Radio-frequency identification (RFID)

This guide outlines what RFID is, how it works, and what you’ll need to consider when preparing a business case to implement RFID in your school library.


What is RFID?
RFID in school libraries
Benefits of RFID
Costs of implementing RFID
Presenting a business case for RFID implementation
RFID suppliers
Further reading

What is RFID?

  • Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses a wireless radio system to transfer data from a tag attached to an object, such as a book, DVD, CD or magazine, for the purposes of identification and tracking.
  • The tag contains electronically stored information on a microchip which is read by a RFID reader / scanner.
  • The tag does not need to be within line of sight of the RFID reader. It can be hidden and still be read up to three metres away.
  • RFID tags can be read hundreds at a time, unlike a barcode which can only be read one at a time.
  • RFID technology has been around since 1948 but only in recent years has it been applied to libraries as a tool to improve efficiencies in managing library collections.

RFID in school libraries

  • RFID tags replace library barcodes.
  • These tags look like small stickers and come in a variety of shapes and sizes appropriate for different types of formats, such as books, videos, DVDs, CDs. They are usually placed on the inside of the item for protective purposes.
  • Information about the item is encoded on the tag’s microchip, which can be read by the RFID reader for circulation, stocktake, and collection management purposes. The tag may include the book's title or format of the item, as well as other information such as the call number and school’s name.
  • The information stored on the tag’s microchip links to the Integrated Library System (ILS) or Library Management System (LMS). The RFID reader scans the tag and connects the item’s details with the information stored in the ILS.
  • RFID tags also include a built-in security feature, which can be used if a school library has security gates installed. The security feature is activated or deactivated at the point of issue or return, meaning that a separate magnetic strip is not required in each item.

Benefits of RFID

The key benefits of implementing RFID are:

  • Ability to track things faster than when using barcodes. For large collections with high circulation of items this can lead to great efficiencies for the issue and return of books.
  • Staff time previously associated with routine circulation tasks can be redirected towards added value services and customer support.
  • Improved collection management. RFID-enabled mobile scanners mean time-consuming tasks, such as stocktakes, locating lost or missing items, weeding reports, and shelf checking, can be undertaken more quickly and efficiently.
  • Personalising user experience by linking information contained on RFID tags with user preferences and mobile devices such as smart phones.
  • RFID tags in student IDs can also be linked to the library’s ILS system and the school’s LMS.
  • Option of having self-service kiosks for self-issue and self-return. Floor space previously allocated to circulation and related customer service activities can be utilised for reading and collaborative learning spaces.

Costs of implementing RFID

Hardware and software elements to support RFID implementation may include the following, depending on an individual school’s requirements:

  • RFID tags
  • Portable scanning units
  • Retrospective encoders for converting existing library collection
  • Automated returns systems
  • RFID sorting systems
  • RFID returns bins
  • RFID security gates
  • RFID external returns chute
  • RFID self-service kiosks for self-issue and return (optional)

It is important to ensure that the RFID system you install is ISO 28560 compliant. In 2011, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) published these standards to enable organisations to be able to use tags with hardware available from a range of suppliers, rather than be limited to buying everything from the same supplier or having to re-tag items if switching suppliers.

If your library has already implemented RFID prior to the publication of the standard, it is not critical to migrate to the new standard as long as your vendor continues to be able to support your requirements.

However, as time goes by, it is possible that you may be less able to take advantage of new features and advancements with RFID technology and may need to consider upgrading your hardware.

Presenting a business case for RFID implementation

Before introducing RFID it is important to make an assessment of:

  • the costs and benefits
  • the main issues and options that will meet the particular needs and expected outcomes for your school.

For smaller libraries, for example, where the volume of borrowing of print materials is low, the cost of implementing RFID technologies, including converting existing library collections, may outweigh the benefits.

Existing barcode systems may be perfectly adequate for many school libraries until such time as both the cost of the RFID technology drops and the added value enhancements available via RFID can add real value to the school learning environment.

RFID Suppliers

Further Reading

Book Industry Communication (BIC) in the U.K. has published a number of useful guides to implementing ISO 28506.

Using RFID: