Friday, April 26, 2013

The Upsides To The Downsides of RFID continued

The next few 'cons' in the PLA's guide to RFID all deal with the ability to compromise this technology, both accidentally or maliciously. The first is basic, deliberate interference with the signal. It is possible for some RFID tags to lose signal when they are surrounded by tin foil; it's very similar in theory to a conspiracy theorist's belief that tin* foil can block government brainwashing signals. Except the government would use much more powerful signals than cheapo library tech. Once the RFID tag is discovered the thief would then need to sandwich it between two sheets, smothering the signal. This is not a 100% possibility for all types and brands of RFID technology. Likewise, some tags are vulnerable to scrambling it they are layered too near to another tag. This is a bit trickier than the last technique since you have to significantly cover one tag with another but a lot less obvious since you're not waving around loud, shiny tin foil. This is also just a possibility, not an inherent issue with all RFID tags. There is the other issue of how easy it is to remove exposed tags from books, making them a moot point. I can definitely see the drawbacks. In the school library of my first high school they used RFID tags but they were very thick and rigid and the adhesive used to apply them was never allowed to properly dry. I would occasionally pick these tags off unconsciously. Nowadays however, the design of the antenna and chip inside of the tags has increased to be much thinner. Then it's just an issue of placement.The common sense answer would be to place them on the book behind the dust jacket but not every book has one. However, they also design some tags to have the library logo on them. Then they are hiding in plain sight as bookplates, something a prospective thief might not think to remove.

One thing I feel can not be stressed enough however is the comparison of RFID to regular tags. Yes there are there are engineering loopholes specific to some brands of RFID, but there are much simpler loopholes for the current common bar-code system with none of the benefits. If someone is just so determined to steal a library book, which is pathetically uncool as far as possible miscreant behavior goes, that they bring random kitchen supplies or methodically layer the materials they want to steal, not having RFID tags is just going to make it simpler for them. RFID tagging systems with audible alarms should deter some of the lazier ne'er-do-wells or shame others from further attempts. Even in the accidental compromise of RFID tags you only render them about as useful as, I don't know, a common bar-code. So yes, there are weaknesses, but they are only recognizable as weaknesses because the system is in general so much better than a regular one. Plus, the time and effort is takes to employ the weak spots on RFID tags make it far easier to catch possible thieves than when they can practically shove things in their bags and walk off with materials. And I'm being generous when I say practically.

Which brings me to the next so called downside, what they call "exit" sensors or what I've been calling security sensors. These larger sensors need to read the tags further away and more quickly than a hand-held reader which is used for inventory and weeding. I don't really see the issue here. Yes, they have to be spaced far enough to get a readable signal from the tag, but that's more an issue with the tags design and the strength of the signal it puts out. Also, these sensors are much larger and less mobile than hand held readers and need less information off of the tag itself. One would think the size and lack of portability would improve the processing abilities of it, just as PCs can be more powerful than laptops.

The last and silliest failing, at least to me, is that they might compromise a patron's privacy. There is the theoretical concern that someone may scan the tag in a checked out book and find patron information. Except RFID tags in books themselves generally hold information just about the book, even the statistics that may be stored on it would be focused on the number of time it was checked out instead of who did the checking out. RFID tagging of "smart cards" hold patron information such as name and printing balances, but this type of tagging is very uncommon, and rarely to my knowledge mandatory. Yet even if you had the reader to read a tag, it's the connection with a library's system that really decrypts such data. You'd need a handheld RFID reader from that library specifically, which makes the scenario all the less likely, not to mention that the reading ability of such devices is quite limited given the size and signal capabilities of library tags. If someone stood less than a foot from you with, say, the star-trek-esque device from a few weeks back, it might be less conspicuous to just steal your wallet at that point. The main upside to this con is if they concoct this elaborate scheme to steal your information from a tagged book or card, they are probably not smooth enough to actually take your wallet and your information is probably safe.

*By tin foil I mean aluminum foil. It's the same thing to me. I know technically they are different metals, but it's just how I talk.


American Library Association. (2011, October 10). RFID technology for libraries. Retrieved from

Bhargava, H., Campbell, A., Das, A. M., Haines, B., Kleinschmidt, & J.Thornton, F. (2006). RFID security. Rockland, MA: Syngress Publishing.

