Tag Archives: academic

Library … on trust

23 Jun

One of the things we are about to try is a library on trust!

Spine label on book

Our Engineering Faculty upgraded it’s student study facilities last year, and moved their branch library out to gain more student space. Library hub for them is close by and it was felt that students wouldn’t need books anymore in a subject where lots of the material has been purchased electronically.

Of course, textbooks are the last evil holdout on this, and the students were soon looking for textbooks close to hand, whilst working in these lovely new 24/7 swipe card access rooms and computer labs.

So the Faculty is trialling using some of their annual allocation to buy items and store them in a swipe card access room in the new area.

No exit gates, no borrowing, no security cameras, no watchful librarians. Library on trust ….

Both the Faculty and the Library are hoping for positive results.

RFID and Smart Shelves!

19 Jun

I’m really interested in how libraries are using RFID. If you know a library that has it, or indeed your library uses it, could you let me know?

For those of you without, RFID stands for Radio Frequency IDentification. Tags that have this enabled allow transmission of stored details through radio frequency waves, and hence are proposed to replace the barcode in libraries. It has been used for inventory and stock control in warehouses for some time, and could be used for similar tasks in libraries.

For a full explanation of how RFID works see Wikipedia especially the history of their entry into the library world.

In the circulation world I see the biggest benefits as removing repetitive manual handling tasks, for both borrower and for library staff:

  • RFID enabled Self Service  machines allow borrowers to set down on the reader up to 8 books and they are checked out in a pile. No more explaining how to align the spine and barcode, no more asking borrowers to checkout each book separately!
  • blogged earlier about how we are using RFID media tags, along with a ARS (Automated Returns System), to remove the manual handling we had with our dvds. They are high use items, and have to be opened each time they are returned to make sure they have the correct dvd in them. Now RFID tags store information about matching case and dvd as a set, and the automated returns system checks them on return. Removing manual checking for staff!
  • A related use is jukeboxes, with automated checkin and checkout for books/media. I blogged about these earlier.
  • Another use is for inventory or stocktake. Instead of checking each item visually, RFID tagging of books on shelf can allow you to walk alongside the shelf, with a “wand” or RFID reader scanning the shelves, and recording stored data.We trialled this several years ago for our largest branch in the reserve/short loans area. There was a large problem with items being put back on shelf out of order, or highly prized items being ‘hidden’ in another call number area. The idea was to reduce the manual handling component of constant shelf ordering. At the time it was a little disappointing. The scanner did not cope well with distinguishing tags on thin spine books, being more likely to pick out thicker books close by.
    Although there have been improvements, this problem known as “collision” is still worth checking before you buy any products. Libraries are encouraged to place tags in books in different places, so that there is less chance of 1 tag being in direct line with another. Also the wand had to be scanned across each shelf quite slowly, so it had it’s own manual handling problems. However others may have better experiences to tell now.
  • A feature advertised now by vendors is the idea of loading lists of required material into the “wand” and then scanning shelves. So if you loaded a list of all your missing books, you could then scan sorting shelves etc to see if you could locate the material. Again this sounds wonderful, however in practice in a large library with many shelves, would require a lot of scanning of each shelf separately with the wand – manual handling again.
  • So on my Circulation Christmas list is the wonderful new product Smart Shelves. Basically shelves are RFID reader enabled so that each shelf registers the RFID tagged items placed upon it. Link this to your LMS and you can tell borrowers exactly what shelf, floor etc the item they are looking for is stored on. So if it is on a sorting shelf, or mis-shelved, the item is still not lost.
    Taken to it’s logical conclusion some areas that do not require fine graded sorting for browsing could even reduce staff time spent on reshelving items. eg returned items could just be returned to the 621.381 shelves in no particular order,  as borrowers could check the catalogue on mobile phones and go directly to the correct shelf.
  • A related innovation adds GPS to the mix, and offers the ability to map the path to a book for a borrower through their mobile phone, or another hand held device.

Academic libraries have been slow to move towards RFID, as costs would be high to retag every item in large collections, and originally the choice had to be made between RFID or barcodes. Now many vendors offer hybrid machines. Our current Automated Returns System has separate scanners – 1 for barcodes and 1 for RFID tags. However there cannot be hybrid exit gates, so there is one area a library looking to run a staged progression into RFID, would have to expend twice the funds on.

There are also common concerns about the security of RFID tags in the academic library world. See Alan Butters 2008 article for full analysis.

