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The RFID Blog Revives

The RFID blog is back, now managed by Margaret Hazel of Eugene Public Library. I didn’t remove the old links from my aggregator, hoping against hope this blog would return.

RFID came up in the audience-question portion of the Top Tech Trends discussion at ALA Annual. My response–and I think that of others–emphasized two concerns: return on investment, and interoperability.

I think our profession’s RFID privacy questions, while well-intended, often got overblown, and even the latest version of the RFID document from PLA/IFC has some of that spittle-flecked hysteria that so cooled me to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had something on the order of a vendetta about Berkeley Public Library’s RFID installation. (Anyone who needs Peter Warfield as a front man is scraping the barrel.) For several years I had served on the Pioneer Awards committee, but this whole mishagosh pushed me away.

I pretty much kept quiet on RFID for a long time because I felt the RFID installation was being used as a wedge issue by a library determined to stay in 1987. It was an uncomfortable spot to be in (not helped when various interested parties tried to put words in my mouth). Well, the last-century crowd won, and they can stay in 1987, for all I care. But I feel I can talk about RFID a little more these days.

A big-library director approached me after TTT and said if the BLD had to do it over again, the BLD would not have installed RFID at that point. The ROI just wasn’t there, in part because manual checkout was still required for AV material, and because library RFID is so vendor-specific, an RFID implementation undercuts a half-century of work in library resource sharing… locking a library into a technology that ain’t easy or cheap to implement or undo. That, and the fact that it can’t be used for AV materials–which can be much of a library’s circulation–and that for self-check, as grocery stores know, barcodes are a reasonable system for now… there are a lot of arguments for not going to RFID, even for opening-day collections.

What frustrates me most about public libraries and RFID is that had a few libraries held out for a uniform standard early on, their sheer fiscal clout would have been important. But most of the discussion (and even some seemingly authoritative “white papers”) focused on whether or not RFID affected user privacy.

It’s not too late. After the TTT discussion, a librarian named Leif from the Danish national library approached me to describe how in Denmark they had agreed to push vendors to a standard, and recommended against installations until the standards became real.

Standards. Standards. Standards. Repeat after me. Standards. Standards. Standards.

Oh, and my other technology philosophy (which quite intentionally holds two opposing thoughts in tension): Pioneers get the best territory, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

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