RFID Systems (Part 2)

Below are listed questions that were submitted during the April 20, 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
  • NISO Recommended Practice Section 2: The Data Model
    Vinod Chachra, President & CEO, VLTS Inc. and Co-chair, NISO RFID Revision Working Group
  • NISO Recommended Practice Section 3: Security Issues
    Matt Bellamy, RFID Marketing Manager, 3M Library Systems
  • NISO Recommended Practice Sections 6 & 7: Privacy and Vandalism
    Dan Walters, Public Librarian, Retired

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. Is OCLC offering to provide a code for every library that requests it regardless of whether they are members of OCLC?
    Matt Bellamy: OCLC codes are just one way of encoding the library identifier in an ISIL-compatible format. If the library community would like to be using a noncommercial identifier, through NISO it may be possible to lobby the Library of Congress to establish a registration authority for ISIL in the US.
  2. In regard to security, have libraries considered creating zones of radio awareness such that if an article were to inexplicably disappear, e.g. into a metal lined bag, that event could be detected?

    Matt Bellamy:
    This is likely not feasible because of the read range limitations of RFID. As a practical matter, it is always difficult to detect the nonexistence of an object. A system which would generate an alert based on the disappearance of an item from an RFID read zone would typically generate many false positives.
  3. In 2003, the problem of data base privacy was exploded by some absurd concerns of a purported biblical relationship with the "mark of the beast." Not to mention the impact of the Patriot Act. Is it fair to presume that those more extreme issues have largely subsided?

    Matt Bellamy:
    Generally speaking the market is more educated on the advantages and disadvantages of RFID and what impact it may have on privacy.

    Dan Walters: Public library use of RFID seems to have been much more of a politically charged matter than planned implementation of RFID in academic institutions. The anxiety expressed by detractors in Berkeley, California and shortly thereafter in San Francisco has not been repeated in other cities.

    In the time since the Berkeley and San Francisco furor, which was central to the ALA RFID hearings and ensuing policy debate, there have been installations in other California cities, and Seattle Public Library completed a noteworthy installation of the technology in its new, highly regarded central library which opened in May, 2004. Of course there have been many other installations across the country since that time. Concern about the technology’s alleged compromising of patron privacy appears to differ between communities and institutions.

    Although many critics of the technology may also view the USA Patriot Act as a governmental intrusion into library patron privacy, I am not familiar with challenges that linked the federal policy with deployment of RFID in libraries. I am also not familiar with further claims of any adverse or positive suggestions of a biblical relationship with the technology.

  4. ALA Privacy and Confidentiality Guidelines...Best Practices include "Limit the bibliographic information stored on a tag to a unique identifier for the item (e.g., barcode number, record number, etc.). Use the security bit on the tag if it is applicable to your implementation." This seems to suggest that none of the optional fields should be used. At best, it muddies the issue. Is there any hope of the OIF updating their guidelines to take into acount the new standards and the options available to libraries to take advantage of these new fields to optimize worflow without creating any kind of privacy problem for patrons?

    Matt Bellamy: I am not aware of any plans to update these guidelines.

    Dan Walters: I followed the ALA policy hearings with interest prior to the adoption of policies by the ALA Council and subsequently by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC). Certainly, ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom is characterized by its uncompromising adherence to its positions regarding patron privacy.

    It is clear that there is a conflict between the new NISO standard’s provision for optional storage of bibliographic data and the IFC’s determination that stored data be limited “to a unique identifier.” The IFC’s policy also calls for an open educational process that engages all institutional staff and users in an examination of the planned implementation of the RFID technology. Such a forum is the appropriate place to examine the compelling reasons that may lead an institution to store additional data other than only a unique identifier, while pointing out that no transactional or patron data will be stored, in any case.

    Institutions can demonstrate commitment to patron privacy by adopting policy revisions that address how RFID is used and how patron privacy is protected. Institutions can further demonstrate their commitment to patron privacy by annually conducting and publishing “privacy audits” that disclose how all technology that affects patron privacy is continually examined to prevent the library from inadvertently compromising patron privacy.

    I am not aware of any interest within ALA to review adopted RFID policies but this might change as the technology is more widely utilized by libraries that decide to store more data on a tag than a unique identifier.

NISO Webinar Resources

Privacy and Confidentiality – ALA document

Questions and Answers on Privacy and Confidentiality