Tag Archives: technology


9 Sep

QRcode, originally uploaded by restructuregirl.

This is a QR code that could be used to direct people to the #piratehatsWednesday Flickr group.

Learning through fun.

Robot vacuum (the future is here)

22 Jun

I’ve been talking a lot about my robot vacuum cleaner during #blogeverydayinjune so I thought I should get a post up just for it.

According to Wikipedia:
“The Roomba is an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner made and sold by iRobot. Under normal operating conditions, it is able to navigate a living space and its obstacles while vacuuming the floor. The Roomba was introduced in 2002; as of January 2008, over 2.5 million units have been sold. Several updates and new models have since been released that allow the Roomba to better negotiate obstacles and optimize cleaning”.

I haven’t named mine yet, however I love it as much as a pet, and think it’s one of the best things I ever bought.

Unfortunately I can’t upload you a movie of it vacuuming cause I am too scummy to pay for my blog site to have videos.  However there’s a video on the Wikipedia link and you can imagine it running over your floor. It has a range of sounds for starting, getting flat and “uh-oh I think this is too bumpy”. It’s fantastic.


  • Noise?
    It’s no noisier than your current vacuum
  • How much dirt can something that small hold?
    Yes it only has a small area to store collected dirt so you have to empty it more frequently. However you don’t mind (as you haven’t been doing any vacuuming). It can still do 2 rooms pretty thoroughly.
  • How is it powered?
    It has a small recharging station and it senses where that is and directs itself back there when getting flat (I kid you not!!!)
  • Does it vacuum in straight lines?
    No – apparently that’s bad for the carpet. It scans the room then goes off on angles. If you leave it for long enough it will do the whole floor. However if you just want to target a section eg just knocked over something in one spot, there is a button that does a circle of a specific area only. There is also a remote control so you can drive it … but I haven’t used that yet. It can vacuum along sidewalls and corners too. Does a cute little sideways dancing movement (yes I have personalised it!)
  • Does it knock things over when it gets near them?
    Not with me. It has sensors in it and will slow down as it approaches any blockage. It still nudges them, but will turn around if they don’t move. [I have watched it move a pari of slippers across the room].
  • Can it cope with stairs, shoes, other detritus?
    It senses steps and stops on the edge, makes a considering noise (I am serious) then turns around and comes back. Copes with large objects like shoes and big clothes piles by going around them, but will suck up individual items such as socks and get caught, and then stop.
    So it can be left unsupervised. There’s also a scheduler tool you can buy to set it on a calendar.
  • How does it cope with pets?
    There is a standard model like mine, and a sturdier model that can tackle pert hair (advanced brushes apparently). Most animals & small children, don’t seem to like it though. No so much the noise but the sheer unnerving way it moves without pattern I think.
  • Can I test one?
    If you live in Melbourne you can borrow mine. I borrowed a friend’s to ‘test drive’ before I bought mine. Mine has already visited 5 other houses.
    If you live somewhere else … not that I know of.
  • Where do I buy them?
    The brand is iRobot, the name is Roomba, and you can order online. Reccommended purchaser from my friends to me in Australia was Peters of Kensington. They delivered quickly and provided warranty. Of course you may find alternatives … I’m just not endorsing them.

And if anyone buys any of their other products let me know! There’s apparently also Scooba (floor washer), Dirt Dog (garage sweeper), Verro (pool cleaner) nad Looj (gutter cleaner).

I haven’t thought of a library use for it yet, but there must be a way to put a book holder on the top and train it to fetch and carry [and clean when no one needs it].

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.

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.

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 : – )