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Libraries get a read on self-serve check-in/checkout kiosks

Self-serve kiosks in libraries gained ground this summer with a number of successful installations, as library visitors took to checking-in and checking-out their own books, DVDs, CDs and other items.

Firms offering the service use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, pasting a "tag" in the item to identify and track it. The tags have antennas that communicate with reading devices at entrances and exits of the library.

Libraries install the RFID systems to make the checkout process simpler and faster, and to free up staff to provide other customers services. Proponents say RFID also provides better tracking and security of library items.

To check out an item the consumer waves the book near a device that reads the information on the tag. This records the data and prints out for the patron a paper listing of the items and due dates. The information is also stored on a library database, and reminders can be sent to patrons that provide email addresses.

The tags will signal the reader if the patron attempts to remove a book without checking it through the system. The reader then alerts librarians with a loud signal.

Patrons returning items wave the book under a reader that confirms it is back in the collection.

In Oregon, the Multnomah County Library installed in September a $3 million checkout and security system, according to The Oregonian. The library system estimates that check-ins and checkouts will go 60 percent faster and save $425,000 a year.

Already, 63 percent of patrons use the new self-checkout option, up from 20 percent last year. And thefts of new materials are down, with some branches reporting drops of 50 percent.

In Arkansas, library branches in Little Rock and Maumelle began installing self-serve systems at the end of August, following seven other branches in the state that had similar systems in place.

In Georgia, two cities are using several library-sorting systems from 3M Corp. that focus on the back-end of book returns.

In Live Oak, libraries combined a three-bin sorting systems with 3M SelfCheck Systems and 3M Detection Systems, programs that enable self-service and the securing of items. It used a three-bin system for returns with one bin for holds, one for items like DVDs and CDs that need to be reviewed by a librarian, and one for items that can quickly be re-shelved.

Savannah in June integrated a system from 3M RFID Solutions, called Intelligent Return and Sorter System. Patrons returning books check in the items, and the system sorts them into bins. Savannah may expand the system to its 18 locations.

Another leading provider of library self-serve systems is Switzerland-based Bibliotheca. In August, it announced it would work with Pitney Bowes to expand its geographical coverage throughout the United States. The partnership calls for Bibliotheca to provide the RFID library automation equipment while Pitney Bowes’ certified service staff provides installation, on-site repair and maintenance, and technical support.

In August, Florida’s Marin County began installing Bibliotheca’s seven-bin automated materials handling system with a book return for patrons, security gates, staff stations, labels for books and other items, and handheld Wi-Fi inventory devices.

"Budget trends have had a large impact on our library system’s staffing. Reduced staffing prompted us to look closer at any part of our staff’s workload that could be automated," Sylvie Szafranski, the county’s integrated systems manager, said in a release.

Plans call for the installation to be completed in several branches by the end of the third quarter. The Marin County system manages 350,000 items at seven locations.

In the United Kingdom, RFID systems were installed in 11 libraries in Stockport by Intellident Ltd. The system reads the tags in the Items being returned or borrowed in seconds with no need to open each item.

Another provider of the systems is India-based Powersoft Global Solutions Ltd. It offers stock management system backed by self-service kiosks, handheld RFID readers, return solutions and security management. Powersoft says its handheld reader can be used to scan across shelves in minutes, completing a stock check of an entire library.

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