RFID – the latest in library technology

Dandenong High School has a new electronic identification system to assist library circulation and security. Greg Worrell explains the benefits for library staff and the school community.

Our school library recently installed a single tag radio frequency identification (RFID) system. RFID is the latest technology to assist libraries in circulation and security systems. This was made possible through a grant of $150,000 from the Federal Government's Department of Education, Science and Training as part of its Investing in our Schools program.

The system requires the placement of an RFID tag in each library item. The tag is coded with the item's barcode number and links to our library management system. The tag also includes a security chip, which is turned off and on during the circulation process. The alarm on the exit gates sounds if items are not borrowed before they pass through the gate.

Our collection of some 25,000 items was tagged in three weeks, while still maintaining our usual library operations – a great effort by all the library staff. The tags were placed inside the back cover of the books and magazines, on CDs and CD cases, and on videos. I should add that while we were tagging, we also weeded the collection and discarded several thousand items.

How it works

We purchased new security gates, two self-check terminals and a returns chute that link to the library system, two staff work pads and the Digital Library Assistant (handheld scanner). Current barcoded student ID cards are compatible with the system. Students and many of the staff now do their own issues simply by scanning their ID cards and by placing the stack of materials to be borrowed on the scan pad. Up to about 10 items can be issued simultaneously, with each item appearing in the loans list on the screen as the loan is approved. Borrowers with overdues are prevented from borrowing and directed to the Information Desk for further assistance.

Items that are not able to be borrowed (due to being reference items, reserved by another user or exceeding limits in particular categories) are not checked as being issued. Items approved for loan have the security chip turned off to allow removal from the library. Any item tag that has not been issued is left in the secured mode to prevent the item being removed from the library. Due dates are delivered by email.

On return, items are placed through the returns chute, which processes the item through the library system and turns on the security mode. Items that are reserved or have some other memo are picked up by the library system and a receipt printed indicating the status. Security is turned on regardless.

Multi-part items are easily linked using the RFID system, which means that all materials are now kept on the open shelves. For example, in the past we used to store CDs separate to their books for security reasons. Now we can insert as many tags with the same barcode number as required and the system checks to see that the required number of tags are present before allowing the loan or return. The same goes for multi-CD sets, such as talking books. Each CD and the case are given RFID tags, all of which must be present to allow an item to be returned or issued. Naturally these can be overridden at the Information Desk if necessary.

Faster, simpler stocktaking

The system has allowed us to remove the circulation desk, which has been replaced by the much smaller Information Desk (previously located to the rear of the library). We issue class sets and some staff loans through the reference terminal and the attached staff pad. As with the self-check terminals, we are able to issue class sets in stacks of up to about 10 items; the pad will even read through the plastic class set boxes.

The handheld reader allows us to scan the shelves for misshelved books by keying in the barcode number of the required item(s). The library system allows us to leave the stocktake function turned on – every time an item is issued, returned or otherwise scanned the stocktake date is updated.

The handheld scanner allows us to scan a bay of books in approximately three minutes. This means we can stocktake sections of the collection while the library is still operating; if an item happens to have been borrowed between scanning of the shelves and uploading of data into the library system from the scanner, we simply update the stocktake date without changing the item's loan status. We no longer have to close the library to conduct stocktakes.

Other benefits of RFID

The removal of the circulation desk means that we have freed up some 30 hours of library assistants' time, which has led to a change in duties. Many of the tasks previously done by teacher librarians, such as checking for catalogue records, are now done by library assistants. We have also been able to introduce ClickView 24/7, which allows us to easily record and edit free-to-air television programs and add them to our catalogue. The editing and uploading is the domain of one of the assistants. Previously we did little off-air recording due to the amount of time taken in setting VCRs, changing tapes, labelling and so on.

Teacher librarians are now spending more time working with classes and teachers, providing a higher level of reference service and working on other projects to enhance the use of the library. None of this would have been possible without the introduction of the RFID system.

The students have taken to the system with ease and confidence. The screen provides a step-by-step guide to the process. Some staff now insist on issuing their own materials as they also like to be able to do their own borrowing.

Information on the Department of Education, Science and Training's Investing in our Schools program is available at

Greg Worrell
Formerly Library Manager
Dandenong High School