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The Helping You Buy series; March: RFID systems.

Having wireless access to information is becoming part of everyday life, at home and at work. So it is not surprising that libraries are discovering the wonders of wireless. I am interested in the wireless technology Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) because of the benefits it offers to many diverse industry sectors and information organizations. RFID has several customizable features that are perfectly suited for libraries. So you may be wondering, "How does RFID improve library services? And why should my library be interested in it?" I've compiled this special section, the first in Computers in Libraries' Helping You Buy series, to show you what RFID has to offer libraries.

I have already written about the theoretical applications of RFID for libraries for the Journal of Library and Archival Security (v. 19, no. 1, Spring 2004), and I have articles under review that cover RFID implementations at Wal-Mart and Prada as well as RFID security and privacy issues for consumers. So I was curious about which features were becoming standard among RFID vendors for libraries, and took this opportunity to create a snapshot of the current market for Computers in Libraries. I drew up a series of questions and asked vendors to respond with the latest information about their RFID products. It was their cooperation and responsiveness that made this comparative article possible. The vendors included in the survey were Bibliotheca; Checkpoint Systems, Inc.; Vernon Library Supplies; VTLS; 3M; and ST LogiTrack.

But before you study the chart of product facts and features, you might want to learn a little more about the technology.

Understanding RFID Tags

Radio frequency identification has been used in other industries (such as security and retail) for at least 30 years; however, the technology has been used in libraries for less than 10 years.

RFID relies on radio waves to automatically identify tagged items, and to transfer data from a transponder to a reader to a database. An RFID transponder is a paper-thin tag composed of a data storage chip and an antenna. When the transponder (tag) enters a reader's radio frequency field, the reader's signal activates the tag to transmit its data. Readers vary in size and design; the hardware comes in hand-held, wall-mounted, or countertop models.

Information from tags is routed in real time to a database. Data is written onto the tag for permanent storage. Every tag has a basic identification code that is permanently stored on the tag to be read by RFID readers. On read/write tags, there is room for libraries to write additional information for circulation purposes, such as adding a physical location that can be used in conjunction with automatic book sorters.

Easily programmed in-house by library workers, the tags are designed to perform consistently for the life of the item they identify. Unlike bar codes, RFID tags do not require line-of-sight or physical contact in order to be read. This means that more than one tag can be read simultaneously while they're in a reader's field, a characteristic referred to as "anti-collision." Anti-collision enables you to take inventory simply by walking down an aisle of books with a hand-held RFID reader. All the vendors surveyed here use tags that have this anti-collision feature.

Beyond speeding up inventory, hand-held readers can assist busy workers with weeding books and locating misshelved items. Also, using digital tags and readers in conjunction with archives, special collections, or government documents can translate into less physical handling of rare or delicate items, which can be tracked via RFID while still housed in opaque storage boxes.

Most RFID tags are equipped with an anti-theft security feature, which means you can perform check-out and desensitization in just one step. A tagged item that has not been properly checked out will set off an alarm when it passes through the RF field emitted from security gates.

Inclusion of such electronic article surveillance (EAS) technology does not add to the price of the tag. Currently, EAS is a standard feature on RFID tags from all vendors except 3M, whose current system--"3M Solution with Enhanced Security"--still needs to employ 3M's Tattle-Tape Strips security technology. However, in early 2004, the company will debut a new "3M RFID Solution" tag that will incorporate security and identification on a single tag. This will afford an option to the many libraries that currently rely on Tattle-Tape technology and security gates to provide electromagnetic security for their materials.

Traditionally, circulation desk workers have had to maneuver bar codes under stationary readers or use hand-held bar code wands directly on each item, and then handle each book again to desensitize its security mechanism. For them, an RFID tag equipped with both item identification and a security device can be a timesaver. The one-step check-out and desensitization process also helps to reduce repetitive stress injuries. For the patron, RFID enables total privacy via self-check-out kiosks, which are easy to use and help to prevent long check-out lines.

Many of the vendors I surveyed offer automated book-drop systems that enable patrons to return books 24/7 by sliding them into a chute. The books are automatically checked in and resensitized; the catalog is automatically updated. Most vendors offer additional hardware--automated material sorters that route books to certain carts based on embedded tag data. This can be especially beneficial to library systems that are physically spread out: Tags can hold information that automatically directs the book sorter to separate materials that go to Library A from those that belong to Library B.

Why Aren't We All Using RFID Yet?

