EU issues Directive on RFID Privacy

On July 31st the European Union finally published directive M436 on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). M436 has been in process for so long that many RFID users may have forgotten all about it some time ago. A few may never even have heard of it.

M436 attempts to deal with concerns over the privacy issues that have surrounded this technology since it first appeared – in libraries over 20 years ago. The directive is “application agnostic” – meaning that the rules apply to RFID users regardless of how they are using the technology. Libraries are one of the key areas of activity already identified by the EU and they will certainly feel the effects of mandate M436 over the next few months/years.

Locations will be required to display a sign

Locations will be required to display a sign

There are two main elements to the directive as I outlined in my “quick guide” for librarians back in 2013. The first, and simplest, is signage. Locations where RFID is being used will be required to display a sign advising users of this fact.

The second, and slightly more demanding requirement is to carry out a Privacy Impact Assessment in order to produce a Privacy Impact Statement that should also be made available to anyone wishing to understand the implications of the use of RFID in an establishment. In a library this might be displayed alongside the sign – or advice be displayed indicating where the statement can be found – on a website for example.


The mandate is issued to European standards bodies to create standards for ensuring the privacy of individuals using RFID solutions. As such it has no legal force as such, but may grow teeth if either the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) or the European Union itself decides this issue requires formal legislation. Certainly the display of signs and the creation of a Privacy Impact Statement should now be regarded as “best practice” for librarians.

Book Industry Communication (BIC) established a Privacy Group (which I chaired) in 2013 to maintain a watching brief on the progress of M436 and to liaise with the ICO in order to ascertain that body’s attitude to possible legislation. This group will now be reconvened in the near future to initiate its education programme for librarians wishing to know more – or to comply with the directive. Invitations have been issued to both the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) and the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) to participate in this process.


Book Industry Communication (BIC) releases advice for library RFID users

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the issue of Near Field Communication (NFC) devices being used in conjunction with RFID systems. A quick search for “NFC” on this blog will throw up articles going back over several years explaining why this is an issue that needs to be considered and what steps might be taken to minimise any risks.

BIC has now published its guidance for librarians – available here.

The guidance is the product of BIC’s NFC Working Group and draws heavily on the opinions and expertise of most of the major RFID suppliers in the UK market. As the person tasked with bringing this project to completion I would like to add my personal thanks to representatives of 3M and Bibliotheca in particular for sharing their advice and suggestions so freely.

Is there any cause for concern?

Well the best way to find out is probably to read the document and then perhaps talk to the experts. The incontrovertible fact is that smartphones equipped with NFC can now read and write data to and from almost all the RFID tags used in the world’s libraries.

So it’s probably a good idea to find out what that might mean for you.


How agencies can help librarians – an unpublished article for CILIP.

The following is an article I wrote back in February for Access – CILIP’s Public and Mobile Libraries Group Journal.

For reasons that are still unclear to me it has never appeared, and since tomorrow sees the establishment of the governance body for BIC’s Library Communication Framework – something I believe will help deliver better and more economic solutions for our beleaguered public library service – I wanted to raise awareness among UK public librarians about the work done on their behalf by some of the agencies with which I work so – after advising the editor yesterday – I am publishing it here instead.

Besides, I spent a lot of time writing it and it seems a pity to waste the effort.


Helping to meet the challenge of technology

The UK public library service is changing.

That’s the least provocative opening I could think of – and about as anodyne as most of the remarks made by politicians I’ve read these past few years.

It is nonetheless an obvious truth. Whether you see the future of the service as being a community hub, entirely digital or returning to “traditional” values (whatever they might be) there can be little disagreement that the service will have to deal with some major challenges.

Many of these challenges are of course political in nature. Should library hardware, paid for out of library budgets, be re-purposed to pay your council tax bill for example?

Others may require commercial interests to be aligned with public expectations – should digital services be available universally?

But whether these challenges are political, economic or cultural there is a common thread that I believe runs through almost all of them – technology. » Read more

Questions arising from the 2014 survey – 2. Which systems work together?

A perennial question is which library management systems have been successfully installed with which RFID solutions?

I’m never too eager to publish this information since I fear that some may simply look for their ILS/LMS and see which RFID suppliers they should consider. Why is that a bad idea? Well if you’re not buying a solution based on the data standards recommended by the various national bodies around the world (the vast majority of them based on ISO 28560) then I suppose it’s the only way you can be sure of buying something that might work. » Read more

Questions arising from the 2014 survey – 1. RFID Use in UK Public LIbraries?

Last week’s publication of survey results provoked a couple of people to ask me how many UK public libraries are now using self-service kiosks in their libraries.

It’s a difficult question to answer for several reasons. Suppliers don’t publish lists of their clients, not every library responds to the survey, some libraries may still be using other technologies to support self-service (something that began long before RFID appeared),not everyone using RFID is in fact using it to provide self-service and even those that are have not deployed it across the whole authority. » Read more

2014 Library RFID Survey – Part Three – Supplier Performance

An area of the keenest interest each year is the question of supplier performance. In previous years information supplied has been grouped by company and a summary report sent both to respondents and suppliers. All information provided remains anonymous to ensure that none of those brave enough to venture an opinion can be readily identified by their supplier. My reason for giving this guarantee is that I am told that unhappy suppliers sometimes discourage criticism quite vigorously and, though I recognise that protecting everyone’s identity is not a foolproof way of establishing completely accurate information about supplier performance it is probably the only way to give some respondents the confidence to share their opinions. » Read more

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… » Read more

2014 Library RFID Usage Survey

After much lobbying the survey is back! Regular respondents will be pleased to know however that this year’s survey is much shorter than usual.

Like the very first survey – in 2009 – the intention is primarily to try and establish how many libraries are using the technology – and in what ways. Since that first survey many things have changed and RFID is now frequently used for stock control, resource discovery, smart shelving and acquisition as well as with smartphones and tablets offering a growing number of new applications.

I’m frequently asked for information about the scale of RFID use in libraries around the world. Not only librarians but suppliers, investors, library and cultural agencies and even governments want to know who’s using which applications and what trends are emerging – and it’s difficult to obtain accurate figures.

So even if you have completed one of these before please do complete this year’s survey. You won’t have more than 15 questions to answer and none of them should take very long.

Everyone is welcome to participate but you may need a little expert knowledge to answer ALL the questions so please pass this on to your local expert if you’re unsure of anything.

All data collected remains both anonymous and confidential.

If you have additional comments or information – not covered by the survey – please feel free to email me at

The survey will close on May 25th.

Thank you!

Complete the survey here.

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