CityU and mainland university libraries explore UHF RFID data model standardisation

Run Run Shaw Library

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City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has joined forces with universities on the mainland to explore cross-border collaboration opportunities in the area of UHF RFID deployment in order to achieve greater operational efficiency in the areas of book loans and returns, book sorting and stack management as well as interlibrary loan.

CityU, Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the three original founders of the Higher Education Libraries “UHF RFID Application” Working Group set up in March 2010, met with representatives from other libraries on the mainland and in Hong Kong to discuss issues related to interoperability.

“It is the first time that higher education institutions on the mainland and in Hong Kong are working together to establish common practices, guidelines for UHF RFID that might ultimately be adopted and shared with overseas libraries as well,” said Professor Steve Ching Hsianghoo, University Librarian at CityU.

Discussions at the meeting focused on issues related to scenarios whereby data on RFID tags are stored in a standardised format and handled according to agreed practice.

“The perfect scenario is that libraries will be able to read RFID tags on items from any libraries that follow the same data model standard,” Professor Ching added.

A second meeting was held in Shenzhen on 20 August involving representatives from Hong Kong and mainland libraries, such as the National Library of China, Tsinghua University Library, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Library and Shantou University Library as well as the CityU Library, Chinese University of Hong Kong Library, Baptist University of Hong Kong Library and GS1 Hong Kong.

RFID refers to Radio Frequency Identification technology. The most widely used RFID frequencies in today’s applications are High Frequency (HF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF). HF RFID Systems operate at 13.56 MHz and UHF RFID Systems operate within the range from 860 to 960 MHz. Usually, the higher the frequency of RFID, the quicker and the further it can read.

When barcodes first came into the library arena in 1985, book identification through barcode scanning replaced manual input of book accession numbers into the library system during the book loan and return processes. But barcode scanning can process one item at a time only. RFID reigns over barcodes because it enables multiple item detection without physical contact, meaning that a pile of books can be borrowed or returned in one go.

Moreover, the memory capacity of RFID makes it more than just an identification technology. It is also a data carrier that can update and transform information on an impromptu basis.

Interoperability is essential for resource sharing and interlibrary loans, which are common practices for libraries on the mainland and in Hong Kong. Usually different regions have their respective interlibrary loan mechanisms. For example, among the university libraries in Hong Kong, the HKALL (Hong Kong Academic Library Link) provides the platform for reciprocal borrowing of library books by users from different institutions. In the case of the CityU Library, books borrowed through HKALL share about 10% of all loan transactions. Being able to read the RFID tags on books from different libraries in a seamless way is therefore the key to increasing efficiency.

Conversion to RFID is a continuous process. The large scale conversion of the library collection at the start of any RFID deployment is a one-off exercise, but libraries still need to acquire tags to convert their annual acquisition and subscription on an ongoing basis. For example, the CityU Library collection grows by 35,000 to 40,000 volumes every year, which makes it necessary to acquire new tags.

“It is essential that tags acquired at different times, generations, models and brands too, remain compatible,” Professor Ching explained.

The National Library of China is the pioneer in drafting a standard data model proposal for HF RFID libraries on the mainland with reference to ISO28560. The Working Group would also provide the draft to ISO as their reference for the formulation of an international data model standard for UHF RFID in the future.


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