Dorman, D. (2003). RFID poses no problem for patron privacy.  American Libraries, 36(11), 86-87.

(2004). RFID technology: What the future holds for commerce, security, and the consumer : hearing before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred Eighth Congress, second session, July 14, 2004. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I'll Be Watching You...Watching Me

In fiddling with actually posting draft posts of late, I found the stats page! Fun with statistics! I can even see what pages you were on before you clicked on mine. I got a nice ego stoking from my page view numbers which was quickly deflated by realized that about half of those visits were me checking for comments. Alas. This blog is also coming to end as well. I'd like to say I'd keep it up but there's every possibility that real life will get in the way of my individual pursuits. This is why I have a massive backlog of fiction to read.

More to the point, I've been fiddling around on the ALA website of late. I have recently located the PLA branch of it as well. On the PLA website they have a technological toolkit that includes a simple guide to the benefits of RFID technologies. A lot of the things on it are things we've previously discussed in the blog like improved service and reliability but they also include a list of cons. The only real con I've included thus far have been the expense of such systems to implement and operate. I thought it might be useful to enumerate the ones they specified and discuss the costs and benefits of each. Yes I'm going to try to find benefits to cons. Deal with it.

First and foremost there are the compatibility issues. This is an issue for most modern technology, not just RFID tags. Just like you can't use a Wii disc on a PS3, you generally can't use RFID tags with systems they aren't directly made for. Even if they are made in the same place by the same people. Even if the RFID tag vendors merge. It's an issue in how the tag is coded that makes them essentially incompatible. This makes buying RFID tags at all a bit pointless, because you have to buy a whole new system plus tags when a new breakthrough comes, which is exactly what I said about PSPs. (And who still uses PSPs?) At least that's what the PLA tells you. In later paragraphs they go on to explain newly enforced production standards that would allow for interoperability in tags and systems. Which makes the only people who are bothered by this point the ones that already have these systems and probably won't be reading that article. The one remaining issue to this point is that some companies might fail to actually implement these standards because they might hurt the profit margins for such vendors. This is a valid point, but even the stingiest vendors have to comply to demand eventually especially as other vendors work with the standards and start to monopolize the available costumers. The real issue here is that librarians could be purchasing less wisely than they should. Discuss the interoperability of the product you're looking for and be willing to put off RFID tag integration until such a time as the standards are more...well, standard.

Well it's getting pretty late actually. Or early. Depends on how you look at it. I'll post part two of my discussion of RFID tag weaknesses tomorrow once I have written it. Goodnight!

EDIT: I thought these were self explanatory but a friend told me I should specify that Wii, PS3, and PSP are gaming systems. The last two stand for Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable respectively.


American Library Association. (2011, October 10). RFID technology for libraries. Retrieved from

Pandian, M. P. (2010). RFID for libraries: A practical guide. Oxford: Chandos. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Obligatory Classwork Post

Here are the powerpoints I've made in the duration on this class. There was definitely a learning curve to be found in the creation of both of these. I have considerable experience in making powerpoints, and in giving powerpoint presentation, but never in the creation of powerpoints that would have to be simply read, not presented. This proved a challenge since I am naturally very verbose in presentations, but all of my training in powerpoint etiquette rebelled at the idea of having immensely thick blocks of text. As you can clearly see, it took some time for me to find a balance in getting my point across and being properly succinct. All in all it is excellent practice for future paper writing I feel.

This first presentation in on what was called a "technology chronology" or the timeline of events that lead to modern library technological systems. We were given a great deal of leeway in format for this but I defaulted to powerpoint. It was the only program that would properly combine the minimalist style I prefer with the visual impact the professor was looking for.  I must confess here that I feel the first slide is the weakest link in this chain of events. I'm not sure if I picked those two events for how truly effective they were or if it was the unconscious byproduct of the fact I've been looking for a venue to discuss Lovelace for a while. Also, I had just recently discovered the vectoring abilities of powerpoint so bear with them. I however managed to snag a decent grade so go me!

I much prefer this presentation to the first, though that might just be because I think it's more attractive over all. Then there is also the fact that the very instructions told us to simplify a technology to the point of almost idiot-proofing, which was amusing to write. I have to treat rowdy freshmen like proper adults all day at work so it was refreshing to talk at their level for once. As for the directions I wasn't sure if I was supposed to tell them how to use the technology or how the technology works, but I figured that the former was far more practical. You can still see parts of the first incarnation of this presentation when I went with the latter interpretation. I suppose we'll see which one I was supposed to do when I get that grade back. Also, more fun with vectors! I made those CD and DVD security case transparencies myself. I'm quite proud of me.