  • Physically it is felt that as RFID technology is discussed on the Internet, students would learn how to deactivate them easily. I have heard that covering the tag with aluminium foil will block its signal, although I haven’t tested it! The tags themselves are very visible; a large white square with raised bumps, due to the radio antenna contained. So again there is discussion that these tags could be easily removed by borrowers trying to steal an item. Clever vendors have produced tags where the sticker is labelled on front with the library emblem, or some other distracting icon – however they are still visible if someone is searching. Another idea is to place the tag between 2 pages, and glue them closed. This is still a far cry from the hidden “tattletape” running on electro magnetic detection currently on every item in academic collections.
  • Security concerns are also raised in terms of privacy. RFID readers are available for public purchase, and some feel that they could be used to show what someone has borrowed. As some libraries propose RFID borrower cards as well, this could reveal borrowers personal details in the same way. Apparently it is also possible for individual borrowers to buy a blocker, so it could become an opt in choice!

Finally – standards for RFID are evolving. Before purchasing anything it would be good to check what standards your proposed purchase is compliant with, and whether at this stage it would knock out other equipment you wish to add in, in the future. Alan Butters is Australia’s expert on this so you can search his name on the Internet, or read his VALA 2010 paper.

Sugar free AND tasty. Is it possible?

15 Jun


I’ve been told that I need to cut sugar out of my diet. This is an attempt at weight loss which I need to do for my health.

However as far as I can tell no sugar = no taste.

There are no known recipes in my CWA cookbooks for sugarless icecream or chocolate biscuits. (What a surprise.)

Anyone got any cake, biscuit, slice, yummy, sweet, more’ish recipes that are sugar free out there – if so please send them to me.

And before you ask … I don’t like vegetables so they’re not a great substitute.

Creative Circ Christmas wishlist

9 Jun

Funding isn’t often given to libraries specifically for circulation. It’s just not as sexy as a new learning center or a collection of new books.

Sometimes I like to dream though that some rich woman decides to throw a couple of million at my library, and the only stipulation is that is has to improve the circulation processes somehow … [before you say anything I do have other dreams than this one, but they’re on my X rated site]

So some of my posts for #blogeverydayinjune are going to be about the exciting new circulation toys out there, that I haven’t got yet, but I’d love too.

Today’s featured toy is the idea of a circulation jukebox, cause it could dispense items 24/7 and never requires people to do reshelving.
MediaBank has a DVD jukebox as does BiblioTecha; and there’s also a bookbank called LibraMate.

How could I use this? High use items in a 24/7 lab? My personal favourite, a mobile library van visiting student events such as music gigs to loan out items. Perhaps just to pick up holds after hours? I want one so I can give every 5th borrower a chocolate frog as well as their item! Or Lucky Dip borrowing – press the button and you may get *one of the items with the most holds on it that month, or *a book that hasn’t been borrowed for over 10 years!

A related must have (if I could just think of a work justification) was demonstrated at the recent VALA conference. Bibliotecha is offering a series of lockers that can be set to open for a particular patron card (RFID cards needed though). Sadly I’m as excited as a teenage girl offered dinner with Justin what’s his name, by this toy –  “I SO want it”.
I could use this for picking up holds, allowing lecturers to browse the shelves after a class and then leave recommended reading items for students in a particular subject; or a game whereby you can scan your barcode each day and then one day a door opens and you get a surprise book!

Hmmm. Must stop dreaming and go off and write some real work now.

Challenges a circulation librarian prays never comes her way …

8 Jun

This month one of our major libraries lift is being upgraded. This should be a time of great jubilation and celebration for the lending staff, as the lift is about 15 years old, struggles to level out at floors [for non circ people getting trolleys over the bump is painful], and in an inverse reaction to the TARDIS takes about 20 years to go up 2 floors.

However …. this upgrade is going to take 3 months. It’s happening during 2 active months of 2nd Sem. The returns desk is on Level 3. The books live on shelves on Level 5. There are no other lifts in the building. There’s already been a few manual handling issues at this branch for loans staff.

So I’ve been enjoying troubleshooting with my colleagues solutions for over a month. Unfortunately I cannot say that we will be instilling any of the fun options.

  • Apparently there’s not enough time to give this to our Engineering 3rd year students as a real life work problem that needs a mechanical solution created.
  • Building our own weight loaded balance solution (giant set of scales in the stair well with 2 empty buckets either side, that swing upstairs as people load up books on each floor ) is labelled a Health & Safety hazard by some visionless qualified ergonomists.
  • The giant slippy slide made with cheap black plastic down the stairwell only works for bringing books downstairs not upstairs. Pulling them up tied on string is a bit labour intensive.
  • Asking all students to return their items to the floor they borrowed from (self check in) was viable and is going to be an option, however can only be a backup as we can’t set up the technology to refuse items not housed on particular floors. Over engineered towards customer service, that’s the sort of self service technology we buy!
  • Moving all the items down to the entry floor was foiled not through lack of space, more by the fact we only had it refurbished as a student space 5 months ago and after a year of no access the students actually deserve to use it for at least a little bit longer. [Why you ask didn’t we have the lift refurbished during the same time, well apparently our Property services section could explain that, they just won’t].

