The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library may close to implement a new system where the staff will be placing radio frequency identification (RFID) tags into the books of the collection. I have to ask... do they need to?
First, what is RFID? A radio signal is sent out from a device (like a pad or gate) and detects a tag placed in a book or library card. The device interprets the information stored on the tag and identifies the item involved. I could say "magic" and you would have the same reaction. So that's what we're going with. RFID is magic.
Why do libraries tag the books with RFID? They claim security and cataloging, that it makes the books identifiable to sensors that can track the book and make inventory easier. But really, what's the point? Aren't these just glorified bar codes, able to be ripped out of a book? Let's explore.
This is a big contender as to why your library should delve into the dark arts, and possibly the dumbest. The thought is that if you put the tags in the books and on the library's cards, patrons will just be able to walk over and wave the items they want and check them out, like a wand.
Anyone at the self checkout at Wal-mart knows that is a fool's dream. Even toddlers cannot grasp the arcane technology self checkout is shackled with as physical society attempts to catch up with the digital. We still use physical objects as payment, so self checkout must include them. To that end, we look for physical items. A bar code laser makes way more sense to a patron with a library card in his hand than a magical radio beam that comes from a random pad probably hidden in the desk beaming out its wild sorcery.
Those that do grasp the concept will be met with the same stares and horror that met the witches in Salem. The same fate of the ducking stool and the rocks will await them. How about that Goody Proctor?
What is a security gate? A security gate is an enchanted door frame that alerts when a tagged item, unchecked out by God or man, passes through it. The mighty beep and flashing of light is a deterrent to even the darkest of hearts bound and determined to take home that copy of 102 Dalmatians.
Again, I question the effectiveness of the gates. Librarians, at least not one, will not chase down a patron if the lights go off. Often it is against policy to chase anyone anywhere for fear of them falling and hurting themselves, which raises forth the evil Litigation Troll.
Hell, the spell laden doorway malfunctions more times than a little boy with a lupine problem. Librarians have gotten tennis elbow waving patrons through security gates that are ringing for every damn DVD because the system suddenly believes the digital media are all its own and will not allow them to leave Castle Library, like a dumb ass dragon guarding gold.
Better than bar codes?
Tales have been spread far and wide as to how great RFID dark arts are over the barcode system. These tales are mostly based on the magical abilities of “mass” and “energy.”
The theory is that with RFID, you can put a bunch of books down on an RFID reader and every item will be scanned, en masse. All of them in one go. Amazing when it works.
But, like the magician that mixes up the saws, something can go wrong. And it will. Tags break, or patrons break them, or evil sorcerers meddle with the influxes of powers beyond their control. And your cute, plucky library assistant will be sawn in half as he or she searches for that one book in the damn stack that did not get read by the magical powers.
One broken tag has stopped a system that was supposed to save time and energy. Is this better than scanning every library book? The possibility that one or two may get through, causing massive headaches when the patron loses faith that the library can and will take items off their record?
No system is perfect. None. But the magic of RFID is expensive, costly in both time, effort and the dark marks on your library soul. While not evil in itself, weigh whether or not to invest in this or more future-thinking, digital environments for your library. It may be nice to keep track of what you have, but pay attention to what you will not have after you spent the money on a growingly outdated technology.
Also, some weirdo with too much time and tech can hack those RFID tags and cause nightmares in your system.