RFID - Read All About It
Rockefeller University Library secures medical library books through an RFID system installed by
Rockefeller University, a biomedical research institution located in Manhattan, shared the usual library-related concerns regarding late materials and books that weren't properly checked out. But, its situation was unique. All library patrons are post-doctoral students from three institutions: New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill School of Medicine of the Cornell University Medical College, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The biomedical research collection had to be accessible 24 hours a day.
Through a new circulation system and radio frequency identification (RFID), the Rockefeller University Library can now account for its specialized medical library collection. The circulation system eliminates the need for card cataloguing. Library patrons can access information on any media in the collection. Checkpoint Systems (Thorofare, NJ) developed an interface to the circulation system and installed a complete RFID system to support circulation, inventory, and patron self-checkout.
According to Frank Lees, Rockefeller University CIO, Checkpoint was already working on campus, installing security systems in various areas. "Ours was a particularly handy place to have an initial installation," Lees explains. "Since we weren't automated to start, we didn't have another package that needed to be moved aside. There was nothing installed that could possibly interfere with the new installation."
All media were tagged with paper-thin 2-inch by 2-inch RFID labels. Since library circulation systems are bar code-based, the RFID tags serve as a non-line-of-site equivalent to the bar code. All library patrons have photo ID cards with bar codes or magnetic stripes. The ID card is either scanned or swiped at the self-checkout station. After the self-checkout system has validated the patron, the touch screen attached to the system prompts the patron to place the item being checked out on the reader. A built-in reader interrogates the RFID tags, and the items are checked out. The information goes to the circulation system database, which marks that the items are now checked out.
When the patron takes the item through the door, the long-range reader at the door interrogates the tag and checks it against a cached list of circulated items maintained in the RFID system's applications server. If the system finds the tag there, the patron can pass through the door. If the book hasn't been checked out, an alarm goes off, and the patron is reminded to check out the material. About 100,000 items were tagged, which Lees says was the most difficult part of the installation. The hardware installation took about two days, while tagging took four weeks, and required hiring extra staff for that time period. System training took only one day. The total system including the RFID tags, self-check and circulation desk systems, and security system at each door cost under $200,000. Checkpoint is currently seeking resellers to market the system.
Check Out The Benefits
"It's extremely important to have current materials on hand in the biomedical field," says Lees. "When something is missing, it puts researchers at a huge disadvantage. We found that once we secured the doorways and required all traffic to pass through the RFID gate, the rate of items being checked out increased sevenfold. Today, our system is more organized because we can trace who has what material. Patrons aren't required to bring back material within a specific time. Our checkout system allows us to contact patrons if another researcher needs the same material. Ultimately, the increased activity at the circulation desk will show up as less money spent replacing materials."
Lees expects to use the RFID system to monitor inventory on a regular basis by using a handheld inventory reader. "It's good to know if we can create shelf space or use our existing shelf space more efficiently," he explains. "RFID scanners can read 30 to 40 tags at once, helping to prevent lost materials. This will also help us to eliminate or relocate media that is used infrequently.