NISO issues guidance on Library RFID

This week saw the appearance of one of the most eagerly awaited documents (by me at any rate) in library RFID. Having spent the last four years of my life trying to persuade librarians (through publications, conferences and even official guidance – all available on my “resources” blog) that there really are some important issues that they need to consider before spending too heavily on the technology it comes as some relief to see a body as august as NISO endorsing that view.

US libraries have been much slower (in my opinion wisely) to adopt RFID on the scale we have seen in the UK and Australia. Whilst I’d like to think that this is a result of natural caution and a desire to wait for standards to be developed to regulate an industry quite capable of moving in several different directions at once I fear that it may have had more to do with (in my opinion largely misplaced) fears about privacy violation.

The NISO document dwells on the privacy issue at some length – and offers guidance to help libraries protect themselves against unwitting violation of the law. With the EU having recently invited expert opinion to advise it on the same issues – in libraries – this is a topic we are likely to hear more about very soon.

This post will however focus on the question of data standards.

Only this morning I posted the most recent results from this year’s global survey of RFID use in libraries. Sadly they showed that there are still very few libraries using any kind of data standard – and that even those that believe they are – probably aren’t.

So why should you consider doing so?

The NISO guidelines speak very concisely to that issue. In its opening chapters it states unequivocally that,

“Early RFID implementers are at considerable risk because of the lack of interoperability of proprietary vendor systems. As RFID providers and libraries adopt tags with the data model recommended in this recommended practice, true interoperability that allows libraries to procure the tags, hardware, and software from independent providers and distributors to use with all tags can become a reality.

The data model outlined in this document is an essential first step. This model is a key precursor to a world in which a library can procure tags from different vendors, merge collections containing tags from different vendors, and, for the purposes of interlibrary loan, read the tags on items belonging to other libraries.

Even with a data model, there are other barriers to interoperability and plug-and-play capabilities. They include:

  • Vendor-specific encrypting and encoding of the data.
  • Proprietary security functions, which are an advantage when considering hackers, thieves,
    etc., but are a detriment to interoperability
  • Software or firmware that is system dependent and can only be used with specific tags.

The ideal is that RFID tags compliant with the data model can be usable by other RFID vendors. With standards recommended in this document, interoperability and the ability to embed tags into books at manufacture is within reach.”

(emphases are mine)

None of this should be news to UK librarians. Guidance issued as early as 2003 made the same points about interoperability and even UK suppliers themselves endorsed the need for interoperability between different RFID suppliers in their 2009 statement.

Yet only a handful of UK libraries are even aware that the standard exists – and even fewer have deployed it in their libraries. Many believe that they have nothing to worry about – but NISO challenges such complacency,

“Libraries with existing RFID installations are unlikely to be compliant with all the data requirements of the new standard. While most tags purchased today and in recent years are in compliance with ISO 18000-3 Mode 1, vendors have historically used proprietary approaches to encoding data on the tags. In other words, even if two installations use ISO 18000-3 Mode 1-compatible tags and readers, they may not be able to interoperate since the data at each respective site may be encoded differently.

Think about going to a bookstore and selecting a book in a language you cannot read. While you may be able to recognize the letters and see words and paragraphs, you cannot decipher the actual meaning of the text.

Defining a standard data model for encoding is the problem that ISO 28560 intends to address. The question now is whether a site with existing tags and equipment can successfully migrate to an ISO 28560 compliant solution. Theoretically, if a library uses ISO 18000-3 Mode 1-compliant tags, readers, and other hardware, such a migration may be possible. However, issues like whether the data on the existing tags are locked and what sort of model is in place for security will affect migration.

While the prospect of migrating from proprietary to standardized systems can be daunting, with some careful planning and a good understanding of an organization’s goals and existing components, the labor and disruption involved can be minimized. Over time, thanks to a uniform standard, libraries will be able to operate with equipment from multiple vendors and suppliers.”

This is an important document. Happily for those of us (like BIC and NAG) who have been working hard to create the level playing field that NISO now seeks to create in the USA almost every word in the document coincides precisely with industry aims on this side of the pond. That means that as RFID now finally looks set to take off in the USA those libraries that have heeded the warnings will be ready to take advantage of the changes likely to sweep across the industry. The NISO document lists some of the areas of library activity that are likely to benefit from the adoption of the standard.

