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Public Library IT Magic

October 11, 2018

Radio frequency checkout of library books is a reality. Just put the stack of books you are borrowing on the checkout machine and in less than two seconds they are scanned and charged to your card. Magic? No, just the most current technology. If you try to leave the library with books that have not been checked out, red lights go on with some menacing sounds. I’ve seen it and it is unbelievable!

I am on the board of the East Brunswick Public Library Foundation and the electronic checkout machines, one of which the Foundation donated just eight years ago, have been donated to a local library to make way for this new technology. Jennifer Podolsky, the library director insisted I take a look at how it works and it literally knocked my socks off. She says that this new technology will improve the circulation process and user experience and also internal processes such as counting and verifying the inventory since this can now be done by a librarian walking around the shelves with a wand.

The new system known as radio frequency identification system or RFID uses state of the art technology. To switch to the RFID system nearly 170,000 print and media items in the library collection had to be processed with new RFID tags to identify and track circulation items. This replaces barcodes that have been used for more than 30 years and which replaced the paper and handwriting or rubber stamp process that was used universally before then.

Checking out by stacking can be done for all items in the Library which includes CDs, DVDs and magazines in addition to books. Everything can be stacked together and after the library card is scanned the magic takes place and every item is entered in the library records and user file; a printed receipt can also be requested. A reverse process takes place when the checked out items are returned allowing the materials to recirculate much quicker. Library personnel will still be at the circulation desks to assist users, but it is expected many will be using the self-checkout machines as they see the ease in which it can be operated. Melissa Kuzma, assistant director adds that “the RFID system makes the circulation process much easier, whether it is a customer using a check out or a staff member checking in returns from the book drop.”

The East Brunswick Public Library is one of only two public libraries in New Jersey using this system, but large library systems around the world have also switched to a RFID circulation system including the San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Ottawa Public Library systems and the Vatican Library in Rome. RFID technology is also used for a variety of purposes including tracking medical equipment at hospitals, cashier-free convenience stores run by Amazon and theme park admission at Walt Disney World.

The East Brunswick Public Library (EBPL) is celebrating its 51st anniversary with a Gala sponsored by the Foundation that will be held on October 24, 2018. If you want information about contributing or attending, email me at Also, the EBPL is part of a consortium of 30 public libraries in surrounding areas so users can access books from a far vaster inventory than maintained in their home library.

My first thought when I saw the RFID system work was that it is magic; on reflection it is a sensible adoption and adaption to state of the art technology that can make things much easier for us. Kudos to my local library.

Previous blogs I posted about the EBPL can be accessed at:

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