Interoperability is a word that is prized by library staff and reviled by online security managers.
It suggests that different devices should work together as the sum of a wide variety of parts, which produces a favorable outcome for the user. This is the logic behind cloud computing, smart televisions, and wide area networks. Apps exist on multiple platforms simultaneously, swapping data and metadata as needed.
To a security manager, each additional point of access is actually an open window into that app’s data. With each new device added to the network, another opportunity for mischief appears. A particular desktop PC might be locked down tight, but all it takes is a shared access between that machine and an undefended synched mobile device, and hey, someone has access to your stuff. This happens.
Our problem at MCNY has been what to do with our RFID equipment.
We started implementing our RFID plan several years ago, and we had problems. The gates were expensive and were not immediately compatible with our intranet. The tags were expensive unless we bought in quantity. The gates did not work as the sales team had promised. In fact, what they told us–that the gates could read a tag several feet away–was untrue. The SIPCHK account we plugged into our ILS worked only after considerable tweaking by our ILS vendor. The vendor’s conversion and circulation control software have shifted their design from the original data models we utilized. Then the tags’ physical design changed. Then the vendor merged with another company and everything changed again.
It’s not a problem that is limited to us, either:
RFID (radio frequency identification) tags have been used in libraries since 1999, when the National Library of Singapore installed the first system. RFID tags, like barcodes, are used to uniquely identify library material. A barcode tag has the barcode number imprinted on the tag, and the barcode scanner reads that number using optical technology. With RFID, much more information can be stored on the tag, and the tag data is read via radio technology instead of optical technology. Whereas barcode scanners require line of sight to operate, RFID readers just need to be able to detect the tag. This means the reader needs to be within 18 to 20 inches of the tag, but the tag need not be visible (e.g., it can be inside the book).
Today, RFID spending exceeds $5.85 billion worldwide, and the technology is used in virtually every industry. However, RFID adoption in libraries has not seen this type of explosion. NXP, manufacturer of the integrated circuits that are part of nearly every library RFID tag, reports that some 3,000 libraries worldwide have implemented RFID. So, while libraries were among the first to get involved with RFID, libraries haven’t gone very far with it since 2003.
In fact, most of the library RFID components (tags, readers, software) are essentially the same today as they were in 2003. There have been some improvements in the quality of the products offered, but there isn’t much difference when it comes to functionality. The vendors providing RFID solutions are also largely the same, although some of the smaller players have disappeared and some have merged.
After many months of work we are finally nearing the end of this project. Still, now that we have achieved a certain amount of backwards compatibility, the question remains: what happens going forward? If we buy new gates in ten years will they work with the existing tags and software?
The BIC Library Communications Framework, if widely implemented by equipment vendors, would help resolve this problem. Definitely a positive development that bears watching.