RFID Systems: An Introduction (Part 1)

Below are listed questions that were submitted during the April 13, 2011 webinar. Answers from the presenters will be added when available. 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.


  • Introduction
    Todd Carpenter, NISO Managing Director
  • User Perspective
    Alan Gray, Assistant Director, Operations, Darien Library
  • Supply Chain Perspective
    Rob Walsh, President & Co-founder, EnvisionWare, Inc.
    Speaker TBA

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

NISO Webinar Questions and Answers

1. RFID seems simple enough to implement for adding new items to library, but how much time/cost to retrofit existing items in collection?

Alan Gray: Each team of two persons (with a conversion cart) can retrofit 500 books and most other items per hour at a sustained rate, presuming they’re not making judgments (unless they are very quick judgments) about whether an item should be weeded or otherwise dealt with. Doing this requires some planning for the parts of a collection that circulate, since you’ll want to trap returned items that have not been retrofitted before they are reshelved. I also received quotes some years ago of third party service providers who would do the retrofitting at $0.50 per item, but do not know if that is a currently-accurate price.

2. What ISO standard Tags do you use in your system?

Rob Walsh: Tags should conform to ISO 18000-3 Mode 1 and the data should be encoded according to ISO 28560-2 following the U.S. profile defined in NISO Recommended Practices for RFID in Libraries. Tags conforming to ISO 15693 may work as ISO 18000-3 Mode 1 and ISO 15693 are nearly identical in this specific context.

3. Can you please elaborate on how the workflow in Technical Services (i.e. from UPS truck to the shelf). Are your collections anchored or do they float?

Alan Gray: Our collection is anchored (we are one building).

We order nearly all our items shelf-ready, complete to the sense that they have already been processed, and have been added to our collection. (We use one of the major jobber’s custom library services.) So, when they are received from the UPS truck, they are taken out of the box, checked in, placed in the staff induction station to the materials handling system sorter, and thereby sorted (the materials handling system checks the ILS for appropriate information) in the same way they would have been if returned by a patron. Items on which there are holds are trapped, other items are shelved as a normal part of our process.

If we had a system of multiple branches, we undoubtedly would be set up to sort at the receiving point to each branch, and I believe we would handle them the same way. It’s the ILS system that determines handling in a floating collection system, and the materials handling system gets its marching orders from the ILS.

4. Could RFID help if you had to box a collection temporarily for a move. Would you be able to identify box contents and issue inventory lists of boxed items "on the fly"?

Rob Walsh: This is not what most RFID systems available to libraries today are intended to do. The technology might support this kind of use, but the library likely would need either to write the software component or contract a vendor to develop a custom system. The read range of High Frequency (HF) RFID tags (which is about 10-15” for most applications) might prove to be an obstacle. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tags are really better suited for this kind of application, and they are not generally the tags used in libraries.

5. Do you use AMH and does it check in one item at a time or multiple?

Rob Walsh: Most AMH systems available today process one item at a time. Some are able to separate items as they are being processed (a process often called deshingling).

6. How else did you measure success? (especially for the less tangible items like % of time staff spend on more high value tasks)

Alan Gray: Our primary measure of success is the count we make with respect to staff interactions with patrons, and the circulation outcome that results. We now track Reader Advisor discussions in each area of the Library, and see a close correlation between the growth of RA discussions and the percentage of circulation accounted for by books (the primary subject of RA discussions.) We also count the number of items returned in our outside book return after hours (surely a cause of higher turnover of items, and thus somewhat lesser demand for purchase of multiple items, and something we believe would not be as successful without implementing RFID.)

As a final measure, when we surveyed staff one year after the opening of our new building, and asked them what were the most positive things they had seen, among the overwhelming favorites were the success of selfchecks (1) and the fact that automated returns no longer took time away from the staff that had been on the circulation desk, and now are Reader Advisors (3).

7. What are the advantages of using RFID to an academic library moving large portions of its print collections to off-site storage?

Rob Walsh: Depending on how the items are to be stored, RFID may make it easier to retrieve items from storage when they are needed. For example, items simply stored on shelves at another location could be located using portable RFID technologies. However, if items are packed into boxes and stored, then today’s RFID systems for libraries may not help.

8. What is difference between ISO 18000 & ISO 15693? Why choose one over another? Is read range same for both? Are there any privacy concerns?

Rob Walsh: While there are some specific variations in the two standards (ISO 18000-3 Mode 1 and ISO 15693), in most cases, the differences are inconsequential and should not matter to the library. Libraries should be specifying, though, ISO 18000-3 Mode 1 compliance rather than ISO 15693.

9. You mentioned UHF RFID tags. They are being used in some libraries. Do you have more information about why or why not to use these?

Rob Walsh: While some libraries are successfully using UHF RFID tags, these systems are not what is generally being offered. The library industry has essentially standardized on HF tags, possibly due to historical technological advantages (chiefly larger memories and shorter read distances). Today, the technologies may exist to mitigate these distinctions, but HF has been established as the preferred platform.

10. Do tags interfere with each other if the books are narrow?

Rob Walsh: They can, yes. Most encoding guidelines recommend staggering the tags by cycling through as many as four unique positions when placing the tag. While this does not guarantee that two adjacent items will never have tags in the same physical location in each of the items, it does increase the likelihood that they will not. Most of the time, though, except for very thin items, the item itself provides sufficient separation to avoid this kind of interference.

11. Can you talk about a hybrid system - using both barcodes & RFID - and how that works with security? Strips and RFID tags? Can one gate handle both? Are there hybrid gates?

Rob Walsh: Such systems have been marketed in the past, but they are not common in today’s market. In these systems, each component (including the gates) must be configured to deal with both kinds of items. This increases the cost to implement the system, and it can present patrons with confusing and non-intuitive workflows.

Lori Ayre: Want to know more about UHF and HF tags? I summarized my findings at http://galecia.com/blogs/lori-ayre/uhf-and-hf-rfid-tags.