By the end of 2019, every book, CD, DVD and audiobook in the Deschutes Public Library’s collection will have radio-frequency identification devices that library staff says will increase security and convenience for librarians and visitors.
The library’s board of directors last week approved paying up to $416,872 to Australia-based FE Technologies to help put RFID tags on the approximately 300,000 items throughout the library system. These tags will be able to keep track of stolen or lost items, make for easier and more secure check-in and checkout and even let people check out items using an app on their phones.
Library Director Todd Dunkelberg said these tags are already used by many other major library systems around the United States, like Hennepin County Library in Minnesota or Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina.
“These are counties we continually look towards for their innovation,” he said.
Emily O’Neal, the library system’s technical services manager, said every other library system she’s worked at has had RFID tags on items in their collections. She said the tags were crucial to protecting taxpayer dollars. Currently, there is no protection on the library’s collection. If someone walks out without checking out an item, it’s gone, and the library doesn’t know what was taken.
FE Technologies will add security gates at all six libraries, which will light up and sound an alarm whenever a non-checked-out item passes through — similar to retail stores — and even if staff can’t catch the thief, the security gate will read the item’s RFID tag and tell librarians exactly which item was stolen, so they can quickly replace it.
FE will also give the library two new phone apps, one for librarians and one for the public. The librarian app will help the staff manage and update book IDs and check out materials while at events outside a library. The app for the public will allow library users to check out items just using their phonse by scanning the RFID tag, allowing for more privacy and a quicker process than a typical self-checkout.
“If you have your DVDs and you’re ready to go … you can be walking down the stairs, checking them out, and by the time you reach the front door, you’re checked out,” O’Neal said Wednesday.
If library users choose the traditional self-checkout kiosk, when they scan the RFID tag, a list of “you may also like” books will pop up on the screen, and they can immediately place them on their hold list.
Librarians will also receive wands that will allow for quicker inventory management. Instead of the traditional method, where librarians have to pull each book off the shelf one by one to scan it and make sure its in its proper place, the wand will be able to scan the books while they’re still on the shelf.
Finally, the six libraries will each receive two special return chutes that scan the RFID tag as soon as the item passes through — one for inside the building and one for outside. The external chutes will require library users to scan their library cards or punch their card numbers into a keypad to open the chute to prevent people from dropping other items inside.
Along with all these items, FE Technologies will provide training and support for library staff, and O’Neal said the company comes up with a new RFID-based technology every year that the library system can choose to pay for. A few possible future extras that the library board could purchase from the company include 24-hour library kiosks and a system that would read RFID tags and automatically send the items to certain libraries, depending on who requested them.
“Taking this first step really opens the door to what we could do,” Dunkelberg said Wednesday.
There’s one major item that FE Technologies isn’t including in their deal with the library system: the RFID tags themselves. O’Neal said once library executives negotiate a contract with the company, staff will order and start sticking the tags on every item in the collection. The library will spend 9 cents for every 2-by-2-inch book tag and 30 cents for each of the slightly larger tags on CDs, DVDs and audiobooks. Tagging all the items will take between three and six months, O’Neal said, and the process should begin in the summer.
Although visitors might be confused to the purpose of the tags at first, O’Neal believes eventually people will appreciate the new technology.
“When it’s in place, people will love it,” she said. “But it’s hard to explain exactly what it is until people see it.”
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