It also lists the pros and cons of migration – starting with the pros:

  • Interoperability between libraries – This is a primary goal of the standardization activities. Libraries want to be able to read tags that are affixed to items owned by other libraries and that in many cases were programmed by systems produced by other vendors. By upgrading systems to support standards and by migrating tag data into standard formats, this kind of library-to-library interoperability can be achieved.
  • Supply stream interoperability – A standard data model will make it much less expensive for distributors who offer pre-processing and will be an easier option for publishers and other supply stream elements to consider.
  • Good citizenship – The AFI on an RFID tag is a means of ensuring that the application of RFID in the library industry does not interfere with RFID uses in other areas, and vice versa. To be good electronic citizens, all implementers should make sure that they are ISO compliant and using an officially assigned AFI code. The codes are referred to in Section 3.2.
  • Equipment replacement – This is the other benefit of interoperability. Libraries are concerned about the future value of their investments and they are resistant to the concept of being locked to a particular vendor based on past choices. By migrating tag data formats to a standard, when equipment upgrades and expansions are considered in the future, the library may select and even mix and match components from standards-compliant system vendors. This is a benefit because it encourages competition, drives innovation, and reduces the need for compromises by the library.

And some of the cons:

  • Information about tag formatting is public – Standards and data models are, by their nature, public documents. Other sections of this document describe how a sufficiently informed or clever vandal or thief might use an RFID reader to vandalize tags or to steal an item from a library. There is a finite risk in migrating to a standard and therefore to a publicly available data format. However, this is only an incremental difference from the proprietary data formats, which, unless truly encrypted, are generally not difficult to decipher for a technically oriented individual with an RFID reader.
  • Labor requirements – There will be some labor effort for a migration to any new data model, such as the one described here. There will be work involved in equipment upgrades and staff time will be consumed where personnel are employed to reprogram tags, as well. The labor required for a migration can be minimized through thoughtful planning and many vendors offer services to assist with this process.
  • System performance – During a migration period, when systems will need to deal with two tag data formats, there will be some small but perhaps noticeable performance reductions in different pieces of equipment. For example, if a security gate must run two security protocols in alternating fashion, perhaps for a second or so (probably less) for each protocol, the overall rate of detection will be reduced.
  • Upgrade costs – There is always a cost associated with changing equipment and software. How this cost is absorbed by the industry will probably vary from vendor to vendor and library to library.

There’s much more in the document that’s well worth reading from migration strategies to supply chain modeling. Don’t be deterred by the lengthy sections on actual encoding, they’re from the standard itself and are the same everywhere.

Download it here.

What does the future hold for library RFID solutions?

For the last 10 days I have been watching responses to this year’s library RFID survey rolling in (328 as I write this) and been dipping into some of the replies and suggestions that librarians from around the world have been making about the potential for the technology over the coming year.

I guess January is the right month for speculation as I noticed Marshall had also been doing some crystal ball gazing. One paragraph in particular caught my eye:

“I anticipate some experimental use of Near Field Communications (NFC), especially in the area of patron self-service, though not necessarily new production-level implementations.  While QR codes continue to spark interest, I do not anticipate that they will enter the mainstream of library automation in any way that will challenge existing identification technologies such as barcodes or RFID tags.  I do anticipate steady movement in the implementation of RFID-based technologies in libraries, though not necessarily any new breakthrough products. “

Everyone it seems agrees that RFID is going places – but there’s very little agreement about where that might be… » Read more

SIP 3.0, Web Services and the future of RFID in Libraries

“Frankly it’s a mess.”

The words were from a respondent to the recent survey and they were in fact describing their difficulties with CD/DVD management but judging by my mailbox for some librarians they sometimes seem to apply to RFID in general.

In particular there seems to be some confusion about the announcement (yet to be followed up by a statement) by 3M about SIP 3.0. What does it mean, why does it matter?

Well in order to answer those questions it’s probably worth reminding ourselves how RFID is being used at the moment. That’s not quite as simple a question as you might imagine because, on a global scale, it’s being used in many different ways.

