The concept of RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) can be simplified to that of an electronic barcode. First emerging in the
RFID was primarily used to track objects in industrial environments where barcodes were unable to
sustain the harsh surroundings. Today in 2001, RFID is being used to authenticate official memorabilia, track proprietary assets, automate access control and, since the
late 1990s, manage inventory and theft in libraries.
Thanks to Jo Vowles from
Gemplus Tag for the information in this Technical Briefing.
for RFID Vendors
The basics - for libraries.
An RFID system comprises three components; a tag, a reader and an antenna.
The tag is paper thin, flexible and approximately 2”x 2” in size which allows it to be placed
inconspicuously on the inside cover of each book in a library’s collection. It consists of an etched antenna and a tiny chip which stores vital bibliographic data including a unique ID
number to identify each item. This contrasts with a barcode label, which does not store any information, but merely points to a database.
RFID Reader & Antenna
These components are available in various shapes and sizes to suit respective applications
within the library, and are often integrated into one enclosure for that specific purpose (ie patron self check-out machines, inventory readers).
The reader powers the antenna to generate an RF field. When a tag passes through this RF
field, the information stored on the chip is decoded by the reader, and sent to the PC or central server which in turn, communicates to the Library Information System.
Key Attributes of RFID
Unlike barcodes, RFID tags can be read;
- through desktops and book covers (no line of sight is required).
- in any orientation to the reader/antenna
- while moving (ie while being deposited through a return chute)
- several at a time
- from distances of several inches to the antenna
RFID improves library workflow, staff productivity and customer service with these
attributes. However, the ability to conduct inventory counts without removing a single book from the shelf, is what really separates RFID from preceding technologies such as barcodes.
Evaluating RFID from different vendors
It is potentially overwhelming to evaluate competitive offerings of a new technology; hence
the following guide lists some of the characteristics to be considered.
The same RFID tag used to manage inventory can also be used to protect it from theft.
Current offerings provide the choice between a purely RFID solution, or RFID with an EM (electro-magnetic) add-on for theft.
Tag memory capacity
More memory is not necessarily better than less - it often correlates with price, and data
transmission speed. As a first step, consider what information you need to program into each tag, and then discuss with vendors.
Read/Write vs. Read Only
- Some vendors offer tags which can only be “written to” once. That is, once the tag is
programmed, the information stored in the tag’s memory cannot be changed. Alternatively, information stored in the memory of read/write tags can be updated as required.
- All RFID vendors in the library market offer a product with anti-collision (the ability to
read several tags simultaneously). However, the speed at which this can be performed, and the total number of tags that can be read, will vary. This relates
specifically to inventory management with a hand-held reader, and check-in processes.
EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance) mechanism
- As mentioned above, RFID can be used to prevent theft in the library. This approach
varies from vendor to vendor – the security mechanism may be integrated into the chip itself, or security gates may be linked to a separate server which interrogates
the database to conclude whether an alarm needs to be triggered.
- Expect to pay from US$0.85 to over US$1 per tag.
- · The price of hardware (per unit) varies extensively from different suppliers. However, the infrastructure requirement also varies.
- · The emerging standard for library RFID solutions is to employ a frequency of 13.56MHz. However, no formal standards are currently in place.