November RFID Conference in London

Very much looking forward to this year’s conference! Interesting to see some of the new sponsors for this year’s event include manufacturers as well as solutions providers. With full interoperability finally beginning to look achievable might we expect this trend to continue?

What will the RFID market look like in a post ISO 28560 world? Will libraries continue to buy their RFID solutions in the same way as they buy their LMS systems – all from the same supplier – or will RFID companies divide into hardware and software providers? Or specialise in particular areas of operation?

LMS providers, at least those on this side of the pond, are also beginning to engage with the full potential of the technology. Axiell, TALIS and Civica have all been talking recently about working more closely with the RFID market and hopefully all three (and more) will attend this year’s conference. The dialogue between LMS and RFID suppliers seems to have finally begun in earnest, something that will ultimately benefit all library stakeholders.

If you have done something amazing with RFID over the last year don’t forget to let CILIP know. There is an annual award for outstanding work in RFID made by CILIP and nominations are invited on their website.

Adventures in the Book Trade (apologies to Dylan)

Last week my attention was directed to a report produced for the Book Industry Study Group outlining an RFID project being developed by Wiley in the USA. I posted some comments on both the US and UK RFID lists on Friday.

My initial interest was in the simple fact that someone in the book trade – other than BGN – was at last considering RFID, particularly since it was clear from the report that the use of RFID in libraries had not been considered at all.

Interestingly (and unusually) while the UK list remained entirely silent, US libraries responded vigorously with most contributors making no distinction between the entirely different frequency and data model being proposed by the trade. Replies, mostly concerned with privacy issues, seemed to disregard the fact that book trade tags – operating at UHF over much greater distances – could not be read by library RFID applications – operating at HF and short range.

There is of course a genuine concern about privacy regardless of which frequency and data model the book trade uses but I don’t see why that it’s a matter that is only of concern to libraries. One contributor was concerned that airport security might be able to detect what books were in a passenger’s luggage (or pocket) by using an RFID reader to detect the ISBN – one of the fields planned for inclusion by Wiley.

Now that’s a perfectly reasonable concern but the real point is that the offending tags (and data) would be present on ANY book supplied by Wiley – whether to a library, bookshop or direct to the client. It’s difficult to see why libraries would want to take any ownership of a problem they can do little about.

Of course there’s also the fact that airport security equipment looking for such tags would detect every item within 30 feet – making it difficult to pinpoint any individual – would also tend to mitigate the possible privacy violation.

The radically different reactions from the two  lists makes me wonder whether it reflects a deeper understanding of the technology among UK libraries. Are UK librarians now so comfortable with RFID that they instinctively understand the issues and are unperturbed, or is the US market still so deeply mired in privacy concerns that every RFID initiative looks potentially dangerous?

Anyone care to jump in?

What’s happening across the pond?

News reached us last week that the latest round of voting on ISO 28560 had been completed with a massive vote in favour of adopting the three part standard.

Only one country voted against adoption of the standard – the USA. It appears that NISO and ANSI aren’t really singing from the same song sheet on this one since ANSI’s reason for voting ‘no’ vote seems to have been a reluctance to endorse the three part standard – on the grounds that, being in three parts, it’s not exactly a standard.

This is of course a perfectly valid view but it is rather confusing for many of us who had believed up to now that one of the main reasons there WERE three parts to the standard was, at least in part, a result of lobbying by NISO.

The good news is that the vote is unlikely to prevent the widespread adoption of ISO 28560 – in all three parts – later this year. I say good news because, although there are holes in 28560 that you could drive a bus through, it is – as I suggest in the latest issue of Panlibus (published by TALIS) the only data standard we have. In addition the UK National Profile – now published by BIC – ensures that those concerned with the effective operation of UK libraries have some guidance to help them get the best from the standard. The next steps – to define how best to use the profile – are being taken even as I write.

Our European neighbours, having had the foresight to adopt a common data standard long ago, are much more relaxed than we are in the UK where the need for 28560 – as soon as possible – is now well understood. The US market, for once trailing behind their transatlantic colleagues, need to make some key decisions about 28560 pretty quickly if they are to avoid the pitfalls that otherwise await…

LIS 2009

I was a little bit surprised to see quite so many RFID exhibitors at this year’s show since most of the pre-match talk had been pretty negative. Whether there were enough visitors to guarantee its survival next year seems unclear and certainly the LMS suppliers that stayed away in droves this year seem unlikely to be returning any time soon.

