In recent years libraries enhanced their offer from books to materials like videos, music cassettes and most important CDs and DVDs. These items are quite expensive to buy and therefore have a high demand by the library users. Many libraries also try to offer some kind of social meeting point and incorporate a cafŽ or an attractive reading room. This all contributes to the positive new image of libraries. The extension of the collection and the increased demand lead to an increased amount of work and requires more staff. However, it is difficult to get additional budget for continuous costs. It is easier to do one time investments in order to shift the repetitive work away from the desk and to automatic self service stations.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an established technology (since approx. 2001) to take over these repetitive tasks. They are: the check out, return of items, the sorting and the inventory control. RFID-Systems have a maximum effect if there is also a good room planning which supports their function and the frequency of their use.
In this paper two approaches for the allocation of functional units in a library are compared: The traditional central allocation of the functional units at the counter (used by the staff) and the decentral allocation of functional units, used by the library visitor.
After this theoretical view some practical recommendations for the library and the architectural planner are given. They are derived from experiences of RFID installations in over 20 libraries (Bibliotheca RFID Library Systems AG).
2. Comparison of Central and Decentral Allocation of the Functional Units
Fig. 1 shows a model for the central allocation of functional units, fig. 2 the decentral allocation. It only takes the room which can be accessed by the public into account. The sorting, tagging of items, administration (actions which usually take place in a separate room), are not shown. Using this model in other libraries with different layout of course requires some adaptation. In both models all units are connected to the Library Management System (LMS).
Fig. 1 shows that almost all functions are centralized at the counter, which is the check out, return, extension of the lending period, payment of fees, registration of new visitors and finally the consultation. The central processing makes sense because many different processes are performed by a single person. In this case it is far more time efficient if the visitor comes to the counter.
Corresponding to this need the most frequent way of the visitor is the way to the counter. Some visitors might first look for new items in the shelves and do the return of old media at the same time when they check out the new ones (in that case they will only go once to the counter). The further way is to the shelf, maybe also to the OPAC-terminal (Online Public Access Catalogue) to find the required items and their location. After the removal of the item from the shelf and the check out process at the counter, it has to be identified – which is normally done by reading the barcode with a hand scanner. In most cases the security system which is the EM (electro magnetic) strip, will be deactivated (these strips must be re-activated one by one when the item has been returned). The visitor now leaves the library.
One important observation is that there are waiting lines in front of the counters during peak hours. Longer and shorter actions are mixed, such as the registration of new visitors and the simple return of books. Many visitors who have to wait in the line have no patience to wait for the “slow” person.
Fig. 1: Central function and the most frequently used way of the visitor in the library
As all these important actions must be done there is only little time left for consultancy in peak hours. In fact, consultancy comes last at these occasions.
Fig. 2 shows the decentral allocation of the functional units. Only two functions remain at the counter, which is consultancy and registration of new visitors. All other functions like check out, return, payment, renewal of the lending period, are done by stations which seem to be “spread” over the public room. Almost all stations have an integrated RFID reader device in order to identify the person and the item. The security function in the sensor gate is covered by the RFID system. When the items are returned in a separate RFID unit, the re-entering of their data into the data base (status changed to „item in library“) takes place together with the re-activation of the security function.
With the decentral allocation the most frequent ways of the visitors change. Some of the visitors do not even enter the library if they just want to return some items. They can do this in the lobby room at the entrance. This is also possible at non-opening hours. The counter can be much smaller now and is located in the background. The Self Check Station and the other units are in the foreground. The consultancy is not bound to the counter anymore: it can be done by the staff and even when the visitor walks around between the shelves. In UK this type of consultancy was recently named as „floor walking“.
Of course these two models are simplifying the true processes in a library. Here 100% of the check out processes is done at the stations. But in practical use there is the possibility to do some part of the check out and return at the counter like before – the difference is now that even here RFID is used to enhance the performance: items can be processed not only one by one but also in stacks like at the self check terminals. This leads to a significantly lower work load.
Fig. 2: Decentral functions with RFID technology and the most frequent way of the visitor.
In a decentral library organization the stations are specialized for one single action which makes them very efficient. It is not suitable to combine too many actions in one unit again as this will again cause waiting lines at peak hours (many functions require much more time for the orientation of the user).
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