RFID is a very broad term used to describe a staggeringly wide range of applications, equipment, physical tags and complete solutions that are deployed to carry out tasks as diverse as tracking elephants to ensuring the integrity of drugs.

In the library context we can use RFID for both the items we want to use and the clients that want to use them. Borrowers might use RFID enabled “Smart” cards; books CDs and DVDs will use tags. To make things more complicated still both the borrower cards and the item tags are supplied in a variety of formats, using different frequencies and have different data written on them in a variety of formats.

So it is, potentially, complicated.

On top af all this most libraries will have existing investments in automation – often in the form of a management system – the LMS (or outside of the UK – ILS) that may, or may not interoperate with RFID.

There are so many ways in which all these different elements might be combined that it’s impossible to discuss them all without losing the plot – and possibly the will to live. Most suppliers will tell you that their RFID solution is much simpler than all this suggests – and mostly, that’s been true – up to now.

So let’s try and make this all a bit more manageable.

In the UK, US, Europe and some parts of Australia suppliers and libraries alike have opted to use the HF frequency of 13.56MHz for library tags. Not everyone agrees but the main defining characteristic of those uniting around HF are that they interact with a management system of some kind. Since most readers of this blog use an LMS (or ILS) I’m only proposing to talk about these kinds of systems.

The tags themselves can be programmed in a variety of ways and, apart from some European nations, most other markets have not, until very recently, attempted to standardise the data that is programmed in any way. Why this was so remains something of a mystery to me. The fact that, even now, many libraries are either unaware or unconcerned about using standards baffles me even more. Even the suppliers – who might seem to have the most to lose – have recognised that a standards-based approach to RFID deployment will bring some major advantages.

The agreement by the RFID Alliance to promote and support a single data standard was a great step forward for two reasons. Firstly it creates a level playing field for the suppliers – and freedom of choice for the buyers but secondly – and perhaps more importantly – it creates an environment in which new players can more easily develop new applications.

Which is where the next component in the process comes in.

Almost every library in the world seems to have introduced RFID to improve (or introduce) self-service. It remains one of the quickest wins around. Add a “smart” tag to an item and all manner of things become possible. Multiple item issues, automated returns sorting, integrated security… it is, as my American colleagues would say – a “no-brainer”.

But changing from barcode to tag isn’t just substituting one kind of label for another (although many still seem to think that it is). Once items are “tagged” they are more easily managed via the tag. That means that all your operations should be RFID enabled – stock movement, weeding, accession – it’s a long list. And if you move stock around – or share resources with other libraries – it will be a whole lot easier if you use RFID to do it – so long as you don’t forget that your LMS/ILS also needs to be kept informed of what you’re doing.

So in order to make updating (and interaction) easier we need a way of sending information to and from the LMS/ILS. Right now that’s pretty much SIP, the Standard Interface Protocol invented by 3M to enable different LMS/ILS to talk to barcode-driven self service units back in pre-historic times. The protocol offers almost infinite flexibility in its implementation by allowing “extensions” and these have been seized upon by suppliers to create new functionality for a wide range of library operations.

So while we have started to straighten out the tag standards we haven’t yet begun to solve all the compatibility issues lying in wait for the unwary.

This isn’t a new problem. RFID and LMS/ILS companies (at least in the UK) have been working around the deficiencies of SIP for a while now. Fines payment  for example frequently requires both SIP and some other protocol working in tandem to function effectively. The “other protocol” of choice increasingly being web services.

Now if every RFID and LMS/ILS provider continues to work out their own solutions to these problems we will build a second Tower of Babel and risk creating non-transportable solutions that will make creating a single data model look like solving a child’s jigsaw puzzle. So, in the UK, we decided – and the “we” in question was the BIC/CILIP RFID committee – to see if we couldn’t find agreement on finding common solutions to this problem too. (A second impossible thing to do before breakfast!)

Now, strictly speaking, we have strayed well away from matters strictly RFID but the committee is the only place in our market where librarians meet RFID suppliers, meet LMS (ILS) providers, meet servicing companies (jobbers) to discuss technical issues on a regular basis and – having worked in pretty much all of these sectors – it has fallen to me to try and steer the ship safely home by the end of 2010.