I'm still unhappy with that last slide. I couldn't think of a visually appealing way to tie it all in really that was more "creative" than my usual work, since that was the major comment on the last powerpoint I did. I had wanted to create a scrolling textbox -- which is to say textbox that rolls like the credits of a movie -- but I want the links to remain accessible and didn't want to bog down the presentation. Maybe next time. Any ideas on how I should improve my work?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Technology Than I'm Actually Comfortable Explaining 2: Electric Bungaloo

This post has nothing to do with bungaloos to be honest. I thought I should just break it to you right out so there can be a clean break. What it does involve in RFID tag coding which, while somewhat still a mystery to me, is now making itself more clear.

First and foremost, tags are a bit like a floppy disc or if you don't remember what those were, a CD. If you've burned a CD in the last five years at least (and I'm not referring to literally burning or creating a typical playable audio or video CD) you've probably noticed your computer asking you whether or not you want to make this CD read-only or whether you want to program it to be rewritable storage. This is sort of how RFID coding works. It comes in two flavors, read-only and rewritable.

Now of read-only tags you have two distinctions and those are about the time and origin of the written information. There are standard read-only which are coded by the manufacturer and can only be used to store an identification number unique to the tag but otherwise unrelated to the information of the book it gets stuck to. These can be useful in tandem with a bar-code system that already has the item information coded on it. There are also WORM tags which are read-only eventually, but come to the organization (in this case a library) blank. The library codes information about the book such as it's unique item number and other relevant information but once that initial coding is done, it is permanent.  This means only permanent information can be stored such as bibliographic information, not item location or status which may change with time.

Then there are rewritable tags, the most expensive of the lot, which can hold such temporary information. These get the same initial coding as WORM tags, but allow for further coding if necessary. Typically, the coding functions are password protected or at least partially read-only to maintain the integrity of the information available. The type of information capabilities for a rewritable tag include security functions that can be disabled at checkout or location information that can be used with an automated sorting machine.

That's all I've got for you today folks! Have a good morning!


American Library Association. (2011, October 10). RFID technology for libraries. Retrieved from

BarcodesInc. (2013). RFID Buying Guide. Retrieved from

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Can't Spell Big Brother Without a Big Bother

Some of you expressed the same thoughts as I did about my last post regarding RFID tagging patrons - that it just wouldn't go over well - but Maryska brought up one point I wanted to look into further. (By the way guys, Blogger is no longer letting me reply to comments. I don't know why, but if I don't reply for a long time it's not because I haven't read or cared, but because I'm trying to circumvent this issue.) How common is RFID tagging outside of the library? I know that it's used commercially in airports and shipping industries as a way to keep track of stock but other than that, my research has been too narrow to really catch anything on this topic. I did find an article that sums up some of the long history of RFID, such as it's implementation in WW2 as a means of differentiating enemy aircraft from friendlies and it's modern uses such as electronic toll paying, but I found this video that covers all that and more. And it's far more exciting than another text post I feel.

Fun facts for people that have now watched this video: that bank card looks just like mine! Neat.
Fun facts for people who haven't or won't watch this video: I will be summarizing some of the later points on the technology in a future post about the technical specifications of RFID tagging. Coming to laptops near you! And apparently baseball is just a ploy from big brother! Now that's a long con.

I'm concluding with some more of this guys videos. If you check out his Youtube channel, the videos mostly focus on off-topic uses for RFID such as those in the video above, they can be quite amusing.

I suppose I spent all that time making a tinfoil tri-point for nothing.

More fun facts: I think those were similar to the type of tags in our worker IDs when I worked construction.


Bhargava, H., Campbell, A., Das, A. M., Haines, B., Kleinschmidt, & J.Thornton, F. (2006). RFID security. Rockland, MA: Syngress Publishing.

Dobkin, D. M. (2008). The RF in RFID: Passive UHF RFID in practice. Boston: Newnes.

Spekman, R. E., & Sweeney, P. J. (2006). RFID: From concept to implementation. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 36(10), 736-754.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Non-RFID Library Post

I found something on a friend's personal blog that I thought would be fun to share.

