Thursday, October 2, 2008

RFID Tracking

In most libraries today, books are tracked through the use of individual barcodes on each book that allow the books to be efficiently scanned as on the shelf or checked out. While the use of these barcodes helps the efficiency of librarians, it falls short of effectively tracking the books. As libraries continue to struggle with the problem of what one could call unfound books, whether they are lost or mis-shelved, there needs to be a better way of tracking books within the library system. The use of barcodes is somewhat limited in that a scanner needs to actually see the barcode and therefore is generally only scanned as in house or checked out. A system that could allow automatic scanning at various points would be much more effective towards tracking books through libraries.
There has been a recent advance in technology that is being picked up by the ever powerful retailer Wal-Mart which could be useful to this problem: radio frequency identification (RFID). These small tags contain tiny transponders that use radio frequency to transmit information about what it is attached to, and the information can be passed on to a central database through RFID readers. Replacing the old barcodes with RFID tags would allow libraries to track their books through their systems automatically. By placing RFID readers throughout the library at strategic points, the books could automatically be tracked as it moves through the library. This tracking includes as the books are being moved to a specific floor and even shelving unit within the library on top of whether it is in the library or checked out. This would allow librarians to see whether the books were properly reshelved after they have been returned, and if they have not made it that far, they could narrow down where in the library’s system the book has currently traveled. This would help tremendously in tracking down books in the libraries when they are found to not be on the shelves when they are shown to be in the library.
However, while this technology would help tremendously in tracking books within libraries, this needs to be weighed by any potential drawbacks of this new technology. A potential problem would seem to be the longevity of these RFID tags. Since they are constantly broadcasting radio frequencies to transmit the required information and therefore expending energy, one would want to know how these are drawing energy. Plus it would be very helpful to know how long these tags can live before their energy source runs out. Of course one solution to this problem is to develop a source of energy that is able to renew itself. Since it probably uses miniscule amounts of energy, they would only need to generate a small amount possibly through the motion of the book as it is moved or through the light that shines on it. The other obvious drawback would be the price of this new technology and outfitting every book in the library with these tags along with the multiple RFID readers to make this system work. However, as the price of this technology inevitably decreases it would make this system more viable for the world’s libraries. As long as it does eventually become viable, the use of these RFID tags on the books in libraries would become a useful solution to more effectively tracking books through the library, giving librarians and patrons a better idea of where the requested books can be found.

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