published Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Cleveland library eyes using RFID technology

  • photo
    Cleveland Bradley County Public Library building in Cleveland, Tenn.
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Even as the Cleveland/Bradley Public Library increasingly engages its patrons directly through digital media, the library is considering new ways to use technology to manage its nondigital collection and give its staff more time to interact with visitors.

Last week, the library board reviewed a number of its digitally driven initiatives and a presentation regarding radio-frequency identification technology.

"RFID is everywhere. Radio frequencies are everywhere," said Jeff Allen, a representative for 3M who came to the meeting to give a presentation on the technology.

RFID can readily be found in mall stores, which use the technology as part of security systems to deter shoplifting, said Allen. He said it is also an integral part of "fast pass" systems at gasoline pumps that read cards at a short distance.

The same technology is now used more and more by libraries to control their inventories better, decrease staff time spent circulating items and improve customer service, he said. At its heart, the system relies on antenna-based tags that transmit a book's catalog data when read by check-out stations, security gates or other scanning devices.

Several library board members said they thought RFID technology would benefit the Cleveland Bradley Public Library.

Limited budgets made the system's advantage of reallocating staff very appealing, said Library Director Andrew Hunt. Less time spent checking materials in and out means more time for helping patrons and other tasks.

The cost for retagging the library's collection of books and audio/visual materials with RFID devices is another positive consideration, said Hunt. He said the cost of RFID tags, which is about 20 cents per tag, favors comparably with the tagging costs of the library's current inventory and anti-theft systems.

In other business, the board discussed how well the library has responded to demand for digital-based materials and learning.

The Cleveland Bradley Public Library has experienced another spike in downloads of digital material, according to a report prepared by the Fort Loudoun Regional Library, which services libraries in Blount, Bradley, Loudon, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea and Roane counties.

In the first three months of 2012, patrons downloaded nearly 1,700 items per month on average, a 50 percent increase over the last half of 2011, which averaged 1,131 digital downloads per month.

About a year ago, the library made a similar jump, from 700 to 1,000 monthly downloads.

The library continues to provide classes for a wide variety of handheld devices for reading those downloads as part of its "gadget zoo" workshops, said Hunt. The library kicked off the year with "Gadget Week" and typically offers one class a week for using ebook readers.

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