In unrelated news, one of the most difficult parts of this blog so far is finding RFID sources that focus on library usage. Apparently there is a big hullabaloo going on about RFID tagging people but it's not entirely relevant to this blog...unless perhaps we discuss RFID tagging patrons. It would make check outs smoother certainly, since patrons wouldn't have to do that awkward fumble for their library card, and it would cut out on "lost" cards and people using another person's card. I do not endorse RFID tagging people in general, more because it would not be well received by most people, but it's an interesting thought.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Technology Than I'm Actually Comfortable Explaining

Now, dear readers, don't get me wrong. I know a lot about the internet and how to use modern technology. I thoroughly proficient at tumblr and my smartphone and how to access youtube through my Playstation 3 and I can use an excel sheet like nobodies business. But when it comes to how these things actually work, I'm less useful than an astrolabe on a cloudy day. I'm not technologically minded. I can fix my a/c and install a basic power outlet, but in 23 years of following my electrician father around his work, I still can't really tell you how home wiring works. I've no issue being functionally ignorant of these things, just as I figure it's okay to not know architectural engineering. But I feel like I owe it to you, dear readers, to try and get to the nitty gritty nuts and bolts workings of RFID tagging as I possibly can. Which isn't all that much.

First we're going to talk about frequency. As RFID's name (Radio Frequency Identification if you've forgotten) suggests, each tag sends out a radio frequency that can be heard or more accurately read by a receiving device. The higher the frequency it sends, the further the signal can go without losing coherency, meaning the further away it can be read. This also means the closer the reader is to the tag the quicker it can read it. There are three general frequency areas for commercial tags, low, high, and ultra high. Low frequency must be read quite closely to be read at all, becoming unrecognizable at distances of at most 3 inches generally depending on the type of reader. This type of frequency might seem useless for library application which requires an amount of distance, but it is exactly the type of tag that is used in certain ID cards much like the technology you can find in my VSU 1card. High frequencies are the type more likely to be found in library tags since they can be read at several feet given an appropriate scanner. Ultrahigh can be read even further but to produce ultrahigh frequencies the technology needs to be much larger making them impractical.

Then there is the issue of active versus passive tagging, which refers to the power source of the technology within the tag. Tags that are actively powered can be considered always "on", always emitting a signal which makes them that much easier to read. They are always larger and much more expensive. Passive tags are powered by the signal sent out by a reader, sending signals only in reaction. It means that these signals take more time to read and that their reading ability hinges on the type of reader activating them, but it also means they are slimmer and easier to hide in books. They are also cheaper and way more common because of it.

Now when in comes to readers, there's typically three kinds as far as libraries go. There are the desk scanners, which have some of the portability of handheld scanner but much more power. These are wired to a computer and typically used in circulation or on conversion stations and to activate or deactivate security measures coded in tags. There are the handheld scanners which have decreased range and processing ability but can be easily moved through the stacks to aid tasks like taking inventory or weeding collections. Handheld and desktop scanners can be used to write coding on tags if the tags are equipped to be written. (I'll do a post on coding later I think.)Then there are the security sensors which read the tags as people come and ago from the library. They have superior range but no mobility. They also have to send out a constant field to activate passive tags, unlike the other kinds that typically only read on command. Though I generally think of them as the sensors you see at the exits of libraries, some libraries have them placed in book drops to automatically check in returned materials. Some of these book drops have connected automated book sorters that read the tag on a book and designate it to a pile to be reshelved in a certain area. I've never actually seen it done outside of the German video a way back.

 That's all I can think to include about the major technology at present. I'll post a sequel to this eventually explaining some of the technology on a tag itself if I ever figure out how it works.


3M. (2013). RFID 301. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2011, October 10). RFID technology for libraries. Retrieved from

BarcodesInc. (2013). RFID Buying Guide. Retrieved from

Bhargava, H., Campbell, A., Das, A. M., Haines, B., Kleinschmidt, & J.Thornton, F. (2006). RFID security. Rockland, MA: Syngress Publishing. 

Chatterjee, R., Choi, J., Park, S., & Wolfe, P. (2004). Proceedings from IIE Annual Conference: Evaluation of using RFID passive tags for monitoring product location / ownership. Norcross: Institute of Industrial Engineers

Pandian, M. P. (2010). RFID for libraries: A practical guide. Oxford: Chandos.