The first objective will be to replicate existing minimum SIP 2.0 functionality within a web service (or set of web services). So many applications now depend on SIP that it would be foolish not to ensure that everyone can continue to benefit from 3M’s generosity.  After that the plan is to try and identify as much “common” functionality as we can across existing ILS/LMS platforms and define web services for those. This will hopefully help us build “many-to-many” solutions.

Now into the arena springs SIP 3.0. Not yet (we believe) fully formed, and still blinking in the bright new RFID dawn details of its composition are rarer than hen’s teeth at present, but the inititiative is as welcome as it is overdue.

SIP currently defines both a data protocol and the means by which it is communicated. That’s part of its difficulty in working with RFID applications since the technology is at its best when not confined to serial operation. However in the London meeting we agreed (3M included) that SIP 3.0 could equally well describe a web service as a serial protocol. Accordingly we agreed to keep 3M advised of everything we do so that they can – if they so wish – incorporate our efforts into 3.0.

So SIP 3.0 and web services may well become the same thing…but what about that “future of RFID in Libraries” bit?

Well to be frank that’s still a bit unclear – but what is changing is the scope of RFID systems to deliver new and innovative services as well as to change the way in which some existing functions are perfomed. Bringing us full circle are the many innovations being made in Asia – where RFID has often arrived ahead of the LMS/ILS, creating completely new and self-contained models – for circulation for example.

RFID enables us to interact with objects in ways that we have never been able to before. Data standards enable developers to find new ways to design library applications. Where those developers are currently working will probably determine the future course of many aspects of library management. That might be somewhere completely new…

UK RFID Suppliers – What they do and how well they do it.

I recently sent each of the responders to the 2010 UK Library RFID usage survey a summary of how each of their suppliers had been rated by other users of the same system. Many asked if they could see the overall figures for comparative purposes and so here they are!

The format will be familiar to those who have already receieved their own reports but if anyone has any difficulties in interpreting the results (just a small part of the whole survey) please let me know. The full survey is being published by degrees elsewhere on this site. 

Number of replies: 154   Services provided:   No. of Libs
Number of libraries: 116   Self Service loans   111
      Self Service Returns (no sorter) 97
      Self Service Renewals 91
Types of library served:     Borrower account management 59
Public Yes   Smart Card   10
University Yes   Cash Payment   62
College Yes   Credit/Debit Card Payment 6
School Yes   Other Payment   2
Special Yes   Automated returns sorting 21
      Automated book drop 14
      Taking inventory   32
      Finding lost items   44
      Smart Shelves   4
 How Reliable?  
  Very Adequate Poor   Unusable  
Self Service Kiosks 72.92% 22.92% 4.17% 0.00%  
Automated book dispenser 0.00% 80.00% 20.00% 0.00%  
Automated sorter 25.00% 75.00% 0.00% 0.00%  
Automated book drop 27.27% 45.45% 18.18% 9.09%  
Gates EM/RFID books 16.67% 33.33% 33.33% 16.67%  
Gates EM/RFID CD/DVD 28.57% 28.57% 28.57% 14.29%  
Gates RFID books 55.32% 38.30% 2.13% 4.26%  
Gates RFID CD/DVD 42.86% 33.33% 16.67% 7.14%  
Stock management 0.00% 44.44% 29.63% 25.93%  
Cash handling 28.57% 57.14% 14.29% 0.00%  
How helpful?     Have implemented with:  
Very helpful 36.67%   Axiell (DS)    
Adequate 56.67%   Bibliomondo    
Not very helpful 3.33%   Civica
No help at all 3.33%   Ex Libris

Getting things in perspective

Recently I have received a number of communications about my 2014 Library RFID survey that have given me cause for concern.

More than one sent an attachment – a PDF copy of Part 3 of the survey – the section that gives details of supplier performance against a number of different criteria. Flattering though it was to note that someone in America (the PDF had an American date format on each page) had thought the survey of sufficient interest to make a PDF copy I was more than a little concerned to discover that the file was being distributed as part of a marketing campaign by a US RFID supplier because, taken out of context, the information it contained might be misleading.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind readers who may not have been reading the survey for themselves (and that presumably includes those who were sent a copy from by this US supplier) how the results are compiled – and how much credence should be given to the findings.

