Use of RFID technology in libraries: a new approach to circulation, tracking, inventorying, and security of library materials.

Author:Shahid, Syed Md.
Position:Radio frequency identification


RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) allows an item, for example a library book, to be tracked and communicated with by radio waves. This technology is similar in concept to a cellphone. RFID is a broad term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID tag). The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves reflected back from the RFID tag into digital information that can then be passed on to computers that can make use of it (FAQ, 2004).

RFID for Libraries

RFID can be used library circulation operations and theft detection systems. RFID-based systems move beyond security to become tracking systems that combine security with more efficient tracking of materials throughout the library, including easier and faster charge and discharge, inventorying, and materials handling (Boss 2004).

This technology helps librarians reduce valuable staff time spent scanning barcodes while charging and discharging items. RFID is a combination of radio-frequency-based technology and microchip technology. The information contained on microchips in the tags affixed to library materials is read using radio frequency technology, regardless of item orientation or alignment (i.e., the technology does not require line-of-sight or a fixed plane to read tags as do traditional theft detection systems). The RFID gates at the library exit(s) can be as wide as four feet because the tags can be read at a distance of up to two feet by each of two parallel exit gate sensors.

Components of an RFID System

A comprehensive RFID system has four components:

  1. RFID tags that are electronically programmed with unique information

  2. Readers or sensors to query the tags

  3. Antenna

  4. Server on which the software that interfaces with the integrated library software is loaded.


    The heart of the system is the RFID tag, which can be fixed inside a book's back cover or directly onto CDs and videos. This tag is equipped with a programmable chip and an antenna. Each paper-thin tag contains an engraved antenna and a microchip with a capacity of at least 64 bits. There are three types of tags: "read only", "WORM," and "read/write" (Boss 2003). "Tags are "read only" if the identification is encoded at the time of manufacture and not rewritable. "WORM" (Write-Once-Read-Many) tags are programmed by the using organization, but without the ability to rewrite them later. "Read/write tags," which are chosen by most libraries, can have information changed or added. In libraries that use RFID, it is common to have part of the read/write tag secured against rewriting, e.g., the identification number of the item.


    RFID readers or receivers are composed of a radio frequency module, a control unit and an antenna to interrogate electronic tags via radio frequency (RF) communication (Sarma et al. 2002). The reader powers an antenna to generate an RF field. When a tag passes through the field, the information stored on the chip in the tag is interpreted by the reader and sent to the server, which, in turn, communicates with the integrated library system when the RFID system is interfaced with it (Boss 2004).

    RFID exit gate sensors (readers) at exits are basically two types. One type reads the information on the tag(s) going by and communicates that information to a server. The server, after checking the circulation database, turns on an alarm if the material is not properly checked out. Another type relies on a "theft" byte in the tag that is turned on or off to show that the item has been charged or not, making it unnecessary to communicate with the circulation database.

    Readers in RFID library are used in the following ways (Boss 2003):

    * Conversion station: where library data is written to the tag

    * Staff workstation at circulation: used to charge and discharge library materials

    * Self check-out station: used to check out library materials without staff assistance

    * Self check-in station: used to check in library materials without staff assistance

    * Exit sensors: to verify that all material leaving the library has been checked out

    * Book-drop reader: used to automatically discharge library materials and reactivate security

    * Sorter and conveyor: automated system for returning material to proper area of library

    * Hand-held reader: used for inventorying and verifying that material is shelved correctly.


    The antenna produces radio signals to activate the tag and read and write data to it. Antennas are the channels between...

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