Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is being extensively used by members of the London Libraries Consortium for self-service, improved stock management and to facilitate longer opening hours. Around a third of London is served by the consortium's library services. The most recent RFID installations are at Tooting (Wandsworth), Wandsworth Town, Clapton (Hackney), John Jackson (Enfield), Enfield Town and Gants Hill (Redbridge) where public library technology specialist Axiell has provided Bibliotheca Venus machines which offer easy-to-use self issue and return facilities in over 1,000 libraries worldwide.
Wandsworth libraries has had RFID in its Earlsfield library since 2008 and at the new Wandsworth Town library since it opened in August 2009. Geoff Boulton, Library Strategy and Performance Manager, explains the reasoning behind its introduction, "Wandsworth Town library is in a listed building and comprises a series of rooms rather than an open plan library. In order to provide maximum opening hours over six days a week and to make best use of staff, we decided to use self-service machines so that we did not need to have a librarian permanently in each of the six rooms." Branch Librarian, Daniel Andrews, added, "People are still wowed by being able to put a whole pile of books on the machine and the machine reading the information from them all at once." The machine in the children's library has been configured with a choice of safari or deep sea images and they are very popular with children of all ages. Tooting Library serves a strong Asian community and the RFID machines have been set up so that the instructions are available in the relevant language such as Urdu or Punjabi, 87% of issues at the branch are through RFID machines. The technology will be introduced to the remaining Wandsworth libraries by the end of the year.
In the east of Greater London, Havering will carry out stock taking using hand held RFID readers for the first time this year. Six of the borough's libraries have RFID, the latest being the new Central Library in Romford, the remaining four libraries will gain the technology in 2010 with a target of 80% of transactions to go through the machines this year.
At neighbouring borough Redbridge, the technology is also used for stock management as well as self-service. Gants Hill library was recently refurbished and now offers extended opening hours thanks to the introduction of RFID. Staff have been trained in the new customer service model and actively encourage patrons to use the RFID machines and 86% of issues are now going through self-service. RFID will be rolled out to three further branch libraries this financial year and the Ilford central library in financial year 2011-2012.
Brent Libraries have 10 fully self-service libraries with the remaining two facilities to follow suit by Autumn 2010. There the main motivator was to free up staff to help customers and to promote stock and events. Sue McKenzie, Head of Libraries in the borough, says, "The key to moving to self-service is to build up staff skills and attitude in advance, to promote RFID to the public and to encourage staff to floor-walk. The customer panels we have for each library were also immensely helpful in providing advice on the best ways to promote and introduce the new technology." In the self-service libraries the library counters have been removed so that the public are naturally drawn to the self-service machines; staff are available for queries via at least one information pod in each branch. The introduction of the machines also coincided with a makeover: libraries now have improved layouts and additional facilities such as self-service printing. The machines also handle money so that customers can pay for DVD loans or overdue fees themselves and Brent now has an average rate of 80% RFID usage across all its branches.
In the borough of Ealing, a recent libraries refurbishment and modernisation programme allowed RFID to be installed in five libraries. At the new Northolt Leisure Centre which opened this year, patrons can find facilities such as swimming pools, a gym, community hall and a library. The centre building is open beyond the library opening hours and RFID machines allow users to issue and return books after the library has closed. Two new library partnerships with Sure Start Children's Centres will use RFID and are planned for this financial year.