Wednesday, November 17, 2004

RFID: Libraries on the Fast Track?

CNet News.Com had a very interesting story last month on what RFID will mean for the libraries, stores, and other customer service outlets. The article discussed the civil liberties implications of RFID tagging, and the concept that someday RFID could replace traditional cataloging.

But for all of us who spend long nights wringing our hands over the glacial pace of change in libraries, this quote is a tonic:

"Libraries are much further along with using RFID in a consumer environment than anybody else," said Jim Lichtenberg, an IT consultant to libraries. "They represent a wonderful test-bed in which to work through the issues of RFID because they have such a profound concern about the rights of their patrons."

Less thrilling, especially for those of us around OCLC, was this concept, which was not directly quoted but was attributed to Vinod Chachra, chief executive officer of Visionary Technology in Library Solutions (VTLS):

He envisions a day when libraries completely do away with the time-tested Dewey Decimal classification system, opting instead for a sort of organized chaos governed by the vigilant and unblinking eye of RFID ... With all corners of a library constantly monitored by a network of RFID readers, librarians could just toss a book on any old shelf. Finding it again would just require querying a computer that's linked to the RFID system and knows where everything is. The most popular books would end up in the front of the library while the less used get pushed to the back and reshelving would be a breeze.

So much for the serendipity of finding another book on the same topic that you weren't expecting, eh?

1 comment:

David said...

While Chachra's comments about putting the book on any old shelf just wouldn't fly, the use of RFID could be a good thing for the health of libraries in terms of the cost savings and serving patrons.

Just the other day I went to the Dublin Branch of the CML to pick up the DC Comics Encyclopedia. Even with Dewey, it took me a half hour to find the item on the shelf with the help of the librarian. Why? Because comic items are in three different places within the library (children's, Young Adult and with 741). RFID would have been a huge help in saving both the library and myself some of that time hunting for the item.

Plus I feel there still will be the moments of serendipity since even with RFID since there will still be that need to keep like items together.