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?