Out with Dewey Decimal, In with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @ 10:04 AM

Melvil DeweyMy guess is that Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey wouldn't be too upset with advancements of today's library systems. Dewey was a pioneering influence in the development of libraries in America at the beginning of the 20th century. And yes, he is best known for the classification system that is used in most public and school libraries - know as the Dewey Decimal System.

But the decimal system was just one of a long list of Dewey's innovations. Dewey is also known for the creation of hanging vertical files and for founding the Library Bureau, a private company created "for the definite purpose of furnishing libraries with equipment and supplies of unvarying correctness and reliability."

Hmmm... sounds a little like what RFID aims to do - improve processes by applying a technology that delivers "unvarying correctness and reliability".

Leave it to RFID to handily replace a system that’s been in place for 135 years. RFID in libraries is not a new concept, but we wanted to dedicate today’s blog post to it for a few reasons.

The more well-known uses for RFID in libraries are for anti-theft measures and to reduce the amount of time required to perform circulation operations. The time savings are a result of the fact that information can be read from RFID tags much faster than from barcodes, and several books in a stack can be read at the same time. Using wireless technology, it becomes much easier and faster to update the inventory and identify the books that are misplaced.

Aside from the common and very useful deployments, there are many more uses of RFID in libraries. For example, people can find exactly where a book is, even if it’s on the wrong shelf or even in the wrong section. That’s a key element that sets RFID apart from the Dewey Decimal System. Sorry Mr. Dewey.

Another not-so-known benefit is that RFID can be used to track reference books which are used at the library instead of being taken out. Without RFID, the only way to know which items were being used frequently, was for a librarian to actually see the books in use and which ones were being left on tables; obviously not a precise method. Barcoding, Inc. has developed an RFID system that tells librarians how often books are taken from shelves, and how long they are off the shelf. With this system, seldom used reference materials can be kept in storage rooms, leaving the shelf space for the more popular books.

Barcodes, which are most commonly used today, can be replaced with RFID tags which last much longer. Remember when we took out a book from the school library and you wrote your name and date on a card that went in a pocket on the inside cover? I do. Those were replaced by barcodes, and now it may be time for them to retire. RFID tags last longer than barcodes because fewer things come into contact with them. Many are placed inside the cover or binding. Some RFID vendors claim approximately 100,000 transactions before a tag may need to be replaced.

You may be saying to yourself, is it really necessary to deploy RFID systems in libraries? I bet you remember (again, I do) looking for a book for a school project and finding the empty space on the shelf where it was supposed to be, and the librarian was certain that the book had not been taken out. You either had to look around on nearby shelves hoping it was close by, or come back the next day hoping it turned up and was put back in its place. Either way, the school project got completed and we somehow survived.

But, ask yourself this question. Can libraries afford not to implement an RFID system? As noted by consultant Karen Coyle, library circulation, the primary function where RFID can make a significant impact, is increasing, while library budgets are on the decline. As with most RFID projects, they can be easily integrated with a minimal up-front investment. They can provide a speedy ROI, helping control circulation costs that are on the rise.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather know that my hometown library is still around and doing well, event at the expense of the Dewey Decimal System.

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Inventory Management, Asset Management, Library Book Tracking

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