So … da da da … the final solution is whacking up some temporary shelving for returned items on the entrance level, then paying furniture movers to carry them up 2 floors at the end of each week!

5 bin Automated returns system

4 Jun

Today I am going to talk about the automated returns system (ARS) we installed in our Eastern Resource Centre this year.

First up I have to say this is a small machine – only 5 bins.
It’s not the sexy 10 bin TechLogic sorter at Brisbane Public Library. I’m one of those sad types that cheers myself up by watching the UltraSort live on movie!

It’s not a robot retriever (that’s ASRS – Automated Storage and Retrieval System) like we hear about overseas (and may see soon at Macquarie).
It’s not even the flying monkeys that girlwithshoes teased me about and I secretly believe could still happen one day.

The 5 bin machine offers 4 bins for your sort choice (we have chosen different location codes), and 1 bin for any and ALL exceptions that do not fit those 4 sort categories. We purchased a hybrid system that can handle RFID or barcodes, and only have bins at present. However the QLS model we selected does have a trolley that can be purchased – just note that you have to buy a “docking station” [costs more than the trolley] as well for it to work. TechLogic is the only other model which offers a returns direct to trolley model at present. It’s trolley is far superior to the elongated QLS model (difficult to maneuver I think and only 1 shelf) but also more expensive …

We bought the QLS machine but there are also options from 3M, TechLogic, Bibliotecha and numerous others for every sec after this blog is posted!

The staff are happy with it so far, and we have these “learning experiences” to share with other libraries going down this track:

  • Students want to use these machines. Don’t let them put up the face plate untill you’re REALLY ready to take books. Students will break through paper signs, remove plastic signs and generally try and ram books into this enticing returns machine : – )
  • Whatever the machine itself can do remember that the SIP2 connection still limits what you can do as they only transmit certain data
    eg we currently can’t refuse items from other locations, or items from another floor
  • If you haven’t got RFID yet buy a hybrid system so you can migrate as technology develops. Our system is running books by barcode at present, alongside dvds by RDID tags. Eventually we can migrate books across to RFID from barcodes in our own time, with it appearing seamless to library borrowers.

I’m sure the Librarian of the ERC, much more disciplined than me, will eventually organise me to give a paper on this somewhere. I’ll co-operate as long as I’m allowed to name it the same as I did the working group – Automated Returns Sorter Experience. So the working group could get Kiss my ARSe coffee mugs!

Setting up dvds as a set (or never opening them again)

3 Jun

Today I can actually talk about something we have done at Melb Uni.

photo of dvd with RFID tags

photo of dvd with RFID tags

As with most lending returns and shelving areas, our staff have a LOT of manual handling to do. That used to include opening every DVD that was returned to see if the borrower had remembered to put the right dvd in the case! Annoying; plus intensive use of wrists in a repetitive strain type movement. Our ERC library holds the Media Collection, and come Friday they function as the campus VideoEzy (but free!), so LOTS of opening and closing of dvds.

On top of that we had a security problem with many of our prize DVDs disappearing throughout the year. Initially we considered those cases where you have to lock/un-lock manually, but that is just another form of manual handling. So the acquisition of a new automated returns sorter (more on that in a forthcoming post) allowed us more options.

We purchased an automated returns sorter that can accept either barcodes or RFID tags. Then we put each DVD into a 3M lockable case, with a RFID D4 (big white square) on the case, and a CD8 (white round ‘doughnut’ on centre) on the actual DVD. These 2 tags are programmed on the 3M RFID conversion station/pad as a “set”.

Now when you check in a DVD the automated returns sorter checks
– is this the RIGHT CASE and DVD for the set? If not it pops it back out to the borrower with a little message “Problem with media item. Check that correct disc is in case“.
– does this case have a DVD in it all? If not it pops back out to the borrower again. The same message is used for both scenarios “Problem with media item. Check that correct disc is in case”.

If you have managed to return your dvd in the right case, it accepts it, returns it and pops it in a bin. Then our staff still have to manually swipe them through the relocking mechanism (it’s magnetic and currently set right on the side of the DVD returns bin) but no further checking is required, onto a trolley and back upstairs.

VERY EXCITING – well for lending and manual handling warriors like me anyway : – )

Loaning eBook readers

2 Jun

Today’s blog post is going to be what is apparently known as a “link post” (where I link to other’s content),  as I still haven’t lent my eBook readers or done anything myself. I’ll do a “think post” soon though on how we are RFID tagging dvds for returns so we don’t have to manually check them – as my staff have actually done something I can report and “think about” for that topic.