The first thing to remind everyone is that it is by no means a comprehensive survey. No-one on the planet has any clear idea how many libraries use RFID technology – I read an article only this morning about the number of new UHF installations in China alone. I can’t email every library on Earth so I rely on the goodwill and enthusiasm of those who use and supply the systems, and in some countries, the help of professional bodies and standards agencies to promote the survey. » Read more

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

IFLA, Helsinki and #WLIC2012

Anne and I returned from Helsinki on Sunday night. This year, thanks to financial support from both Bibliotheca and Smartrac in response to my begging email to the UK RFID list, I was able to attend the whole conference as well as the second IFLA RFID SIG meeting – where I delivered some of the headline results from the global library RFID survey on Wednesday. Anne’s company – Credo Reference – was running a series of presentations in one of the many meeting rooms at the conference centre so I had company for the whole trip.

First event was the UK caucus meeting on Sunday evening. Credo had agreed to co-sponsor the event with CILIP and a good number of UK delegates found their way to the refreshment area in the basement where we were delighted to be visited by IFLA President Ingrid Parent. From a personal perspective it was the arrival of a small French contingent from their own caucus meeting in an adjoining room that gave me the most pleasure however…


Infor had been kind enough to invite us both to the IFLA Officer’s party the following day where I was very pleased to run into former colleague Neil Wilson and catch up with goings on at the British Library. After hearing about Neil’s death defying journey from home to station I resolved to make sure I see more of him in 2013 – one day he may not be quick enough crossing the A1!

My main purpose in visiting Helsinki was to support colleagues from Germany and Australia who have steered the SIG through its first year as part of the IT section (I’m still getting used to IFLA protocol and organisation so forgive any errors I may inadvertently commit here). Edmund Balnaves and Frank Seeliger have done a terrific job of raising awareness of the potential for RFID as part of the fabric and systems of the modern library and the SIG’s primary purpose is to generate debate and understanding of the key issues facing existing and would-be implementers of the technology.

Frank’s presentation of the work being done at TU Wildau in Berlin was fascinating. In particular I liked the monitoring station that uses RFID to manage evidence-based acquisitions for major journal titles. I will be seeing this for myself when I speak in Wildau in September and will write more about this new product then. Incidentally Frank has given me a limited number of reduced rate registrations for any UK librarians that might wish to attend. The second day of the conference – 12th September – is all in English and well worth attending for anyone who wants a glimpse of the future for RFID. Apply to me directly if you would like more information.

Over 100 delegates attended my session – including Annie Mauger and Phil Bradley – CEO and President (for life? J) respectively. That was two more from the UK than attended in Puerto Rico last year but they certainly weren’t the only ones present.

During conversations afterwards I was also delighted to meet a university librarian from Portugal who remembered me from my Dynix days!

As well as presenting high level findings from the survey – available here – I was able to catch up with old friends like Richard Wallis, Gordon Dunsire and Gill Hamilton who patiently listened to my enthusiastic ravings about closer systems integration without complaining (much) at my grasp of linked data etc.

I was also able to thank my sponsors who rewarded me by posting possibly the worst picture of me ever on their Twitterfeed. The only redeeming feature was that it followed one of the Queen (Elizabeth that is) published a day earlier…

I love IFLA. This was my seventh conference and it’s always great to meet new people as well as reacquainting myself with colleagues I see almost nowhere else – like Ophélie Ramonatxo from the Institut Français in London who balanced my inclusion by IFLA as a French delegate by becoming British for the duration of the conference – and Sara Wingate Gray (aka @librarian) who has a brilliant idea for using RFID in an art installation in a library that I really want to see happen!

IFLA gave me a great opportunity to learn about new directions in library automation as well as giving me the chance to suggest ways in which RFID can help libraries respond to the most challenging period of their long history. A later (more technical) post will discuss matters RFID but for now – Kiitos Helsinki!


VALA 2012 – First impressions

Just spent a most enjoyable day at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre learning about the use of RFID in Australia.

