RFID Webinar Q&A

Below are listed questions that were submitted during the NISO RFID webinar. Answers from the presenters will be added shortly. Not all the questions could be responded to during the live webinar, so those that could not be addressed at the time are also included below.


  • ISO Standard on RFID in Libraries
    Paul Sevcik, Senior Product Development Specialist, 3M Library Systems
  • U.S. Implementation of RFID in Libraries
    Vinod Chachra, CEO, VTLS, Inc.
  • Case Study of RFID Library Implementation
    Luther Brady, Automation Manager, Riverside County Library System

Feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions about library, publishing, and technical services standards, standards development, or if you have have suggestions for new standards, recommended practices, or areas where NISO should be engaged.

RFID in Libraries: Standards and Expanding Use
Webinar Questions & Answers
April 14, 2010

  1. How does the ISO RFID standard address backward compatibility?

  2. How different is the ISO RFID standard from current, common, practice?

    Answer (Paul Sevcik): The main differences between the new standards and the current common practices in the US are the following:
    • The standards identify new data elements which have not before been populated on RFID tags in libraries. These new data elements are intended to provide RFID support to library functions in new ways in the future. For example, the standards support data elements which could potentially be used to provide more automation to interlibrary loan activities.

      These new data elements come in addition (optionally populated on the tag) to the fundamental item information that has been populated on the tags for years supporting basic circulation and collection management functionality.
    • The standards also identify encoding schemes for the storage of the data on the tags. Encoding schemes have been used in RFID tags in libraries for years as well – typically each RFID supplier has chosen a unique model. In some cases the national models of other countries have been used. The intent of the standards is to provide interoperability by making standard the methods used to store the bits on the tag. This promises to enable equipment from any supplier to read data off tags programmed by equipment from another supplier.

      Industry needs for interoperability have driven some equipment suppliers to implement capabilities for reading different tag formats, but the standards still provide a mechanism for open communication, and an authority for managing the encoding scheme.
    So the aim of the standards is to support interoperability atop the traditional functions of the RFID systems in libraries, and to provide a basis for added functionality in the future.

  3. It doesn't look as though there were any academic libraries represented on the original NISO RFID working group--any idea why no academic participants?

  4. We haven't had our jobber program RFID tags for more than two years and they require no equipment. We use pre-encoded tags created during manufacture. This wasn't mentioned during the discussion about the current NISO Recommended Practice; will it be addressed in the revision?

    Answer (Luther Brady): This is an interesting idea. Thanks.

  5. What issues do UHF tags present in terms of tag standards?

    Answer (Paul Sevcik): UHF introduces a number of issues for RFID in Libraries:
    • Frequency compatibility issues – the most basic compatibility issue between radio devices is the frequency. The HF tags typically utilized in library applications operate globally at 13.56MHz. The UHF tags referenced operate at frequencies between 860 and 960 MHz, depending on local regulations, which vary in different regions of the world.

      As the standardization efforts have worked to create interoperability for libraries, multiple frequencies tend to reduce opportunities for that interoperability. Put simply, HF readers do not read UHF tags, and UHF readers do not read HF tags. It is technically possible to create systems with redundant radio capabilities which can read both types of tags, but in practice this is likely to be expensive.
    • Tag memory architecture – The second issue to consider when looking to apply the new RFID standards to UHF tags is the memory structure. Our ISO 18000-3 Mode 1 RFID tags utilize a blocked memory structure which typically divides the memory into 4-byte (32-bit) blocks, each addressable and lockable individually. By contrast, UHF tags which conform, typically, to ISO 18000-6C and EPC Gen 2 standards, use a banked memory structure which is not addressed in the same way and must be locked entirely or not at all. The standards would need a revision to support a difference such as this – a new part of the standards family would need to be created which would address how the data should be stored in the alternative memory structure.
    • Application compatibility issues – The third issue to consider is the way in which the technology can support the library application of RFID. UHF enables some new capabilities in libraries – rapid inventory and very wide security gates. But it also generates opportunities for false alarms due to stray checked-in items near the gates, and the limited fields required for self checkout or other circulation activities can be difficult to manage, when compared with HF RFID.
  6. I've been reading some exciting studies about UHF tags so I hope the new standard will address this. Do we have different interference issues that could make UHF tags less viable for us?

    Answer (Paul Sevcik):
    • Privacy concerns – One of the significant issues which must be considered around UHF tags is the increased read range of the tags. Additionally, if retail tagging efforts regain momentum and drive the existence of UHF readers to the point where they are commonplace, the privacy issues that the Library RFID industry has correctly downplayed as possible but impractical might become significant threats. These threats would be realized both by the larger range of the UHF technology and also by the interconnected reader infrastructure which would be capable of reading those tags.
    • Security issues – Security systems based on UHF RFID technology must deal with several interacting constraints and characteristics of the technology. First and foremost, because of the increased range of the technology, while it becomes possible to have the “security portal” blend into the architecture of the library more easily than possible with HF technology, it is also difficult to prevent the systems from triggering on items which just happen to be near the secured exit – either because a patron is walking nearby or because of placement of shelves in a crowded facility.

