New system makes library more efficient new system

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Saturday, July 24, 2010
— It's not GPS, so the book lost under your bed won't rat you out.

But the library's new radio frequency identification system—RFID—allows Hedberg Public Library staff to do some amazing things.

The new system went online about six weeks ago.

In December, staff started tagging each item—about a quarter million total—with a white tab that includes a unique number. Before, a magnetic strip did not specifically identify the item.

Staff is finishing tagging DVDs, said Bryan McCormick, library director.

The new system:

-- Allows patrons to easily check out items themselves. The old check-out system did not always work well, and only about 20 percent of patrons used it, McCormick said. With the new system, it's up to about 65 percent. Patrons also can check out books and DVDs at the same time. Before, DVDs had to go through the manual check-out.

-- Sorts returned materials into eight bins so staff need touch them only once. Before, each item was handled multiple times.

-- Allows staff to take inventory, something that was virtually impossible before, McCormick said. The library has a catalog, but it has never been verified that all the items are actually there. With the new system, a staff member can walk down an aisle with a hand-held personal digital assistant and scan an entire shelf. A sensor reads each tag and compares it with the library's database. It also alerts staff to misplaced items.

-- Allows staff to search more easily for a misplaced book. If a patron says he or she has returned a book, staff can use a sensor to see if the item was misplaced or fell behind the shelves. If it's anywhere within 18 inches of the wand, staff should find it.

Each tag cost about 35 cents, and the total project cost was about $400,000.

Staff still is available for those who prefer to check out the old way. Some library business, such as issuing cards, still needs a personal touch.

Kids love the technology, McCormick said. The return slot is at eye level for the little ones, and they jostle to be the one to put the book on the conveyer belt. Then, they peer through the slot to watch as the book detours to its designated bin.

The new system frees personnel to work in other busy parts of the library, such as youth programming, McCormick said.

"We're benefiting in that we don't have to expand our staff, and we're just repositioning them in more high-demand areas.

"Nobody's losing their jobs," he said. "We're just implementing it because it's more efficient. If we can have a machine do some of the labor-intensive stuff and have staff work more with our public, it will just be a better use of our manpower."

The library employs 70 people.

Last updated: 2:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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