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RFID in libraries (items + patrons + self service)

13 Apr '19

We heavily (and still increasingly) rely on RFID in our library. Currently only in the area of self-service and to a lesser degree for theft (rather and without irony “forgetfulness”) control. In the future it’s very likely that it will also be used for patron authentication/authorization. Also, in recent years an ever increasing number of libraries seem to be starting with (or switching from barcode/magnet stripes-based to) RFID-based self-service.

So I wonder if the topic on Folio’s agenda, maybe in the SIG’s Resource Access and User Management. Neither here in the forum (just 1 somewhat close hit) nor in the wiki (maybe three times) RFID is really mentioned. Did I look at the wrong places or is it not topic at all (and why)? While this is already the whole question, maybe I best try to say some words why it appears to be an important topic for me.

In respect to items there exists a standard (ISO 28560). It’s described in the easily accessible document RFID Data Model for Libraries (PDF).
In respect to Folio and service desk circulation it might (the big question) be easy to later write an App that manages the circulation process and the RFID reading/writing. But since our current third party solution (which pretty much only does some screen scraping) is a pain, I wonder, if solutions/workflows might not better be considered at an earlier (than 3rd party vendors) stage. Actually I would think that RFID and self-service (another topic I only find very little information on) should not be considered a 3rd party matter but something quite essential in library services today. We got the standard(s), the RFID hardware is available in any shop and Folio has the required information for the circulation process.
(I italized service desk circulation because currently it greatly differs from self-service circulation which uses additional protocols like SIP. I assume Folio might allow for something like an “autonomous circulation” workflow that works like that out of the box).

In respect to library cards RFID are an interesting option, too. Especially for self service. At the foliodays in Bremen (few days ago) me and a colleague (who is actually much more in the RFID matter) wondered, why barcodes still seem to be favored as a primary patron identifier and the UID of an RFID card isn’t even mentioned (since time ran out, we couldn’t ask). The UID is worldwide unique and - unlike a barcode - cannot be forged (as to my current understanding at least). This makes it a great option for a passwordless self-service (some libraries already allow passwordless checkouts with library card barcodes, but that seems to be a bit easy to fake).
In the matter of online login typing a UID would be a no-go. But on the other hand, forcing people to type 10+ number barcodes always has been a bad idea, too. I hope Folio will allow “soft” (contrary to a physical id card) identifier’s for login like the patrons email or (if lacking that) some username like last name + date.

There is probably much more to the topic. For example, some libraries with our “old ILS” also already considered the idea of using the UID instead of barcodes for items too. This is something (again because of the UID uniqueness) being interesting for Inter-library loan (ILL). It might be even more interesting with some kind of federated Folio ILL-Workflows. Well, ok, this really might be getting ahead of it a bit.

Anyway, I’m really not sure if I’m maybe be on the wrong track when I expect to find a lot more on topics like RFID and self-service. I occasionally considered asking this question before but felt like I probably missed some obvious specific information about it somewhere else or that I lack the conceptual understanding of Folio or the answer simply would be something like “it’s too early for that”. Well, now I asked… :slight_smile:

17 Apr '19

Welcome, Tobias! I was hoping someone more knowledgeable about RFID in libraries would reply to you before now as I can only offer an opinion based on years-old information. A couple of thoughts:

As far as reading RFID tags, I think they operate just like other forms of data entry like keyboards and barcode readers. Meaning that when the cursor is in a field, reading an RFID tag sends the contents of that tag to the computer as like keyboard input into that field. If that is true, then an RFID reader is invisible to the Users app and Circulation apps – it is just getting a string of characters.

Now I’m not sure about writing RFID tags; that might take a special app that interacts with the hardware and the underlying API endpoints. If you have ideas about that, please create an “App Idea” so we can add it to the planning process.

As for why RFID isn’t found more prominently in FOLIO right now, I can only guess that none of the libraries that are working to implement FOLIO in the next few months are using RFID.

17 Apr '19

Part of why you may not be seeing it so much is what Peter said - if it’s mainly being used as a replacement for the barcode, then it’s just a matter of having a reader that can interpret the RFID signal into a barcode number that is stored in the item record - the same as keying the barcode number or reading it with a barcode scanner.

vform: you also mention self-checkout, and I do know there are plans to integrate FOIO with self-checkout stations.

Resource Access would definitely be the best group to raise these questions with.

17 Apr '19

Many thanks for the quick replies @peter and @Ann-Marie.

I’m so used to RFID circulation that I overlooked that it is not necessarily self-explanatory that writing to the tag is required in the process (btw. I’m also no RFID expert but more on the user side :)). Think of it as if magnetic stripes would automatically set correctly after a circulation process (what maybe would indeed make sense to automatize with Folio, too?)

Accordingly to ISO 28560 (sometimes also referred to as “the danish data model”) a RFID tag holds more data than just the barcode. For example about the library and the item (barcode, part of multi part item etc.). But the crucial information for alarm gates is the AFI (Application Family Indicators) value for “Checked out” or “Checked in” for items. This information needs to be written to the RFID tag after the ILS confirms the status to have changed from one to the other.

Our current service desk software does it this way

  1. Reads the barcode from the RFID chip an inputs it in the ILS’s circulation field
  2. Screen scrapes the ILS screen for some hint if something happend
  3. Since screen scraping is to unreliable to verify what the actual circulation status of the item now is, the RFID tool then polls via API (well SIP Protocol) for the status. Then it writes the AFI information so the item is either secured or unsecured for the alarm gate

This is very inefficient because there is some guess work to when the status does change. BUT it is still a lot more efficient than letting staff manually write the status to the tag (much like most libraries with magnetic stripes still do?) by clicking some extra buttons.
Our self service devices can skip the screen scraping, because they do the circulation via API (SIP) and therefore know just-in-time when to lock or unlock the security bit of the tag (and it also works well with book stacks).

So I’m not sure if really an extra App is required. Maybe the existing circulation app could just have a workflow option to send data to another endpoint (“Item with UID/Barcode status is now checked out/in”.) after finishing a circulation process for an item. Or could such an RFID tag writing app already be part of a workflow?

Thanks again for reading :slight_smile:

26 Apr '19

Thanks for this reply @vform. I didn’t know that a checkout action would write data back to the RFID tag. (It does make me wonder how/if an RFID security gate verifies that checked-out status recorded on the RFID tag, but that is beside the point.)

So this is going to be interesting. The staff user interface to FOLIO operates entirely in a web browser. (A self-check machine can communicate with FOLIO using SIP/NCIP.) There is an experimental browser API for communicating with a USB device but support is not widespread. Alternatively, if the RFID reader/writer is a device on the network, it can communicate directly with FOLIO (are there protocols for this?).

I think we’re left with needing a library to come to the community requesting this as a requirement along with whatever hardware/software is used so the interface can be built. It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, I realize – a library can’t commit to FOLIO without knowing this is possible and FOLIO isn’t going to build it until someone needs it. That is just part of community-directed software, though.