Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Mobile Tech in Libraries: More info by Mick Fortune

Mick Fortune was kind enough to write some notes about the technology that was mentioned during the joint chat on Mobile Technology in Libraries that we held with #SLAtalk.  It’s an interesting read, and introduces you to some of the companies in this field.

There are quite a few acronyms in the piece (and in Mick’s profile), so we’ve put a quick guide at the bottom of the post.


I really enjoyed the joint chat session last week. It was refreshing to see so many ideas being put forward – especially for using mobile devices with NFC or RFID. Most of the UK and US librarians I talk to still think only about issue, security and returns if they mention RFID at all but this group was overflowing with suggestions!

I promised some more information on a couple of topics. @nancecc, @libmichelle and @ces43 were all interested in using mobile devices to find their way around the library. I mentioned a couple of projects I had seen and promised to provide details.

QR codes have been around for some time now and many libraries have used them to ‘signpost’ collections by lining codes posted at the end of shelves to link to information about the material stored in a location. Try “QR” and “Library” as a Google video search and you’ll find plenty of ways in which QR is being used. (Incidentally it’s worth trying some foreign spellings of “library” as well – “bibliothek”, “bibliotheca” etc. will often find rather more – the non-English speaking world has been using this technology for quite a while now).

A library in Japan has been experimenting with RFID tags on shelves to do much the same thing – but for the moment I can’t find the video. The advantage of using RFID is that tag memory can be re-written over and over again so a location can be re-designated without having to create new QR codes every time.

“Tectiles” ® were mentioned by a few contributors. These are NFC labels usually carrying a NXP chipset – rather like the tags in the books on the shelves but operating at a much more limited range. There’s more information on the web – an overview of the technology can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TecTile. TecTiles may well be a useful addition to the mobile librarian’s portfolio but it should be remembered that RFID and NFC come in a wide range of frequencies, storage capabilities and data models so don’t assume that any device can read any RFID or NFC tag – that was an expensive mistake made by many early adopters of RFID self-service!

Another “holy grail” is tracking down individual items in the library – rather like using GPS to track vehicles. I worked with a UK university on this idea some years ago now but the cost of monitoring the whereabouts of library items using RFID was prohibitive. The reason for this is that the kind of RFID used in library stock (and in TecTiles for that matter) is “passive”. The tags don’t broadcast their whereabouts and have to be interrogated via radio by active devices. The security gates are giant aerials constantly sending out radio waves to see if any tags are in the vicinity. Self-service machines have scanners embedded in their read table to perform the same function. So to track items in the library you need a lot of strategically placed scanners and some clever programming to work out where an item is likely to be at any given time. The project I was working on wanted to allow readers to use non-loan items from the library in a number of other on-campus locations – from which they could be retrieved at the end of each day.

The Technical University of Wildau in Berlin (a hotbed of innovation) has been working on this and other problems for some time and has come up a new solution using triangulation https://server01.tm.th-wildau.de/ilibrary/www/software_engineering.html#mobile_application . They submitted their ideas for the Stanford prize last year (which I was honoured to support) – details at https://server01.tm.th-wildau.de/ilibrary/www/. They also track staff in this way.

Smart shelves at Cardiff University use flashing lights to indicate the actual location of an item once requested via a “finding tool” (not a catalogue apparently) similar to one in Singapore. However the cost of even this small scale experiment with the Biochemistry collection is prohibitive – and the load this places on the LMS means that the system was not available to students when I last viewed it 2 years ago.

“Click and Collect” was also mentioned as an idea. Both D Tech and Bibliotheca already offer locker systems similar to that used by Amazon to perform this function. A library company in Italy actually supplies glass cabinets to be placed in railway stations where commuters can borrow items to read on their way home. When I spoke to their CEO about the risk of using something so fragile in a UK station he thought I was over stating the risk – but I still haven’t seen one of his devices on active service.

Of course the ideal – for a national public library service – might be to borrow and return items from any location in the country. Something the Danes have been able to do for some time now – and using RFID and mobile devices. Of course they use common national standards to make this possible, something we don’t yet use in the UK or North America…

Hope this explains some of my rather brief comments during the chat. Please feel free to contact me at mick@libraryrfid.co.uk or on Twitter at @LibraryRFID or @mickfortune if you have any more questions.



Mick Fortune’s career in libraryMick Fortune and book trade automation spans over 40 years – from running the first MEDLARS search service (over ARPANET) at the British Library in the 1970s, via managing Ameritech’s European library enterprise (the forerunner of SirsiDynix) in the 1990s, to heading up Nielsen BookNet looking after e-commerce for their key publishers and booksellers before attempting retirement in 2006. Since then he has been working part-time as an independent consultant on LMS and RFID procurements – but mostly as a member of various standards bodies (ISO, BSI, BIC etc.) promoting interoperability standards for LMS and third party applications (including RFID).


Acronyms list

BIC – Book industry communication

BSI – British Standard Institution

GPS – Global position system

ISO – International organization for standardization

LMS – Library management system

NFC – Near field communication

NXP – supplier of RFID and NFC intergrated circuits (the tags)

RFID –  Radio-frequency identification

QR  codes- Quick Response codes

UK – United Kingdom

US – United States

About Ka-Ming

Librarian at a University in London and one of the founding members of uklibchat.wordpress.com Find me @agentk23

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This entry was posted on July 15, 2014 by in Notes and tagged , , , , , .


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