So if RFID is an improvement on traditional bar code technology, why haven't more librarians migrated their collections to RFID? The main reason is cost. When I discuss RFID with colleagues, people seem to agree that it's a great technology, but with current budget constraints, it is cost-prohibitive for large collections. Each tag costs about a dollar, so for a collection of 100,000 items, you'd pay $100,000 for the tags alone (nevermind the supporting hardware and software). The cost impediment to widespread installation should disappear soon, due to the fact that RFID has been implemented in retail and government sectors to improve supply-chain efficiency. In June 2003, Wal-Mart issued a directive requiring its top 100 suppliers to use RFID tags on all their shipments to Wal-Mart distribution centers by January 2005. Increase in demand for RFID tags and equipment may ultimately decrease RFID installation costs, and an inexpensive tag is key to improving demand for RFID system installation. And establishing standards for RFID tags is paramount in paving the way for interoperability among vendors and systems. [Editor's Note: For more on current RFID standards, see this article from the Oct. 27, 2003 issue of Computerworld:,10801,86486,00.html.]

Another issue that's slowing RFID adoption is privacy. Patrons perceive libraries as places to freely pursue intellectual curiosities. Due to some reports on the Web, RFID has been likened to an intrusive technology that will strip people of their privacy. It is important for readers to understand, though, that the RFID tags used by libraries are not the same as the type being used for retail and government agencies. Our vendors are specifically designing these tags to help librarians and their patrons, and with this in mind, privacy rights are being kept at the forefront. (See Michael Schuyler's column, "RFID: Helpmate or Conspiracy?" in the January 2004 issue of Computers in Libraries.) In fact, the RFID self-check-out kiosks can actually add to a patron's privacy and convenience.

What Vendors Are Offering Now

When you purchase new technology, it is important to understand the services that vendors offer before, during, and after a sale. Each vendor I surveyed offers a toll-free 800 number for customer support. Some vendors also offer money-back guarantees. For example, 3M offers a 100 percent money-back guarantee through the first year of ownership on systems with a service agreement. All offer follow-up support. For instance, Bibliotheca offers nationwide on-site service as well as e-desk help and phone support.

Here are some characteristics of RFID tags that are emerging as standard. These feature characteristics are common to systems of six library vendors in this survey:

* Frequency -- All tags operate at the 13.56 MHz frequency.

* Tag Data -- All tags are read/write.

* Tag Operation -- All tags are passive and operate without batteries. A passive tag is awakened when it enters a radio frequency field and is directed to send its information to the reader.

* Anti-Collision -- All tags have the anti-collision feature.

* Placement on Discs -- In respect to placing the RFID tag on a CD or a DVD, all vendors except 3M offer tags that can be placed directly on a disc. 3M's current RFID tags can be affixed anywhere in or on the jewel cases. This will change with the introduction of 3M's new RFID Solution tag early this year.

* SIP Compatibility -- All major RFID vendors offer products that are compatible with automated library systems that support the SIP protocol.

Ready to Buy Yet?

The accompanying chart will show you what each vendor offers and will help familiarize you with basic features. These facts were supplied by the vendors themselves in December 2003. Considering the nature of the technology, I strongly suggest that interested buyers contact the vendors' library sales representatives (listed in the sidebar) for current prices. Many of the features that are customizable will affect the price per tag. And many vendors could not give us exact prices because pricing depends on exactly what sort of package you purchase.

I also suggest that you look at the lists of current clients available on most vendor Web pages to see how your library might compare to them. Vernon Library Supplies, Inc. even offers a 27-question survey on its Web site that can help you decide if RFID might be right for you. Please use the data I've gathered here to help choose an RFID system that suits your needs.
                              Size of tag? (cm)     Memory

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Book and video tag:   1,024 to
                              5.1 X 7 cm CD/DVD:    7,000 bits
                              3.2 cm diameter
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Basic book tag: 5.3L  96-bits
                              X 5.3W X .1H; Video   user-definable
                              tag: 1.98L X .562W X
                              .1H; CD hub tag:
                              3.33 diameter with a
                              1.74 inner hole
Vernon Library                4.5 X 5 cm            128 bits
Supplies, Inc.
VTLS                          4.5 X 5 cm            Low-memory tag: 40
                                                    bits lockable & 33
                                                    bits unlockable
                                                    memory. Medium- and
                                                    high-memory tags are
                                                    also available.
3M Library Systems 3M         5 X 5 cm              256 bits
RFID with Enhanced Security
3M Library Systems 3M         5 X 5 cm              2,048 bits ISO
RFID Solution (single tag)                          15693-3 compliant
ST LogiTrack                  Book: 4.8 X 4.8 cm    512 bits
                              CD: 4 cm diameter
                              Video tape: 15 X 1
                              Active or passive     Read/write
                              tag?                  or read-only?
Bibliotheca, Inc.             Passive               Read/Write
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Passive               Read/Write
Vernon Library                Passive               Read/Write
Supplies, Inc.
VTLS                          Passive               Read/Write with one
                                                    lockable area
3M Library Systems 3M         Passive               Read/Write
RFID with Enhanced Security
3M Library Systems 3M         Passive               Read/Write
RFID Solution (single tag)
ST LogiTrack                  Passive               Read/Write