      In addition, UHF technology, when compared with HF, is more easily shielded by liquids, and the human body is composed primarily of liquids. The mere act of placing a UHF-tagged book in the human hand makes it more difficult to detect at a security portal.
    • Inventory application – Inventory applications, after security portals, are the most obvious place to take advantage of the read range improvements that UHF has to offer. Taking an inventory to determine what items are present at the shelf becomes much more efficient with UHF. At the same time, determining what shelf the items are on, or determining whether they are in the right position on the shelf, becomes a more significant technical challenge. Range, you see, is a double-edged sword.

      Another boon to inventory applications is the speed of the read in UHF. These systems do read tags very quickly – more quickly than current HF technologies permit. But improvements to the HF technology are contained in coming standards – the ISO 18000-3 Mode 3 standard, for instance, will offer improved read rate performance over existing technologies, so this aspect of UHF superiority may be short-lived.
    • Circulation application – Circulation applications in RFID are generally more readily implemented using HF technology than UHF. Imagine the irritation of the patron when they determine that the self checkout unit they are using is picking up items from the patron behind them or beside them, and charging those items to their account. Such issues have arisen even in HF implementations, with their limited range, so expect them to be more problematic in UHF. While this issue will not be impossible to deal with, it will demand particular skill from the technical designers.

      Staff circulation devices will face some of the same challenges, though the designers are permitted to assume a trained user will be overseeing the operation of the system.
    • Emerging Markets – While UHF promises to provide some benefits that HF cannot, and while some of the technical difficulties may be overcome, the objective of interoperability stands as a large challenge, particularly in a country where significant installations of HF RFID technology exist. In regions or countries where the adoption of HF RFID in libraries is widespread, consideration of UHF implementation must be tempered with concern for interoperability. And an eye should be kept open to the advances which are forthcoming in HF technology. In locations in the world where there are no existing library RFID implementations, it is more practical to consider UHF.
  7. Will there be a liaison on the RFID Revision Working Group with NCIP implementers group?

  8. I've only heard nightmares about getting RFID tags to work on DVDs & CDs. Since your system gets everthing w/ tags, do you not have problems with these (or other) formats?

    Answer (Luther Brady): We have not found the hub tags to work and instead use regular tags on the cases. We have found the metallic book covers to inhibit success reading of the regular tags.
  9. For the last presenter: Can you address your decisions with respect to multi-disc media? Do you use "hub" disc tags or "complete disc overlay"? Does tagging multiple discs create interference at CKO, CKI or at security gates?

    Answer (Luther Brady): We are tagging the set with regular tags on the containers. We’ve not elected to use the complete disc overlays. As we treat all the formats the same, we have not experience problems with security gates. It does require staff to examine the returned multi-disk items and kits to make sure all pieces are returned.
  10. Has the library found benefits for shelf reading, recording pickups, or lost book searching using RFID tags?

    Answer (Luther Brady): We are testing devices from 3M, EnvisionWare and ITG. The 3M product seems to be the further along in being user friendly. All the units we’ve tested require preparation of data in the ILS for download into the handhelds or the laptops with wands. Different processing is required to identify missing/lost items from regular Inventory. In short, it requires special training of staff to perform the different functions but it works.

  11. How effective is the use of RFID for security/potential theft for open libraries?

    Answer (Luther Brady): It appears to help keep the honest people honest and hinders the dishonest until they learn the ways around the system.

    Answer (Paul Sevcik): Security systems are deterrents. They notify honest people about their mistakes, and they make it more difficult for dishonest people to steal items from libraries. The deterrent effect undoubtedly does prevent some people from attempting to steal things, but a determined thief will find a way. Any completely secure system will be too taxing on the average honest user, so we aim for balance.

    RFID security systems represent a nice balance, providing reasonable protection against false alarms, and providing reasonable detection levels for people who have made mistakes, or for those attempting to circumvent the system.
    One current drawback is that the items most frequently stolen from libraries, audio and video discs, are also some of the most difficult to detect, due both to the small obvious location for the tag (the hub) and the metallic content of the disc, which detunes the RFID tag and makes the security system less effective. Compounding these issues is the fact that the tag cannot be hidden on the disc without embedding it in the polycarbonate as the disc is manufactured.

    Given all of that, most libraries find their RFID detection systems provide an effective deterrent – either the patrons respect the need for the library to maintain the integrity of the collection and they abide by the rules, or they prefer not to be caught.

  12. If the tag information is redundant information (like title) stored in the ILS, why store it on a tag?

  13. Will there be recommendations about memory capacity for this emerging standard (and the next one)?

  14. What are you doing with the old tags?

    Answer (Luther Brady): We haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t the budget for the project at this time. The expectation is to in some way damage the old tag so it will not operate and then place the new working tag next to the disabled-working tag. We don’t expect to remove the old tags as that may damage the material. We’ve considered cutting through the tag with a razor blade or experimenting with punch to destroy some designated portion of the electronics in the tag.