25 October 2006 at 8:15:11 AM
I was reading a library site that has a lot of blog examples of libraries using RFID for inventory management. In this one, all the books after Katrina in one city have been chipped but the patron's cards are still bar-coded. I wonder what the practical reason for that would be? A book with a particular RFID would HAVE to be tied in some fashion to the library patron, is it simply to assuage privacy fears without calling attention to the RFID factor?
What about from a privacy standpoint? This article from Salon in 2004 discusses how ironic it is that libraries, which traditionally guard patron's privacy, are going to the use of RFID.
"We had to get out of the checkout, check-in business," says Jackie Griffin, director of library services at Berkeley. "That's the place that staff was getting injured. And it's not helping people find materials in the library. We have really good, really well-trained people, and that's not using them in the best way." Facing almost $2 million in worker's comp costs every five years because of employees' repetitive stress injuries, the Checkpoint RFID system sounded like a relative bargain to Berkeley: $650,000 to tag the whole library, including the 500,000 tags, which go for 40 to 60 cents each. The main recurring cost is buying more tags as the collection grows.
Will anyone who happens to be carrying an RFID reader be able to figure out that you're toting around a copy of "Personal Bankruptcy for Dummies" in your $700 handbag? Or, even worse, will that RFID-chipped book in your backpack become a way to track your movements? Will a library book with its unique number in your bag suddenly become a way to track you? The librarians who are installing these systems say that they are taking precautions that make the first scenario highly unlikely. And they argue that the privacy gained through the ability to self-check out books without showing them to a library employee far outweighs the risks of the latter..
Many libraries, including Berkeley, are declining to put the name of the book or even the book's ISBN, its international standard book number, on the microchip implanted in it. They're using a unique bar code number instead, one that would have to be hacked out of a library's circulation database to connect it to a specific title. That's not just to assuage the privacy concerns of readers. For inventory management, libraries need to track individual copies of books and not the words between a given book's covers.
That includes Harris County, Texas as well.
Sentry Technology Corporation (OTC Bulletin Board: SKVY) announced today that ID Systems has successfully installed the third order of QuickCheck(TM) patron self service kiosks at the Harris County Public Library in Houston, Texas. There are now a total of 30 QuickCheck(TM) units [as of June 10, 2004] servicing seven branch locations.
QuickCheck(TM) operates in a similar fashion to a bank ATM, in that patrons gain access to the library's circulation software via a user card and touch screen video monitor. A barcode or RFID chip on the book is read, security functions performed and a receipt is printed to tell the patron what books have been borrowed and when they are due to be returned. Once the process is complete, the patron exits the library through the security system without any intervention from library staff. The entire process is fast, user friendly and frees library staff from the circulation desk to perform higher level tasks.
But what if the book publisher decides to encode the ISBN number in the RFID chip?
"Right now, those tags are about as meaningful as a bar code. You walk past a reader that picks up those tags, and it's just a jumble of numbers. But I am concerned that librarians are not thinking long term," says Beth Givens, the director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, who herself is a former librarian. "What if the publishing industry adopts RFID and in doing so encodes the ISBN number. Now you've got a tag that is revealing meaningful information."
On the other hand, being able to self-check out books because of RFID could increase privacy, in the case of books you want to check out but you don't want the librarian to SEE you're checking out.
But librarians argue that there are very real privacy gains to be seen right now through RFID. Would you rather self-check "The Infertility Survival Handbook: Everything You Never Thought You'd Need to Know," or share your most intimate concerns with the librarian behind the checkout counter?
The real issue is a tracking society. Can the book you're reading be used to track you, since RFID creates each chipped book with a unique serial number?
Schneider, who herself has been a librarian, found that in discussing the privacy issues in committee at the American Library Association, many large library directors got very defensive. "I feel like it's a battle I've lost," she says. "A number of large libraries implemented RFID before it really got on the privacy scope of anybody. By the time big well-heeled libraries had gone out on a limb to implement this expensive new technology, it was too late. They have a lot invested in no one saying: 'Oh, you know those 3 million books you just chipped? There's an issue with that.'"
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