Nonetheless anyone looking for innovation would have been delighted with the products on offer. Three that caught my eye were the smart book drop from 2CQR, 3M’s remote system manager and Intellident’s smart shelves.

It would be difficult to miss the book drop. In keeping with 2CQR’s already well established use of colour the book drop is a substantial piece of hardware that changes colour faster than a Glasgow traffic light. Items placed in its copious “mouth” are chewed over before either being rejected or swallowed. A kind of half-way house between automated sorting and a simple drop box it offers another way of securing returns in libraries with limited space.

3M were showcasing their new remote management software that enables an operator to see at a glance the status of  all devices connected to the RFID susbsystem. Devices can also be configured over the internet/intranet. From appearances it seems to work off of the standard Windows Event Manager but the 3M people at the show were unable to confirm or deny this. Either way it looks quite impressive and brings 3M right back into contention against similar offerings from its competitors.

Intellident were once again heavily promoting their smart shelves. Now working very closely with SmartSM (even down to common branding) Intellident have clearly seen an opportunity to take RFID stock management to a new level. I have a lot of questions to ask about how some of the more “blue sky” ideas that Paul Dalton presented in the show’s Technology Theatre but the direction is very clear, even if the details are still a bit fuzzy. Get ready to equip your library for supermarket style scanner racks…

Much more to say about RFID stock management once the Royal Borough reach their decision on their selection.

Wednesday sees a meeting in Birmingham of the Trade Association of Library Equipment Suppliers (TALES). This is the body that we set up many years ago to try and find better ways to exhibit our wares to libraries. LIS is the natural descendant of the show spawned at a meeting held at CLSI’s offices in Chiswick 29 years ago. Although no longer supplying anything much, I remain the secretary of this loose federation of library suppliers which will be trying to decide whether to continue to support the show in its present form. If you have any (polite) suggestions we’d like to hear them!

Radio Silence

Visited the Library Show at the NEC on Thursday, partly in my role as secretary of TALES (despite not having any equipment to supply!) and partly to see how the RFID market are responding to the challenge/opportunity of the UK National Profile for ISO 28560-2.

The expression “curate’s egg” springs to mind. Some great ideas – and some genuinely innovative new products – were on display. In some cases the art of the possible seems to have overtaken to art of the practical but it was good to see some really creative thinking.

Sadly almost no-one was talking about the potential the standard will provide for mixing and matching products from different suppliers at the show but feedback from my recent talk at CILIPS suggests that most libraries are now making the future use of the standard – and the profile – mandatory elements in their proposals. Visits to two libraries already using RFID last week confirmed that they too intend to migrate to the new standard when available.

How they might do that will be the subject of a future blog. I’m not convinced it’s quite as simple a process as some are suggesting. However with Kensington and Chelsea’s tender evaluation process now underway I find myself in a kind of “purdah” until it is completed an must refrain from detailed comment until it is complete.

So radio silence must be maintained for a little while longer…

Deafening Silence

Recent exchanges off-list (and off-blog) have once again revealed a significant degree of unhappiness in some quarters concerning what appears to be an effectively protectionist approach being taken by at least one major RFID supplier.

I think most libraries now understand that the lack of a common data standard will become something of a problem when the time comes to re-invest in RFID, although perhaps it’s only the earlier adopters who are now discovering just how much “interoperability” really exists in the current market.

That’s why the recent agreements on ISO 28560-2 and the UK National Profile were so important. It appeared then that everyone understood that in order to deliver real value RFID would have to submit to some regulation. Certainly all the RFID companies were falling over themselves to express their support for the programme.

Back in April Chris Hankinson, a student at Nottingham Business School had emailed me about an RFID project which contained the observation that the lack of a universal standard was one of the key barriers to progress. (There were also some great ideas for university libraries – suppliers may contact me for Chris’ details!)

