February 16, 2018

Can You Read Me Now? | Product Spotlight

Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems offer libraries many ways to enhance productivity, ranging from self-check solutions to automated materials handling systems. RFID tags, which include a tiny chip for processing and storing information and an antenna for communicating with the readers in self-check stations, security gates, staff workstations, and other equipment, are a core component of any RFID system. Collectively, these tags are also one of the most expensive components of such a system, since individual tags must be placed on all circulating items when converting a collection from barcode readers. However, prices for RFID tags have fallen significantly in recent years, with basic tags currently retailing for about 30¢ to 40¢ each, down from 60¢ to 80¢ per tag a decade ago. Many distributors will also negotiate volume discounts for large orders, such as bulk buys made during the initial installation of a system.

Virtually all RFID tags used on books and other library materials share several characteristics. Passive, nonbattery-powered RFID tags are generally manufactured to communicate with the readers on three different radio wave frequencies. Low frequency, 128 KHz tags must be placed within six inches of a reader to work. High frequency, 13.56 MHz tags can be read from a distance of up to three feet. And ultrahigh frequency, 915 MHz tags can be read as far away as 20 feet. Library suppliers have uniformly settled on high frequency 13.56 MHz tags—which are also used in many retail applications—out of practicality. Three feet offers sufficient range for a system to process multiple items at once at a single checkout station, where a low frequency system would require individual item processing, and an ultrahigh frequency system might read tags on nearby shelves or book carts while a patron or librarian was attempting to check materials in or out.

Library tags are also described as “ISO compliant” or as ISO RFID tags. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an independent agency that develops voluntary standards for a variety of industrial applications, including business technology. ISO 15693 defines the minimal requirements for data exchange between a 13.56 MHz reader and tag. Many suppliers also describe their tags as ISO 18000 or ISO 18000-3 compliant, which refers to a more recent, broader set of standards covering a large range of devices, including 13.56 MHz readers and tags.

ISO-compliant tags also incorporate a feature called the application family identifier (AFI). This is a register on the tag that allows manufacturers to categorize tags for different applications and tailor security functions so that a tag in a library book won’t set off an RFID security gate in a retail store, for example.

Finally, most tags are compatible with ISO 28560, a set of data elements and recommended guidelines developed specifically for libraries and released in 2011. These standards are intended to facilitate interoperability between different libraries and equipment from different vendors.

COMPANY: EnvisionWare, Duluth, GA


EnvisionWare’s line of ISO-compliant 2X*GEN RFID labels are designed to have a 20–30 percent longer read distance than standard passive, high frequency RFID tags. This adds several inches to the distance at which their tags can communicate with RFID self-check stations, return chutes, RFID security gates, and other RFID readers. The company claims that this enhanced read distance offers several benefits, including better performance than standard tags when used with metallic item covers and improved detection at security gates.

EnvisionWare will customize orders on request, preprinting a message or logo in black and white or color. Customized orders are generally delivered in less than 30 days.

COMPANY: Tech Logic, White Bear Lake, MN


Tech Logic emphasizes interoperability among suppliers with its nonproprietary, ISO-compliant RFID tags. All tags are reprogrammable for up to 100,000 read/write cycles and feature a “lockable” section for item identification, a rewritable section for library-specific use, and a security function that can be “activated or deactivated,” according to the company’s website. Per industry recommendations, Tech Logic’s RFID tags are programmed to use the AFI byte for security, and the company has a policy of fully disclosing the data mapping it uses to store information on its chips, ensuring that the tags can be used with equipment from any RFID vendor.

PRODUCT: smartlabel
COMPANY: Bibliotheca, Norcross, GA

140602_smartlabel 200

Bibliotheca offers six different RFID labels under its smartlabel brand, with its square smartlabel 100, 110, and 200 lines tailored to books and magazines, and its round smartlabel 300, 310, and 320 lines designed for CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs. (Separately, Bibliotheca also offers a line of electromagnetic security strips under the smartlabel brand). All smartlabel RFID tags are ISO compliant, feature 1,024 bits of memory, and are reprogrammable for up to 100,000 read/write cycles.

COMPANY: 3M Library Systems, St. Paul


3M is the largest supplier of RFID technology to U.S. libraries and offers 50 x 50 mm and 49 x 81 mm ISO-compliant RFID tags for books and magazines, as well as StingRay Full Disc and CD-8 hub tags for DVDs and CDs. The StingRay line works with RFID-based security systems as well as self-check and staff workstations, while the smaller hub tags are intended as a productivity solution and do not include security gate functionality. The tags have a 1,024-bit storage memory and feature an antenna design with enhanced read range. 3M also offers preprogramming and custom printing options for its tags, ranging from black-and-white logos to four-color photos.

