Playing (RFID) Book Tag

I spent the morning tagging books, which didn’t involve chasing them down the aisles and vice-versa, but I almost wish it had.

Instead, a coworker and I stuck Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) tags into each book in the L-M shelves of the Adult fiction section in one of our branch libraries.

Why bother?

Because that branch is going to get one of these soon (not quite the same, but this is the general idea):

It’s an automatic sorter. A patron puts an item through a slot in the wall, and a conveyor belt carries the book to the tag reader, which checks in the item and sends it, via another conveyor, to the appropriate bin to be shelved.  And there’s a screen on the patron side so they can see where their item goes.

This is a truly nifty machine and it saves our Customer Service staff a lot of time at our newest library, which not only included the sorter in its blueprints, but had its entire collection tagged by the company hired to assemble it.*

However, a few of us are starting to suspect that most of the time saved by the planned sorter at this older branch library  will already have been spent programming tags for every single blessed item in the pre-RFID collection before the thing is even installed.

Or perhaps I just have the ouchie feet grumpies.  It happens.

For those of you who are curious, here’s the basic procedure we followed:

  • Take an untagged book—check first—off the shelf or cart and pull an RFID sticker off the huge roll.
  • Place the sticker—sticky side up, for Pete’s sake— on the special tag reader console, which is connected to a dedicated netbook and a handheld barcode scanner.
  • With your free hand, scan the book’s barcode into the netbook with the handheld, which is extremely picky about angle and distance.
  • Wait until the tag reader flashes the barcode of the book.
  • Pick up the sticker and attach it to the inside back cover in a different place along the spine as the previous book, so if they’re stacked, the tags will be less likely to interfere with each other.
  • If you had to pry off the book cover flap to attach the sticker, tape it up again with the fiber book tape from that vicious, saw-toothed dispenser that craves human blood.
  • Repeat all steps until your legs stiffen into numb posts because you’ve been standing up for three hours in inappropriate shoes, as you neglected to look at the schedule and see that you were on the tagging crew this morning.  Don’t worry—that numbness will wear off soon.

My co-worker and I had a friendly race to keep things interesting, which worked because we both cheated.***   I was winning, until I hit a pocket of Louis L’Amour paperbacks—there were forty of them on one shelf—and I fell woefully behind.

But we managed to get from Tim LaHaye all the way to Richard Marcinko in the time allotted, so I feel pretty good, except for my feet, which won’t be forgiving me easily.

Libraries are like swans—they may look quiet and serene as they glide on top of the water, but there’s a hell of a lot of activity going on underneath.

But it will be worth it . . . eventually.


*We chose each item, but the company cataloged, labeled, and tagged ’em.  Worth every penny.

**Don’t get me started on tagging CDs or DVDs—those things are circular and reflective.

***There may also  have been some hip checking, but as she weighs about eighty pounds sopping wet wearing combat boots and a backpack loaded with lead ingots  and I . . . don’t . . . I didn’t mind much.


9 thoughts on “Playing (RFID) Book Tag

  1. That’s like a Star Trek library. Fancy indeed.

    I always wonder when I see stuff like this, like the auto check out at the supermarket, if the very things that make our jobs easier because it cuts out the mundane, is a slow path to people being fired and replaced by auto sorters.

    I make my kids stand in line to buy stamps. We stand in line to wait for a checker at the supermarket as well. I’m worried about people losing their jobs in the face of efficiency and I don’t want to make it any easier on The Man than it has to be.

    • I’m sure in many circumstances, people are being let go in favor of automation—it’s a terrifying thought.

      In our library’s case, the money for the sorter is part of the regular capital improvement budget for the building that wouldn’t be enough to hire a permanent part-time clerk, supposing we could transfer those dollars into the staffing budget—which I’m told we can’t. We’re understaffed as it is and the sorters are meant to assist the existing customer service clerks, not replace them—there’s more than enough work for everyone, which is why my department is helping out—and we’ve recently filled a couple of empty positions.

      I’m not saying that in another library’s case, the sorter would mean not filling an empty position . . . we’re lucky we don’t have to make that choice.

      • In that case, I’m happy you have something to make your load a little lighter.

        They keep trying to automate large parts of my job. Luckily, we don’t even know what we’re doing half the time…

        • They tried to replace librarians with Wikipedia, but it just isn’t working for some reason . . .

          The sorter is more of a dishwasher than a Hal.

  2. For the first 7 years of being a parent, my life resembled a conveyor belt. You can’t imagine how happy I am to break away from that mold.

    • Leaving the Status Quo parental treadmill can be difficult, but rewarding . . . or so I hear. I still hop on for a visit, every now and then. 😛

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