Two weeks ago Dylan Edgar of LibrariesWest – a consortium made up of Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath & NE Somerset and North Somerset councils emailed me to let me know that,

“From our point of view, the new UK profile can only be a good thing. Although we share an LMS (name provided), RFID was not something that was procured jointly. Consequently, we have a variety of solutions scattered across the consortium and we do run into some very real and immediate interoperability issues. Anything that can help with that has to be a good thing in my view.

So, a big thumbs up from the LW consortium!”

It seemed that everyone was marching confidently toward what Stephen Mossop of Exeter University once memorably referred as the sunlit uplands…

And then I received the email I referred to in my last post. Which was, as I said, disappointing. I quote (with permission):

“Apparently, (company A) had indicated to (company B) some time ago that they’d be willing to share their data model, but now they take the view that the data model is commercially sensitive information and therefore are not willing to disclose it.”

Companies A and B are identified in the email but I am not at liberty to disclose their identity for legal reasons. I hope they know who they are because if they don’t, we have a bigger problem than I think we do.

I wrote to another colleague whom I knew had been trying to do pretty much the same thing and they confirmed that they were having the same problem with the same company. Despite repeated requests their letters weren’t even being answered.

The thing that strikes me most about these exchanges is that my two correspondents don’t appear to know each other and therefore can’t join forces to lobby their supplier. People used to do that when I was an MD. Maybe if they did it now three things might happen:

1.  The company in question might respond more favourably

2.  Other libraries might stop spending money on solutions that may offer a limited future

3.  My correspondents might be able to exercise their right to choose what solution they want.

The blog is at your disposal.

It’s just a thought.

Are your RFID tags encrypted?

Recently one of the UK’s early RFID adopters asked me a question that rang alarm bells about the attitude of one UK supplier to the standards issue.

It was a simple scenario. The library had installed an RFID self-service issue and security solution from one supplier and was now interested in installing an automated returns sorter from another. They were aware that there might be some programming work required since, as readers of this blog are fed up with hearing, all UK suppliers use different data models.

Their reasonable expectation was that, with programming, the new sorter could be enabled to read their existing tags. At least one other university has done this successfully, so it seemed reasonable to assume that the same course of action could be followed here.

But sadly this was not so. The university has been advised that permission to read the tags has been denied by the incumbent supplier.

They were curious to know if anyone else had encountered a similar problem. So I asked the list. So far no-one has felt moved to respond – on or off list – although an email from a public library colleague revealed that their most recent project was being delayed by the absence of permission from the same company.

And yesterday came the suggestion in another email that this isn’t simply a case of permission. The data being written to the tags may in fact be encrypted.

What does that mean? Put simply it means that no other supplier can read the data without access to the encyption key. I recall suggesting that this could happen about a year ago at a presentation I gave in Glasgow but was very firmly told I was being alarmist (by the same supplier!) Maybe I inadvertently gave them the idea?

I have not yet been able to establish the accuracy of this latest assertion but its source has always been entirely reliable. So I suggest that if you have already have RFID installed in your library you ask if your data is being encrypted because, if it is, future development might be more difficult than it need be.

BIC launches e4libraries accreditation scheme to reward efficiency in the library supply chain

Book Industry Communication (BIC) has launched a new accreditation scheme for organisations operating in the library supply chain and is inviting applications from library authorities, academic institution libraries, library consortia or individual special libraries; library stock suppliers; and systems suppliers and other service providers active in this marketplace.

The scheme, which is part of BIC’s e4libraries initiative, will enable successful organisations to demonstrate their commitment to electronic trading and other beneficial library technology. Beneficial technology chiefly comprises full-cycle EDI or other forms of e-trading with stock suppliers, but is often supplemented by implementation of RFID systems where appropriate and by efficient access to, and use of, bibliographic records, as well as the adoption of more efficient working practices in the supply chain.

Full details of the scheme and application forms can be found on the BIC web site . Applications will be judged by an independent BIC review group on the basis of self-assessment, supported by the evidence of trading partners and service providers, and will take into account qualitative considerations as well as statistical evidence.

Martin Palmer of Essex Libraries, Chair of the e4libraries steering committee and BIC board member, commented: ‘We hope that this scheme will provide a valuable focus for the e4libraries initiative, encouraging libraries and other related organisations to celebrate their successes in improving the efficiency of the library supply chain.’