COMPANY: Libramation, Edmonton, Alta.

Alberta-based Libramation develops RFID solutions for a number of industrial applications, including heavy equipment, warehousing, and the oil and gas industries, as well as a full suite of self-check, security, media bank, automated lending, and circulation desk equipment for libraries. Their Lib~Chip RFID labels are available with two different microchip setups. The ICode SLIX chip features a 1,024-bit storage memory, while the ICode SLIX-L chip offers a 512-bit memory with security features including password protection and a privacy mode. The nonproprietary, ISO-compliant labels are reprogrammable for up to 100,000 read/write cycles.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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  1. I wish the author had pointed libraries to the document that specifies exactly what libraries should be specifying from vendors. In March, 2012, US NISO published their recommendations about what is appropriate for libraries. The document, NISO RP-6-2012, established ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 HF tags as the standard tag and ISO 28560-2 is the standard data model for libraries.

    See http://www.niso.org/apps/group_public/download.php/8269/RP-6-2012_RFID-in_US_Libraries.pdf.

    Libraries should be using those two standards to describe what they want and not asking vendors what they offer. It’s not enough to be “ISO compliant.” Libraries need compliance to specific standards, namely ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 (when they buy the tags) and ISO 28560-2 when they write to the tags. And within those standards, the libraries have still have choices about what exactly THEY want on the tag. It isn’t about what the vendors want or what the vendors are doing. Libraries need to specify the right thing and think through how they are going to use the tag data.

    Further clarification about the differences between library tags: ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 tags come in several variations including the square and credit card sized depending on the manufacturer and these should be used for non-media. The Stingray or X-Range tags are two different manufacturers of tags appropriate for CDs and DVDs. They are also ISO 18000-3, Mode 1 compliant. The RFID vendors libraries work with do NOT manufacturer the tags, they are basically resellers in most cases. RFID tags must be tuned to the material to which they are affixed so it is important to buy a “book tag” and the Stingray or X-Range which are tuned to plastic like that found in most DVDs and CDs. And of course, any metal in library material creates havoc with the system…..no great solution for that at this time.

    Also, the pricing for book tags is much lower now than Mr. Enis states. If a library is paying more than 20 cents for a book tag, they are making a mistake. The Stingray and X-Range tags are higher….sometimes as high as 65-70 cents each. Personally, I wouldn’t bother buying hub tags for media (but that’s just one consultant’s opinion).

    Lori Ayre
    Library RFID Consultant

  2. Just a couple of observations. Even in North America the use of HF tags is not ‘uniform’ and UHF is quite popular in many global markets. Also it might have been worth pointing out that ISO 28560 exists in two incompatible variants – both of which are sold in North America.

    RFID does indeed have far more potential than is currently apparent in many libraries – as was evident in the results of this year’s survey – currently being published on my blog – http://www.mickfortune.com/Wordpress. Some of the most exciting developments are taking place in countries like the Netherlands, where a national data standard has simplified development for a range of RFID suppliers not mentioned here. I will be writing about some of these later this year.

    Finally it’s perhaps worth mentioning that many smartphones and tablets now interact directly with library materials using NFC in conjunction with the RFID tags on board items introducing a whole new world of possibilities for innovation!

    Mick Fortune
    Independent advisor on RFID (ISO, BSI and other standards bodies)

    • Thanks Mick for helping with this article. Sadly, the comments I submitted to try to correct some of the slightly less than accurate statements in this article weren’t published…..

    • Second try at adding a comment…..What I had hoped to add to the discussion was a reference specifically to the NISO Recommendations which I urge libraries to reference in their RFID procurements. The URL:

      In this document, ISO 18000-3 Mode tags are recommended (this defines the physical tag libraries should buy). There are many ISO standards so simply stating “ISO Compliant” doesn’t really mean anything.

      Also, when it comes to writing data to tag, they should specify ISO 28560-2. Again, specifics matter. ISO 28560-3, for example, is not recommended here in the US (or Australia or the UK) so libraries should be moving toward these recommendations in their new procurements. There are some benefits to ISO 28560-2 over the data models many libraries are using today (having moved to RFID before the above recommendations were published (in 2012, not 2011), especially in the area of media management.

      I wish everyone, the writer of this article and all libraries using or thinking about using RFID would read the recommendations. It will help everyone make better decisions and help move libraries toward interoperability across library RFID systems and also give them more options going forward with RFID equipment. More on the issue of RFID and interoperability can be found in the Library Technology Report that I authored titled “RFID in Libraries: A Step Toward Interoperability” (Volume 48, Number 5 / July 2012).