It being Australia the discussions were much more forthright and straightforward than many I have had at similar events in Europe. No-one takes anything for granted here so the challenge to summarise the differences between the UK and Australian markets in ‘two sentences’ was a great exercise in concentration for someone who always uses ten words where one would suffice.

I will write more about each of the suppliers I met and the products they offer (I still have one more to go!) in a week or so but there are already some obvious differences between the UK and Australian experiences worth noting – and some similarities too!

My first port of call was at FE Technologies a company I already knew from email exchanges and from the the recently completed global RFID survey (more of which in a week or so) which identified a number of clients using the company’s products and services.Frank Giampetrone gave me the tour before introducing me to Benjamin Audibert who informed me – in French – that was a regular reader of this blog. (One way to be certain to get a mention here is to tell me you’re a reader!)

FE currently deliver a range of HF based products across a broad range of LMS suppliers using SIP 2.0 for data exchange so I was eager to ask whether they intended to support ISO data standards, SIP 3.0 or even perhaps BLCF in the future?

Speaking later in the day to Dr Rama Karthikeyan – their Business Technology Manager – it was obvious that they were keeping things under review at the moment. Library RFID is a demand driven market so BLCF wasn’t on the radar, SIP 3.0 was seen by them (and most of the other suppliers with whom I spoke) as being more of a concern for LMS suppliers. Data standards are being implemented rather more slowly – and rather differently – here than in the UK or America.

Next up was Civica. I learned from Andy Graham (General Manager ANZ) that Civica still offer UHF as an option for some of their clients, something I had learned from the early survey results. Civica partner with Bibliotheca for HF based RFID solutions (as they often do in the UK as well) but are happy to supply their own UHF solution to libraries that request it. Sadly there wasn’t time to discover the reasons why a library might select a solution that cannot support any data standard but it was interesting to see an LMS provider still selling their own RFID solutions – as DS did before they too partnered with Bibliotheca in the UK. (Although DS used HF rather than UHF).

I wanted to understand why a library would opt for a solution that effectively commits them to the same supplier ad infinitum but thought that was a question best addressed to a librarian – I think I understand the appeal from the supplier’s perspective!

Again I learned that while data standards were being considered they had not yet been agreed. The draft issued a few weeks’ ago is still under discussion. As I knew from discussions with Alan Butters Australia is unlikely to adopt a truly ‘national’ data model opting instead to develop data models based on ISO 28560 to suit local needs. I confess I’m still slightly confused by this approach to be honest but I think maybe it’s probably better suited to Australia than the UK. I’ll explain why later..

At this point I was hijacked by my old friend Ian Downie (a fellow West Ham supporter/sufferer) who was at the show with Baker and Taylor having been absorbed into their growing empire as the newly branded ‘CollectionHQ‘.

Over lunch we discussed – among other things – how the advent of RFID data models combined with new communication protocols could be a game changer for the technology and for companies seeking to develop new services. A conversation I was to repeat with three other suppliers with whom I spoke during the day – although I found it hard to accept that the adoption of industry standards worked against the interests of smaller companies. Up until now I had thought the opposite was true. come to think of it – I still do.

Pausing only to introduce myself to Kathyrn Greenhill (@libsmatter on Twitter – this week) whom I look forward to seeing again at Libcamp Australia on Friday it was on to Ezi-Scan next, a company I confess I had never previously encountered. They’ve been in the business 10 years and have a huge number of clients so I need to learn much more about their offer – which includes some very familiar hybrid RFID/EM security gates. I failed to get the name of the very helpful man who spoke to me because he also pointed out Alan Butters to me as he was passing by (we had never met before) and I very rudely set off in pursuit before asking – an oversight I must correct later in the week.

I wanted to be sure that Alan had received the copy of the survey data I sent him yesterday and to introduce myself more formally. We had a very interesting chat about how he was so busy he was turning business away but sadly I couldn’t persuade him to send any of them my way. I will be catching up with Alan again later in the week but he’s a busy man – their Mr RFID.

Finally I introduced myself to Colin Breen of Bibliotheca who was eager to tell me about the very rapid growth his company has enjoyed over the last few years. I was keen to know what Bibliotheca Australia’s view of international standards might be as I knew that the company is following different strategies in different markets. Colin (or Collin?) told me that they would follow whatever decision Australia’s libraries made – which sounded eminently sensible.