                              What is the read      What is the
                              range? (How close     price per tag?
                              must tag be for
                              reader to activate

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Depends on the RFID   75 cents or less
                              reader in use: 1' to  depending on
                              6'                    quantity
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Varies by reader      Depends on quantity
                              configuration: 6" to
Vernon Library                Staff/Self-Check:     Tag price is based
Supplies, Inc.                6" Security; 3'       on total system
                              between pedestals     quotation.
VTLS                          18"                   Contact VTLS for
3M Library Systems 3M         3M adjusts the read   3M's tags are
RFID with Enhanced Security   range to optimize     competitively
                              performance in each   priced.
3M Library Systems 3M         3M adjusts the read   3M's tags are
RFID Solution (single tag)    range to optimize     competitively
                              performance in each   priced.
ST LogiTrack                  3'4"                  85 cents

                              Electronic Article    Your anti-collision
                              Surveillance: Do you  feature allows for
                              still need            how many
                              electromagnetic       simultaneous reads?
                              strips, or is a
                              security feature in
                              the tag?

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Security is built     40
                              into the RFID tag.
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Security is built     20 Circulation
                              into the RFID tag.    Circuits per second
Vernon Library                Security is built     9 are recommended,
Supplies, Inc.                into the RFID tag.    but no actual
                                                    physical limit
                                                    inside the 6" field.
VTLS                          Security is built     20
                              into the RFID tag.
3M Library Systems 3M         Still needs           No limit
RFID with Enhanced Security   Tattle-Tape security
3M Library Systems 3M         Security is built     No limit
RFID Solution (single tag)    into the RFID tag.
ST LogiTrack                  Security is built     10, realistically
                              into the RFID tag.

                              Can you place the     What company
                              tag directly on CDs   produces your tags?
                              or DVDs?

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Yes                   Lucatron/Bibliotheca
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Yes                   Checkpoint Systems,
Vernon Library                Yes                   TAGSYS
Supplies, Inc.
VTLS                          Yes                   TAGSYS
3M Library Systems 3M         No                    3M, using an inlay
RFID with Enhanced Security                         from Texas
3M Library Systems 3M         A specialty CD/DVD    3M, using an inlay
RFID Solution (single tag)    tag for direct        from Texas
                              application is under  Instruments.
ST LogiTrack                  Yes                   ST LogiTrack

                              What year was your    Was the tag
                              RFID product          specifically
                              introduced?           designed for

Bibliotheca, Inc.             We have been          Yes, we use Mylar
                              designing RFID        finish, flip-chip
                              library systems       technology with
                              since 1996;           archival adhesive.
                              Bibliochip RFID
                              launched in 2001.
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      1999                  Yes
Vernon Library                2002                  Yes
Supplies, Inc.
VTLS                          2000                  Yes
3M Library Systems 3M         First library RFID    Yes
RFID with Enhanced Security   test site
                              installation was in
                              1999. First
                              commercial sale in
3M Library Systems 3M         Our single-tag RFID   Yes
RFID Solution (single tag)    solution is
                              launching in early
ST LogiTrack                  1998                  Yes

                              What integrated       Do you offer
                              library systems do    self-check kiosks?
                              you interface with?   Price for each?

Bibliotheca, Inc.             All ILS that use      Yes. Countertop
                              SIP2 or complete      version is $14,995.
                              custom integration    Free-standing kiosks
                                                    are $24,995.
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      All Circulation Data  Yes List: $19,995
Vernon Library                All self-check-out    Yes Price per Quote
Supplies, Inc.                and automated
                              check-in systems
                              that require SIP
VTLS                          Any SIP2- or NCIP-    Yes. Contact VTLS
                              compliant ILS.        for pricing.
3M Library Systems 3M         All major ILS         Yes
RFID with Enhanced Security   systems that are
3M Library Systems 3M         All major ILS         Yes
RFID Solution (single tag)    systems that are
ST LogiTrack                  VISTA, VLIB, AMLIB,   Yes $25,000
                              INNOPAC, Q-series,
                              DRA Classic

                              Do you offer          Do you offer
                              automatic book        wall-mounted RFID
                              sorters? Price for    readers? Price for
                              each?                 each?

