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Good Analysis of RFID Hocus Pocus

On the RFID in Libraries blog, Laura has done a devastatingly good job of dissecting a Berkeley Planet editorial by EFF’s Lee Tien and tireless community gadfly Peter Warfield. She points out that, first, it’s misleading (it appears to be an “article,” not what it is, a bare step above a letter to the editor that would never make it into any reputable media source, and that microscopic lettering identifying it as “commentary” doesn’t make it better); and second, it’s factually wrong.

I’m in Laura’s camp on RFID, which makes at least three of us echoing Laura’s advice: “tread carefully.” (Lori Ayre, who you can follow at Mentat, is the third.)

I’m not knee-jerk anti-RFID, but as a librarian who has been manager of technology in several settings, if I were in a library that had books or similar physical items, I would question whether it was the right time or place to do RFID, given everything else the library could be doing. Particularly in an existing library, versus a library started from scratch (where RFID seems to make the most sense), I would also worry that I’d pour a lot of money into the conversion–a very expensive labor-driven process–only to have to decide about “RFID 2” in a couple of years, when the technology became better and less expensive. Ask the libraries that wired with Cat 3.

I’d also ask, given everything I could be doing with technology, why RFID was the priority. What are the low-hanging fruit? What would be best for the users? What could the library do with technology that would position the library better in the community? Even with an issue such as workers’ comp, I’d ask, can I go to a largely self-check model without going to RFID? One clerk per four stations, helping on an exception basis–if the argument is “repetitive stress is expensive,” in that model, where would the workers’ comp issues come in? As Laura asks over and over again, what are the ROI models I can consider before making this decision?

Nevertheless, Tien’s approach is wrong, purely wrong. He tried going after San Francisco Public Library, and they flicked him away. So he found a sidekick to help him–the best he could do is Peter Warfield–then found a library pushing forward in new directions–something that library hasn’t done in a long time–and exploited a situation.

Lee and his scummy behavior have done a good job of ensuring I won’t have anything more to do with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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