Protecting library assets with RFID

Although electromagnetic tags can assist in reducing library theft, RFID provides a more comprehensive solution, says CSX Customer Services.

Read time 2min 40sec

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can help libraries address theft and asset management, according to Mario Martins, divisional director at CSX Customer Services.

Book theft can become a major expense for libraries without adequate security, says Martins, especially given the astronomical cost of some textbooks. "These financial losses could be drastically reduced should libraries invest in proper security technology systems," he says.

Libraries that use electronic security systems tend to opt for electromagnetic (EM) tags, which are simple anti-theft devices that set off an alarm in turnstiles installed at the exit of the library if a book has not been officially checked out and the tag deactivated. However, says Martins, library users have figured out that if the book is lifted above the turnstiles, the electromagnetic strip is not recognised, and the alarm is not activated.

CSX Customer Services stores and maintains EM devices locally, but has also developed an RFID system that complements EM systems to enhance security and improve library asset management. "The active RFID tag has metadata on it, telling you what book it is, where it belongs, and so on," says Martins. This provides additional security that cannot be fooled by lifting the book over the turnstiles, he explains. Metadata is sent to library database systems, such as Millennium, to assist with better control of library assets.

University libraries have mainly adopted the RFID system, notes Martins, although it may also benefit national and municipal libraries. "From a resource point of view, the majority of municipal libraries are funded according to the number of people that walk into the library. When they need to complete a stock take, they have to shut down either the entire library or portions of the library, which affects the budget. With RFID, they don't have to do that."

Comprehensive asset management provides a further boost to security, he adds. "The only way to protect your assets is to manage your assets. You don't understand you've lost a book until you know you had it in your library in the first place."

Some educational institutions have started using RFID to complement their existing EM systems. Unisa, for example, is in the process of implementing RFID across the entire campus. "They have self-check units as well - you can bring the book in at night, drop it into a slot, it reads the tag, and notes the return of the book," says Martins.

Budgetary constraints may inhibit implementation of RFID, he notes. "RFID is more expensive than EM, but more and more libraries are doing stock takes to understand what assets they have. You find that, generally, they start off with electromagnetic, just as anti-theft, and build onto it with RFID, to start using it to do stock takes, to start tracking books. Slowly but surely, RFID is entrenching itself in the libraries."

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