[Videolib] RFID: Which problems does it solve and which does it

Melissa Riley (mriley@sfpl.org)
Tue, 3 Aug 2004 14:46:38 -0700

I am new to this list. Forgive me if you have covered all this before!
RFID is greeted as a solution to several problems. But is it?
Does anyone have knowledge to offer about using RFID, especially with media? Many libraries are turning to RFID to save on labor costs and on RSI, partly with self checkout. Security of the collection is also an issue. Privacy may be a problem, but I am concerned first with solving questions about security of our materials.
My understanding is that anyone with a piece of aluminum foil (or mylar) can wrap their item in it and stroll out past the security gates. Why would we want to invest millions in such a system? Do stores use RFID for preventing theft of their stock? Media circulates heavily, especially in public libraries which are now committing a large percent of their budget to media. It is desirable and easy to steal. Some librarians shrug and think there is not much they can do to deter dedicated thieves. I suspect many colleges do not circulate movies because of fears of theft. This makes it hard for students to study film!

The best system I have been looking at came up with a special case with a security-lock undone by the patron after checkout and a tag on the case rather than on the the disc itself (since the donut tags do not seem to work and the regular tags are too big). One problem is this: If the library wants to make sure each disc has been returned we need a separate tagged case (with self-service security lock) for each disc--a problem for multi-part CDs, DVDs, and videos.
And how do we make sure each disc is in the right box? Will we still have to open each one and check?

Furthermore, having a special case for CDs is problematic since the paper labels inside CD cases do not come out in one piece and thus cannot be reinserted (as DVDs labels can) into another case. Then there is the problems of discs from McNaughton or other vendors which come in clamshells or other cases.

Also while we are at it: What about the future of hard copies of media in libraries, given the popularity of iPods and MP3s? Can libraries deal with (and in) these? Presumably we will have to artificially constrict supply to electronically-delivered media because of licensing agreements. Given the great demand, are media delivered through the Web unlikely to be useful in helping libraries serve the most needy patrons?
If the answers to these questions would take too long to write, or for discussion, I welcome phone calls!
Melissa Riley
MRiley @sfpl.org
415 355-5796