So eBook readers: At my Uni Library we have an Ecoreader, Kindle and Iliad to play with. Different staff have liked different things about all 3, so the old adage is obviously true that no 1 size fits all. Kathryn Greenhill has some clear thoughts on the iPad as an eBook reader in Australia on her blog, including a lovely summary of ebook readers here in Oz. She points also to Judy O’Connell’s excellent summary of the Kindle in Australia as well as the networking group in Facebook EBook readers in libraries.

Issues that have to be addressed specifically for loans desks are removing credit card details if purchases made on device by  a borrower; returns; penalties for lost items; manual handling of item for loan (not wanting to increase no of items behind desks that have to be handed over repetitively to borrowers); loan period; instructions for use and recharging.

I’m willing to explore the above by trial and error, however how do I start a trial?

Easiest option: Just advertise they are available for loan (content free) and see if anyone borrows one? Lend for a week perhaps… Looks like this is what Erasmus University in Rotterdam has tried. Also there is a report of user reactions to a similar trial at http://liveserials.blogspot.com/2010/04/e-book-readers-in-mobile-friendly.html

Preloaded content: This was my original thought. I wanted to look for an alternative to our electronic reserve. However available academic content is sporadic, and filling a reader with the reading list of a particular class was immediately knocked out as we can’t get everything for any class we’ve thought of yet. I also resent the idea that I have to pay to add my own pdfs to the Kindle, and adding pdfs to the Illyiad chews up memory far in excess of actual file size.
Reference content is available often online though, and I’m about to move 2 branches to a new location, with a very small shelf allocation for reference. I’m thinking of giving the ref desk an eBook reader with a lot of ref tools loaded onto it. They can call it up on their screens to show students at their initial interview, then pass them the reader to go off and do some more work on their own. (see Wilkins & Swatman)

Ooh – just noticed that North Caroline State University has had a clever idea “One of the Kindle DX readers is a 4 hour loan news reader updated daily with TIME, Newsweek, The News & Observer, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. Pick up the Newsreader Kindle at the D. H. Hill Library Circulation Desk.” Perhaps I could set this up for Australian news, or just on librarian selected resources eg citation styles? Get one reader preloaded with a range of usable articles?

Large files in electronic format:
One example Ronald Jantz has identified ebook readers as being useful for, is large files we already have electronically that students don’t want to download. At my Uni Library we still have lots of students with download limits or slowness. Files such as these could be loaded onto an eBook reader and entered into the catalogue as a standard record for borrowing. Now I just have to find a sample file like this we have electronically that students would want to view on a small screen. Currently most of our large files are for fine arts and students want to enlarge them on bigger screens.

Another benefit would be for students who are out in the field, or travelling, and want to lessen the load of material they carry with them. Again this is restricted by the small amount of current academic content available, but I could explore with medical students going to their rural placement perhaps. Another use would be to allow copies of Special Collections material to be read outside the physical confines of our set reading room, or outside it’s opening hours.

Interlibrary loans:
A subset of the travelling idea would be the ability to send special material for someone else to access, without providing a copy they can keep (printing restricted from many eBook readers). Or just a copy of material that shouldn’t be banged around in postage, and you want to send as an exact replica of the book format for authenticity.

There may be specific readings that could be loaded onto an eBook reader that students with limited vision could take to class and be able to consult in an enlarged format (again struggling with content issue at this point). Also the range of audio readings might include some academic content (perhaps). I must go and talk to our DLU(Disability Liaison Unit) ….

Different formats:
American libraries have been loaning music on iPads. I could also look at popular dvds and film clips in our Media library. Instead of sending them off to view on pcs in the library, I could get hold of an iPad and loan that directly perhaps?

Well in musing to myself on what to say on this blog about lending I have already come up with some new ways to motivate myself! Success for me if not my readers : – ) If I get any of the above into practice I will add to this blog.

Sources of information:

Great archive of reports etc (thanks CW) at http://www.jiscebooksproject.org/

Mixed, 2010, “Group discussion on whether you would borrow an iPad from a public library”,  http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies-archive.cfm/1415050.html

Kathryn Greenhill, 2010, http://librariansmatter.com

Ronald Jantz, 2001, “E-Books and new library service models:An Analysis of the impact of E-Book technology on academic service models”, Information Technologies and Libraries, 20:2.

Judy O’Connell, 2010, “Kindle-ing discussion about learning”, http://www.scribd.com/doc/21629560/Kindle-ing-Discussion-about-Learning

Linda Wilkins & Paula M.C. Swatman, 2006, “E-Book Technology in Libraries: An Overview”, http://ecom.fov.uni-mb.si/proceedings.nsf/0/6844ce4b1e789dddc12571800031b4eb/$FILE/21_Wilkins.pdf