How should RFID be used in a library or the 12 tasks of Asterix

My visit to “The Place”

A few weeks ago, I needed to borrow two books from the school library. As any diligent student, I was there at the opening of the library at 8:00 a.m, I knew that the books are available, I’ve checked them online the previous night (although I did not reserved them, BIG mistake). I had only 20 minutes, as my class started at 8:30, I had both codes jotted down on a paper and by looking at them, the books should be on the third floor.

To do some good to my heart, I took the stairs instead of the elevator, really fast I found the shelf the books were supposed to be, but they were not there.  Was I too late?

I set down to a computer to check the library catalog, but it was asking me for my student ID and password… Not sure why they need it, all I wanted was to check if some books are available or not. Good news, the books showed up as available, at least according to the catalog.

On my way up, I saw an information desk on the second floor, so I headed down, still taking the stairs. There was a paper waiting, saying that at opening, people should refer to the information desk at the ground floor.

On the ground floor, I finally got hold of a librarian that was suggesting to look for the books on the sixth floor, in the section with the books that are not arranged yet.

Time was getting short, I took the elevator, and although I found the above mentioned section, I was still in bad luck. It was already 8:20 and I had to go to my class.

After class, I went back to look for the books, they were not on the third floor, but this time there was someone on the second floor. I showed her the code and she directed me to the sixth floor, the books were not there, I came back and she checked on the library catalog to see if they are still available. No, someone was faster than me, probably with more experience and although I was at the opening, as a new user I could not find the books.

I felt as someone who entered “The Place”, that building in the 12 tasks of Asterix, where everyone goes nuts. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can watch it here:

Here is why RFID can be handy in a library

Today, as student of EBSI, I attended the Conference of the Library and Information Community of Quebec, where I especially enjoyed the presentation of Ton van Vlimmeren, director of the Utrecht Public Library. His talk was about the implementation of RFID technology in the libraries of Utrecht and in the Netherlands in general. This technology had measurable positive impact on the public as in increased the quality of the services offered by the library.

Here are some advantages I retained:

  • overall satisfaction of the users, the ser vices were more efficient
  • the boundary between a librarian and a library technician is eroded, they can all focus on helping the users
  • opened up new services
  • longer opening hours

In general the library has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and this change will continue as the Utrecht Public Library, as of next year,will become a foundation, instead of a municipal institution.

What more could be achieved with it?

My particular misadventure in the University library, made me think of the usefulness of RFID, and how it could be used to help even more the user. As it is used now, like in the case of the Dutch libraries, RFID can speed up the checkout and checkin process of the books, but today it should do more than that.

Would my library offered me a tablet at the entrance, I could have found the books I was looking for, on my own and I would have checked out in less than 10 minutes. The tablet would have told me to go to the sixth floor and it would have guided trough the labyrinth of shelfs. I know, I’m talking here about a library and not a fast food restaurant, but inefficiency is costly, no matter what field we’re in.

What I’m presenting here is not science fiction, or some obscure technology in some experimental phase. Every kid has now a smart phone or/and a tablet, these devices have GPS built in, and the price of these toys are dropping every day. How long should we wait to see them used in a library?


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