So day one completed and time to summarise first impressions.

Everyone emphasised their support for SIP but no-one, including 3M (with whom I met too briefly) yet knew what was happening with SIP 3.0. Like me several took the view that 3M had missed an opportunity by concentrating on tidying up SIP 2.0 rather than embracing the full potential of RFID to deliver more than self-service. An article to be published in the UK very soon may add some significant fuel to that debate.

Australia seems less concerned about gaining more ROI from RFID than the UK. Self-service and security are still the main product lines with the usual crop of sorters, book drops and kiosks. Only FE had something different with their smart shelf solution for reservation collection (and an elegantly simple DVD/CD unlocker), but to be fair to everyone else I didn’t ask about their full range of products…yet.

Data standards have so far made little impact here and the idea that all RFID suppliers might work together to develop new standards for the industry (as they have under the auspices of BIC in the UK) was almost universally met with something approaching disbelief. Only one company claimed that they had co-operated with another (which seems impossible?).

On the other hand the market here is very buoyant – Australia’s economy remains strong and, unlike the UK, Australian libraries are not in any immediate danger of being closed down.

Already looking forward to tomorrow’s university visit!



Bibliotheca announce new product range

Following the 2011 merger of the three companies that now make up the Bibliotheca group , a new product portfolio was – in the words of their latest press release – “always to be a exciting proposition for the Group”, and indeed for their clients.

Rather than simplifying their offer Bibliotheca have opted to make products previously sold in each of its main markets available globally creating – as they say – “a breadth of choice not previously seen within the library market.”

Choice is good of course, though sometimes confusing and even within their flagship self-service (smartserve™) collection there is now a choice of five distinct options ranging from built-in and tabletop through to complete self-contained kiosks with cash and card payment. Bibliotheca appear to have opted for Intellident’s “smart” branding for the entire range of self-service kiosks as well as for their smartadmin™ central management platform – an enterprise-wide software application that monitors and manages the various components that make up their RFID library management solution.

This is a relatively new area of development in RFID deployment. TagSYS offered a similar product to OEMs of their RFID hardware some time ago and other companies – have not been slow in responding to the challenge.

Of course what clients will really want to know is whether they also have a choice of software solutions for the devices themselves. The press release refers to the hardware being supported by

‘a new range of software products, which will provide a consistent experience for users whilst offering innovative features and options – all of which can be modified, controlled and maintained by the Groups’ .

Which suggests that the different user experiences enjoyed by Bibliotheca clients in the UK, Australia, Europe and North America may also be offered globally. More choice – and more decisions – for librarians to make.

Bibliotheca also stress their intention to continue to supply both barcode-driven and RFID solutions as well as providing continuing support for Electro-Magnetic (EM) security. All of which may suggest that the group remains firmly focused on its legacy solutions – however we have been promised exciting news about new products and services so judgement is reserved on that point.

It’s refreshing to see a company emerge from the inevitable turmoil that follows major mergers (I’ve been through a few myself!) so speedily and with a clear product plan.

Bibliotheca are the current leaders in the International Library RFID survey being carried out by consultants in the USA, UK and Australia. For more details of that visit,

For more information about Bibliotheca’s new product range contact their local sales office or approved Bibliotheca distributor -or wait for a new customer-focussed website to be launched later this quarter with full specifications and details of every product in the range.

For more information on the press release contact:
Claudia Shekle, Bibliotheca

Demystifying the marketing message – Could NXP’s announcement signal rather more than it says?

On Wednesday NXP made a seemingly routine product announcement about their new RFID chip designed especially for libraries – the reassuringly geeky sounding ICODE SLIX 2.

The press release doesn’t say very much about the reasons for the chip’s development, rather it concentrates on the improvements it will bring to library users of RFID technology. The more technically minded can download the full specification of the chip here.