Further information from Peter Kilborn on 020 7607 9021 or

UK National Profile for ISO 28560-2

3M have advised BIC (who have advised me) that they would prefer to see element 7 included in the UK National Profile. Paul Sevick expressed his view that with the possibility of libraries lending new types of media in the future the ONIX format offers the most flexible option.

The other members at the April 27th meeting had agreed in advance to accept whichever of the three elements 3M wished to recommend so the UK National Profile now looks like this:

Data Elements

1. Primary item identifier

Mandatory in library usage (optional if the profile is being implemented earlier in the supply chain)
In the library context the primary item identifier will normally be an existing barcode number.

2. Content parameter

Mandatory in 28560-2: the OID index, (OID is the abbreviation for Object Identifier) – in effect a list of data elements present on the tag.

3. Owner library (ISIL)

Mandatory as defined by ISO 15511

4. Set information

Conditional. Where an item is comprised of multiple components the element will be mandatory. Absence of data will indicate a single item.

5. Type of usage

Optional. Where used the values defined in Annex B of the draft standard – included at the end of this document – to be used.

6. Shelf location


7. ONIX media format


8. MARC media format


9. Supplier identifier

Optional. Annex C of the draft standard suggests that this should be a national list regulated and defined by some national authority – BIC were nominated or this role in the UK.

10. Order number


11. ILL borrowing institution (ISIL)

Optional as defined by ISO 15511.

12. ILL borrowing transaction number


13. Product identifier GS1


14. Local data A


15. Local data B


16. Local data C


17. Title

Optional. Although viewed as primarily a supply chain element 3M requested its inclusion as they use this data in many of their existing implementations.

18. Product identifier local


19. Media format (other)


20. Supply chain stage


Valid codes:

16 Manufacturer
24 Publisher
32 Distributor
48 Jobber
64 Library

21. Invoice number


22. Alternative item identifier

Optional. May contain another identifier as deemed necessary. The only item that was at all contentious. Decision (by show of hands) was to include it as optional.

23. Alternative owner library


24. Subsidiary of an owner library

Optional. Was seen as essential to the future development of consortia.

25. Alternative ILL borrowing institution


As we move toward the acceptance of both ISO 28560-2 and a UK National Profile for library operations the foundations for the future development of RFID use in libraries begin to look more solid!

UK Library use of RFID – Audit

The following text was just posted on the Library RFID list. If you don’t subscribe to the list you should! But if you don’t, and can help, please email me at

Last Monday, 27th April the BIC/CILIP RFID committee met in London to begin the process of defining a UK national profile for ISO 28560-2.

A packed meeting worked through all 25 data elements defined in the standard and determined which they felt should be mandatory, optional, etc. There are a couple of outstanding areas that require further information before the final version is published but there was great consensus amongst those present – which included almost all the UK RFID suppliers.

So what is the purpose of this “profile”?

Well the first thing to say is that it is voluntary. However BIC will publish it as the UK National Profile for RFID Library Operation (or possibly something a little briefer!) and it may become a British Standard in due course.

The second point is that this profile is intended for use in day-to-day library operations, rather than within the supply chain. Since RFID tags are now assuming the role of barcodes it is important for all users to be clear about how they want to use them in everyday operation. The meeting was therefore mindful of solutions already developed by RFID providers. An example being Norfolk Libraries use of an additional “flag” to identify items that should not leave the library during LMS downtime.

Everyone agreed that we should conduct an audit of all existing UK installations to determine what data is currently resident on tags, with a view to accommodating these in the new standard. RFID suppliers present indicated their willingness to assist in this process but it is probably of more interest to list members.

I was tasked by the committee to build a comprehensive picture of existing use of tag data and am asking list members to assist in this endeavour.

Rather than clutter up the list I would be grateful if you could each send me a very brief email indicating a)whether you have RFID installed anywhere in your library(ies) and if so b) what data elements you have encoded on your tags.

We don’t need to know who your RFID supplier might be. All we need is a list of the elements. If you are in any doubt about supplying this data please ask your RFID company for their agreement.

We would expect you to have already stored the barcode ID, the owning library information (possibly as an ISIL number) and set information, so you don’t need to mention them. We also don’t need to know about any AFI or EAS data that may be present as this does not form part of the data model.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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