech to stay relevant to the UK library market. We felt we could not achieve this while operating within the restrictions of a very European focussed distributor agreement. Our main priority at the moment is to reassure our valued existing customers of our continued support of their products and services. 


For the future, we are looking forward to levering our new independence to be able to offer a wider choice of more creative and competitively priced products.  We are also pleased that it means that we can now fully support the adoption of UK data standards”.


D-Tech will be exhibiting at this year’s PLA Conference and RFID 2009

News from Bibliotheca

This morning I received two calls from clients of D Tech concerned about yesterday’s announcement severing their relationship with Bibliotheca.

This was followed by a call from Marvin Crisp, D Tech’s Managing Director assuring me that the changes would not impact UK clients except in a positive way.

In the last 15 minutes I have received an email from Matthias Joos, CEO of Bibliotheca, Switzerland. The following extracts suggest that there may still be some confusion facing D Tech’s existing clients:

The Bibliotheca board has been concerned for some time that UK customers have not benefitted as much from our solutions as other geographic markets. We have therefore decided that we must establish a substantial Bibliotheca presence directly in the UK and have reluctantly taken the decision to terminate our distribution contract with D-Tech.

We can therefore assure all Bibliotheca customers that we will be able to provide continued and improved support, maintenance and product supply directly from our UK presence from the beginning of next month. We will be contacting all customers in the UK regarding our new support arrangements over the next few weeks; customers should be aware that D-Tech is contractually obliged to provide support until the renewal date of support agreements…

…We will be contacting all customers in the UK library market to provide them with full information on Bibliotheca, our product portfolio and successes world-wide and how we can help develop their services. Any customers or libraries who would like to register for information or request an early visit can email

…If you wish to publish any of the information in your blog Bibliotheca has no objections to this.

Yours sincerely

Matthias Joos


Matthias Joos


Bibliotheca RFID Library Systems AG

Hinterbergstrasse 17

CH-6330 Cham

…more news as I get it.

D Tech to end relationship with Bibliotheca

Big changes at D Tech. After many years with Bibliotheca they have decided to dissolve their Distribution Agreement with effect from 30th September in order to lower costs and offer improved service to customers.

Exactly what this means for D Tech’s impressive list of clients – including the new library in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – is not yet clear but the announcement promises keener prices, improved service levels and priority notice of new products.

Interesting times ahead one suspects!

RFID in the Library – Who’s in control?

Good post on the UK RFID list from Steve Heywood last night. Can’t help but agree with his views about concentrating on solutions rather than the technology but I can see little evidence of this happening at the moment. I recently saw a presentation that indicated that a major investment in RFID would be made in 2010 to deliver the same benefits here as a Danish library the presenter had recently visited were enjoying. This kind of reinforces the “magic bullet” or “fairy dust” view that many libraries seem to have of RFID in the UK.  

Danish libraries have succeeded in getting so much from RFID because they all implemented it in the same way – and the key to that was the Danish Data Model. You only need the barcode to make a system work and in Denmark that’s exactly what they did. Not only do they have systems that use just the barcode data, but they all (well almost all) put that information in the same place on the tag – so anyone can use it.

So it works REALLY well.

 In the UK (and in the US and Australia) they didn’t do that. For reasons (that allegedly might not be entirely unconnected with gaining commercial advantage) every supplier was free to choose for themselves how they wanted to implement RFID solutions. So they did. In the UK some (two in fact) saw the advantages of using the Danish model  – but most didn’t. Some of them even went so far as to encrypt their data either to a) prevent anyone tampering with the data or b) protect their own interests – you decide.

These days, data – and not just the barcode number – is used in all kinds of ways. None of this is evident to users of self-service because self-service does only uses the barcode number – so where the data is, how it is written to the tag or whether there is any other data present –  makes zero difference to its successful operation.

The consequences for libraries of continuing this state of affairs will depend on how they plan to develop their service. It may make no difference whatsoever, or it could be catastrophic – or anywhere in between – it depends on a host of issues.  RFID companies can help you solve each of these problems with software, but for markets where no data standards have been used a better way might be to switch to a single standard, as the Danes, and many of their neighbours have done already.

And yet libraries are still ignoring the issue. Perhaps more disappointingly many RFID companies – despite signing up to support it (in the UK at least) – are too.

But let’s assume that things will change. Where do we focus our attention in order to gain best value from RFID? Is it a “nag list” for the LMS/ILS suppliers as Steve suggests?

Well a good nag never hurts but I need to clarify something I said on the UK RFID list. The choice to which I referred there is not exclusive. We can still choose to use RFID as a smart label and only use the barcode number (or something else) as an identifier. We don’t have to use all the fields the standard offers (or any of the optional ones) – indeed that is the UK recommendation from BIC. The key point is that, whatever we choose, we will all be using the same fields in the same way. If your LMS/ILS doesn’t “have an app for that” then you won’t get the extra features, that’s all.

So the challenge is, I think, twofold. Will suppliers see the potential to gain competitive advantage by using RFID more creatively (and consistently) and will libraries help them understand how they can do that?

More Thoughts on Offline Circulation

Just received the latest copy of Talis News and pleased to see a continuing enthusiasm for RFID and in particular offline self-service. More libraries opting for Talis Bridge Pro in the current issue, joining the serried ranks of public libraries offering 24/7 access to their collections.

One thing still puzzles me about all current “offline circulation” solutions. So far as I am aware none of them, including Talis, offer anything more than simple transaction logging. Talis Bridge Pro also offers simpler system updating on reconnection. Which is great. But one suspects it’s not quite what libraries need.

There is a great deal of evidence in discussion forums (Talis and others), on the RFID lists, and elsewhere on the web that offline circulation is not meeting the expectations of its users. Phrases like “it will literally allow anyone to borrow anything” tend to recur.

Which makes its popularity seem a bit odd doesn’t it?

Academic libraries seem less exercised about this problem than their public library colleagues. Perhaps because underage borrowing is less likely to occur on campus. But shouldn’t public libraries be just a little concerned about that possibility? Norfolk Libraries certainly were, and worked with their RFID and LMS suppliers to use a field in the tags to “flag” non-loanable items. A methodology we hope to incorporate in our use of the new data standard later this year.

Until LMS and RFID companies truly realise that tags are not simply some kind of new barcode label but a means of creating “intelligent” stock (and therefore more intelligent solutions) there is, I believe, only one other way to solve the problem of system downtime.

Throw away your existing LMS and opt for one of the alternatives on offer in the Far East that have been designed from the ground up to use RFID.

Of course solutions like this are completely proprietary and offer no compatibility with any existing systems you may have. In this example they don’t even use the same RFID frequency as that most widely used in Europe and the USA, but it might be dangerous for the LMS market to continue to ignore what they’re doing…

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