The poor benighted librarian reading this announcement – which has been duplicated by the excellent Marshall Breeding on his website – will however probably be simultaneously confused and reassured. After all just about all the major players (in the UK RFID market at least) have made supportive and excited noises about the significance of the new product in the announcement – and I know from my annual surveys that librarians trust their suppliers above almost everybody else in the market (apart from other librarians) when it comes to RFID.

So why this post?

Well you can call me a sceptic (people do you know) but I take very little at face value and there are some threads running through this announcement that raise questions in my mind. Coupled with other information I received last week I’m beginning to wonder whether we’re about to see a realignment in the library automation world that we haven’t seen the like of since the birth of the Internet.

Let’s look at what the statement says and try and figure out what’s going on here.

After the usual “it’s all going to be so much better” messages we are told that,

“The SLIX 2 is fully compatible with existing ICODE library systems, ensuring that over 5000 public and university libraries already using ICODE SLIX and ICODE SLI based labels can migrate and benefit from the latest technology without difficulties”.

Which is good news for the 5000 (where ARE all these libraries, and how are they being counted I wonder?) but there will be many more libraries out there NOT using the ICODE family of products that won’t. Unlike most RFID users libraries tend not to replace their RFID tags – and their “product” lifecycles are significantly longer than in retail for example.

So the chances are that many libraries will still be using tags that even predate the existence of the ICODE family of products. An obvious point I know – but I know some librarians who will think that this statement means everything’s fine. When it may not be.

The next point that caught my eye was,

“In addition to improved scanning and reading capabilities the new SLIX 2 introduces near field communication (NFC) technology to enhance library services.”

Now THAT’s a really interesting way to present information that already applies to ANY RFID tag using 13.56 MHz tags (and that’s ALL of them in the UK by the way).  Regular readers will be aware that the potential for NFC devices (like smartphones and tablets) to be used to alter or delete data on RFID tags is something of an obsession of this author’s. It’s been possible for years now, what’s different is the recent surge in the number of NFC devices on the market. To me this sounds like spin – the implication that NFC has been “added” suggests that it hasn’t been possible before. But it has. For ages now.

What the data sheet will also tell you is that NXP are introducing a number of new features on this chip that will enable suppliers to password protect, and even kill tags. Librarians should consider two aspects of this news.

Firstly that this protection will only available on the new tags, and secondly that password protection may not be the answer to the problem because of the way in which libraries actually work (something frequently misunderstood both by RFID suppliers and manufacturers alike). Integration with an LMS might indeed be made more difficult if RFID suppliers start to manage additional aspects of the circulation process – and that’s one of the reasons for my opening, somewhat hyperbolic(?), remarks about change.

The last part of the announcement to which I want to draw your attention is this one,

“The new chips offer additional memory space to store dedicated URLs without compromising the library management memory areas. The URLs will point to internet spaces that contain additional information related to the book or media.

Sophisticated content, such as movie trailers, author bios, book reviews, and much more, becomes automatically accessible through NFC-enabled mobile devices as they tap marked areas on the books. “

Sound familiar?

Again regular readers (and those who have attended any of my conference presentations in the last few years) will be aware that I have long advocated the use of physical stock as a discovery tool for other resources. Examples of this obvious benefit already exist in libraries as far apart as Australia and Norway. By linking with a discovery system – or even an OPAC – library users can already enjoy the benefits of using books, DVDs etc. to discover author interviews or live performances for example (it’s already documented on this blog).

But the difference here is that the URLs that make this possible will be stored on the chip – rather than on a remote database which, in the light of the recommendations on user privacy in the EU’s mandate to standards bodies – M436 (as discussed at length on this blog and elsewhere), may be almost culpably reckless. The mandate isn’t only concerned with the data present on tags but also with what might be inferred from it. Someone carrying an item with a URL on it could easily be inadvertently advertising a personal or commercial interest to someone equipped with the right (and probably free) software on their smartphone.

So what to make of all this?

To me it all sounds like the RFID market has run out of existing products to sell to its traditional library market and has decided to take on the LMS companies for their circulation business.  It’s not a surprising development – the potential has existed for many years now, what was missing was a chip that could support the additional features that would make an entirely RFID based circulation solution possible. Until now.

Of course this is not an overnight process. First librarians will need to buy the new chips that make the reinvention of circulation possible.

I wonder what they cost?

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