The Helping You Buy series; March: RFID systems.
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: http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/erp/story/0,10801,86486,00.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 specifications? 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 cm 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 it?) 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 3' 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 pricing 3M Library Systems 3M 3M adjusts the read 3M's tags are RFID with Enhanced Security range to optimize competitively performance in each priced. application. 3M Library Systems 3M 3M adjusts the read 3M's tags are RFID Solution (single tag) range to optimize competitively performance in each priced. application. 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 strips. 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, Inc. Vernon Library Yes TAGSYS Supplies, Inc. VTLS Yes TAGSYS 3M Library Systems 3M No 3M, using an inlay RFID with Enhanced Security from Texas Instruments 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. development. ST LogiTrack Yes ST LogiTrack What year was your Was the tag RFID product specifically introduced? designed for libraries? 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 2000. 3M Library Systems 3M Our single-tag RFID Yes RFID Solution (single tag) solution is launching in early 2004. 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 Systems Vernon Library All self-check-out Yes Price per Quote Supplies, Inc. and automated check-in systems that require SIP compatibility. 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 SIP-compliant. 3M Library Systems 3M All major ILS Yes RFID Solution (single tag) systems that are SIP-compliant 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 services. 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 conversion. 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: completed? 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 Asia.) 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
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
Contact: Christina Tierney
ST LogiTrack Pte Ltd.
1003 Bukit Merah Central
#03-10, Redhill Industrial Estate
Contact: Colin Koh, sales and marketing manager
Vernon Library Supplies, Inc.
2851 Cole Court
Norcross, GA 30071
Contact: Chris Harris, director of sales and marketing
1701 Kraft Dr.
Blacksburg, VA 24060
Northeast: Dan Denault email@example.com 704/992-6680
Southeast: Jan Sheppard firstname.lastname@example.org 919/571-8573
Western U.S.: Tate Nunley email@example.com 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Your Guide to Vendor Product Facts; radio frequency identification|
|Author:||Ward, Diane Marie|
|Publication:||Computers in Libraries|
|Article Type:||Buyers Guide|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Know how to integrate services to make libraries easier to use: even though the Internet is far bigger and more complicated than it was in 1992,...|
|Next Article:||2 critical stages for a successful ILS migration: system profiling and data conversion; Choosing settings and converting data require careful system...|