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Yes. Prices start     Yes $1,995
                              at $7,795.
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      No                    No
Vernon Library                Yes Price per Quote   No
Supplies, Inc.
VTLS                          Yes. Contact VTLS     Yes. Contact VTLS
                              for pricing.          for pricing.
3M Library Systems 3M         Yes                   No. Current
RFID with Enhanced Security                         customers have not
                                                    requested them.
3M Library Systems 3M         Yes                   No. Current
RFID Solution (single tag)                          customers have not
                                                    requested them.
ST LogiTrack                  Yes $150,000          Yes $25,000

                              Do you offer          Can libraries
                              hand-held RFID        outsource the RFID
                              readers? Price for    tagging of their
                              each?                 existing collections
                                                    to you?

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Yes $4,495            Yes
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Yes List: $5,165      Yes
Vernon Library                Yes Price per         Vernon works with
Supplies, Inc.                Quote                 several book
                                                    processors that
                                                    provide tagging
VTLS                          Yes. Contact VTLS     Yes
                              for pricing.
3M Library Systems 3M         Yes                   Yes, 3M does offer a
RFID with Enhanced Security                         service to apply
                                                    strips and/or tags
                                                    during initial
3M Library Systems 3M         Yes                   Yes
RFID Solution (single tag)
ST LogiTrack                  Yes $15,000           Yes

                              Total number of       Total number of
                              installations your    installations in
                              company has           these regions:

Bibliotheca, Inc.             24                    North
                                                    America: 2
                                                    Europe: 22
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      114                   North
                                                    America: 105
                                                    Europe: 9
Vernon Library                4 Complete            North
Supplies, Inc.                3 In progress         America: 7
VTLS                          12                    North
                                                    America: 9
                                                    Middle East: 1
                                                    Asia: 2
3M Library Systems 3M         90                    North
RFID with Enhanced Security                         America: 45
                                                    Europe: 24
                                                    Asia/Australia: 21
3M Library Systems 3M         This tag has not      N/A
RFID Solution (single tag)    been released yet.
ST LogiTrack                  50                    Asia: 50 (Note:
                                                    Vendor will accept
                                                    clients outside of

                              Total number of
                              installations in
                              these library types:

Bibliotheca, Inc.             Academic: 4
                              Public: 20
Checkpoint Systems, Inc.      Academic: 10
                              Public: 96
                              Special: 8
Vernon Library                Academic: 1
Supplies, Inc.                Public: 5
                              School: 1
VTLS                          Academic: 3
                              Public: 8
                              Special: 1
3M Library Systems 3M         Academic: 50
RFID with Enhanced Security   Public: 32
                              Special: 8
3M Library Systems 3M         N/A
RFID Solution (single tag)
ST LogiTrack                  Academic: 5
                              Public: 35
                              Special: 5
                              Corporate: 5

RELATED ARTICLE: To Contact the Companies

Bibliotheca RFID Library Systems


1566 Silo Rd.

Yardley, PA 19067-4255

215/369-3004 or 1-8777-BIBLIO

Fax: 215/369-0841

Contact: Emmett Erwin, president and CEO

Checkpoint Systems, Inc.

Use "Contact" link on Web site to e-mail the company.

101 Wolf Dr.

Thorofare, NJ 08086


Fax: 856/848-0937

Contact: Christina Tierney

ST LogiTrack Pte Ltd.

1003 Bukit Merah Central

#03-10, Redhill Industrial Estate

Singapore 159836


Fax: 011-65-6-2772886

Contact: Colin Koh, sales and marketing manager


Mobile: 011-65-9-0011592

Vernon Library Supplies, Inc.

2851 Cole Court

Norcross, GA 30071


Fax: 800/466-1165

Contact: Chris Harris, director of sales and marketing

VTLS, Inc.

1701 Kraft Dr.

Blacksburg, VA 24060


Fax: 540/557-1210


Northeast: Dan Denault 704/992-6680

Southeast: Jan Sheppard 919/571-8573

Western U.S.: Tate Nunley 540/557-1200

3M Library Systems

Use "Contact 3M" Web link to e-mail the company.

3M Center Bldg. 225-4N-14

St. Paul, MN 54144-1000


Fax: 800/223-5563

Contact 3M to be put in touch with a sales rep in your area.

Diane Marie Ward is principal original cataloger for the Poetry/Rare Books Collection, as well as instructional support tech in the cataloging department of SUNY-Buffalo's Central Technical Services Unit in New York. She has a B.A. in English and French, with a concentration in Chinese, from Canisius College in Buffalo. She also holds an M.A. in informatics, with a focus on radio frequency identification tag technology, from SUNY-Buffalo. Her e-mail address is
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Title Annotation:Your Guide to Vendor Product Facts; radio frequency identification
Author:Ward, Diane Marie
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Article Type:Buyers Guide
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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