Self-service technology has evolved rapidly over the last few years, many libraries now have RFID tags installed or will in the not so distant future. The ubiquitous availability of RFID tags to identify stock has powered a whole host of new technology to simplify huge manual tasks.
It’s great to see technology being used in this kind of way, to help libraries to derive the maximum use of their stock and improve the service to their users. Through the Additions Partner Programme, we have worked with the major vendors to produce creative solutions that have enabled the integration between the LMS and the new machines, such as sorters and stock tunnels. Although it has meant that the interface (SIP 2.0) used to connect the traditional self-service machines where users could self-issue stock and pay fines has been stretched far beyond its intended design. The projects involved in developing these new products have won innovation awards. For example, Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council won the BIC/CILIP RFID in Libraries Innovation Award 2010 and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) won the 2011 BIC/CILIP RFID in Libraries Innovation Award for their extended use of sorters.
There is, however, the ongoing challenge of integration with RFID handheld terminals (HHT) that allow librarians to check the stock by simply walking down the aisle with an RFID enable scanner. This has the potential to reduce the manual effort of tasks such as stock taking management, quickly checking for stock which is of poor physical quality or assisting a borrower to find a specific item. This sounds ideal and is something that we’re keen to support. To identify the stock, the HHT require large lists of data to be exported from the LMS. This is functionality that SIP 2.0 wasn’t originally designed to support, so cannot be used in a realistic situation. The solution to date has been to use a number of scripts or batch processes that would produce lists of old, or reserved stock that could then be manually loaded onto the HHT. That is fine, provided that the user understands how the underlying data is stored in the LMS and knows how to effectively extract it. Extracting the data is only part of the process. The challenge of ho to update the LMS remains.
Wouldn’t it be great if all the technical complexity could be removed? So users could simply select the type of stock they would like to search for and easily update the LMS once the task was completed. Many customers think so, and we agree. So we have worked with the major suppliers to produce a creative solution for this using the latest integration technology, web services. It became apparent that creating a solution between the Capita LMS and the RFID supplier would only solve part of the issue; what would happen if you wanted to change suppliers? It would ultimately mean that a non-proprietary solution would have to be produced that all LMS and RFID vendors could use.
This is why we are working closely with 3M (the custodians of SIP 2.0) to guide the development of SIP 3.0. In addition we are also working closely with the Book Industry Communication (BIC) who is developing a new library interoperability framework designed to improve the integration between the LMS and self-service machines – known as BLCF. We drafted a proposal about how BLCF could be extended to include functionality that would support interoperability between the LMS and RFID handheld devices. As a result BIC kicked off a project to add the functionality by calling a meeting from the major vendors including representatives from 2CQR, 3M, Bibliotheca, Axiell, Infor, SirsiDynix and our technical team. The meeting was the first step to ensure that a solution would be designed so everyone will be able to use it.
So watch this space. Still work to be done, but we’re getting there.
Photo taken by Paul Lowry