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Radio Frequency Identification Technology in Libraries


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is based on the transmission of information through special RFID tags, which was initially used in sectors such as logistics, airline luggage automation or parcel distribution. One of the areas which are receiving a wide implementation of RFID technology in libraries (Kern, 2004). In libraries, RFID technology is used to facilitate the work of library staff, simplify the processes of check-in and check-out of library materials, and efficiently conduct an inventory.

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At the present time, an important task for libraries is becoming the fast and faultless service of readers, as well as the management of the library at a contemporary level. Today more and more libraries switch to RFID technology as it certainly raises the convenience and the management efficiency of storage funds at the expense of the automation of the basic technological processes. Besides, the use of RFID technology improves the quality of service and raises their satisfaction level.

The line of RFID equipment includes a sufficiently large list of equipment, which is called to facilitate the work of library personnel, i.e. tag programming station (conversion station), check-in and check-out stations, inventory equipment, security equipment (security gates), and another library RFID equipment. The main principle of any RFID system is simple. There are always two main components present, i.e. a reader and identifier. The reader radiates electromagnetic energy while the identifier receives the signal and forms a response which is received by the reader’s antenna and processed afterward.

Libraries have decided to employ the RFID system due to its many advantages, such as “the reduction of queues at front desks, lowering the cost of manipulating and managing collections and raising the efficiency of inventory and arrangements” (Yu, 2006, p. 60). While many indicate that RFID is a must-have technology in libraries, there have been concerns about the privacy and security of item-level tagging (Molnar and Wagner, 2004). Evidence shows that RFIDs generate numerous opportunities for privacy invasion both inside and outside the library (Muir, 2006), thus it is recommended that librarians need to take extra measures to protect patrons’ privacy (Muir, 2007).


An obvious advantage of using RFID in libraries turns to be the facilitation of library inventory. The implementation of such features starts with the book coming to the library, where it acquires a library number and enters the library database. This number will be present on the RFID label as well and will be linked to the database (Kern, 2004).

The control of the inventory is taken using a handheld reader (inventory wand) where the procedure is merely focused on performing wave gestures around the shelves. In such a way, “it is becoming possible to inventory hundreds of thousands of items in their collections in days instead of months and to allow patrons to checkout and return library property automatically at any time of day.” (Singh et al., 2006).

Although the process of tagging can consume time, this process is performed once for newly entered books, after which the process of inventory for a library such as the Vatican library will only take half a day, compared to one month prior to tagging. The speed specifications might differ among vendors, nevertheless, taking an example of VTLS, an RFID-solution vendor, the speed advantage can be apparent, where it “claims to be able to inventory a collection of 250,000 books in less than four hours” (Singh et al., 2006).

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Inventory facilitation was mentioned due to their time and effort-consuming attributes, whereas there are many other efficiency advantages for RFID implementation. The benefits for the user lie in the reduction of the check-out lines (Kern, 2004), accurate shelf order and the ability to find the needed book easily (Fabbi et al.). Additionally, the implementation of self-checkout and check-in stations would help facilitate library operations, where they can provide fast service with few lines (Coyle, 2005), as well as putting return stations outside of the library, which can extend the library’s operations for an after-hours time (Singh et al., 2006).

Operation processing in libraries can be facilitated, where, unlike the stores, the equipment can process all the tags through various operations such as check-in/out, verification, and entrance guard control all at once (Yu, 2007). The for-library staff is another advantage area, where operations such as self-check-in/out can be viewed as taking part of the work to the customers.

The main areas of concern in implementing RFID focus on security and privacy. Typically, the security check is implemented by activating or deactivating the status of the book in the RFID tag during check-in or check-out operations, where the gates check the status of the tag during exit (Singh et al., 2006). The main security check is performed through the security gates, which comprise of two or three antennas similar to the ones used in stores for theft control. The gates supply “the media number that shows which books were stolen.” (Kern, 2004). In the case of RFID tags acting as a security check, different vendors have different ways of implementing this technology lacking a standardized specification.

One method used by 3M and VTLS reads only the status of the book stored in the RFID tag, while another method implies querying the bibliographic database for the circulation status when the book exits through the security gates which can raise issues of latency and the alarm being switched off mistakenly (Molnar and Wagner, 2004).

In terms of privacy, the main area of concern is the risk of RFID being a threat to personal information recorded and tracked through RFID tags. The patron activities will be detected by the reader, where the observation of these operations can be paralleled to surveillance raising issues of personal privacy (Yu, 2007). Nevertheless, examples of many libraries among which UNLV libraries show that in the RFID tags used to have the storage capacity for little more than an item’s barcode number and a location code (Fabbi et al.), where the capacity of these tags does not have space for any additional personal information.

The lack of standardization can be seen as an advantage preventing the RFID tags to be read by different vendors. At the same time, the concerns can be extended to the near future where RFID tags can contain other information and the technological improvements might allow the readers to be purchased separately and read any RFID’s in one’s possession simply by walking in a close range (Muir, 2007).


  1. COYLE, K. (2005) Management of RFID in Libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 31, 487-489.
  2. FABBI, J. L., WATSON, S. D., MARKS, K. E. & SYLVIS, Z. UNLV Libraries and the digital identification frontier. Library Hi Tech, 23, 313-322.
  3. KERN, C. (2004) Radio-frequency-identification for security and media circulation in libraries. The Electronic Library, 22, 317-324.
  4. MOLNAR, D. & WAGNER, D. (2004) Privacy and security in library RFID: issues, practices, and architectures. CCS ’04: Proceedings of the 11th ACM conference on Computer and communications security. New York, NY, USA, ACM Press.
  5. MUIR, S. (2007) RFID security concerns. Library Hi Tech, 25, 95-107.
  6. SINGH, J., BRAR, N. & FONG, C. (2006) The State of RFID Applications in Libraries. Information Technology and Libraries, 25, 24-32.
  7. YU, S.-C. (2007) RFID implementation and benefits in libraries. The Electronic Library, 25, 54-64.

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