This story has been updated to correct the cost of the automated sorting equipment.
STEPHENS CITY — Newly implemented RFID technology is making life easier for patrons and staff of the Handley Regional Library System.
RFID, which is short for radio-frequency identification, makes it possible for patrons to check out an entire stack of books, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks and more simultaneously, rather than one item at a time.
It also created the opportunity to install an automated sorting device for items returned to Bowman Library near Stephens City. Space limitations at the system’s other two branches — Handley Library in Winchester and Clarke County Library in Berryville — prohibited those locations from having automated sorting, but all three branches have upgraded to RFID to ease the cataloging, checkout and return processes.
Kim Bean, operations manager for Bowman Library, said the sorting device is a time-saving wonder. An electric eye detects when a patron places a book or other item in a return slot, and that activates a conveyor belt that carries the title past a device that reads its RFID code. That code tells the machine which section the item has been assigned to — fiction, research, audio, children’s and so on — and the equipment automatically places the item into its appropriate bin. Library staffers then wheel the bins to the appropriate sections and re-shelve the titles.
“This has been a wonderful success,” Bean said of the machinery installed last month. “It saves us time and allows us to get rid of some of the tedious, repetitive tasks so that staff are free to do other things.”
She added that no jobs were eliminated due to the implementation of the sorting system.
“It just makes staff more available for other services,” Bean said.
The sorting equipment was purchased from a company in Minnesota, Tech Logic, for about $50,000, said Handley Regional Library System Director John Huddy.
While Bowman is the system’s only library with automated sorting equipment, RFID-encoded chips have been affixed to the collections at all three branches. Those chips are detected during the checkout process when materials are placed on a flat scanning device that reads data from several chips simultaneously.
RFID gives patrons the option of skipping the checkout desk thanks to new self-check stations from the Georgia-based firm Envisionware that have been installed at all three branches.
“It’s really simple,” Matthew E. Swain, Handley Regional Library System’s technology coordinator and public relations manager, said about using the self-check kiosks. “The patron goes up, they scan their [library] card, and they can put a stack of materials down [on a scanning table] five to 10 at a time. ... The transaction previously would take a minute or two, depending on how many items you had. This takes seconds.”
For those reluctant to try the new technology, Bean said staff members will gladly walk them through the self-check process.
“Usually they’ll say, ‘That’s it? That’s all there is to it?’” Bean said. “Yes, that’s all there is to it.”
Additionally, the self-check stations can be used to pay fines for overdue items and renew the lending period for titles that have already been checked out, Swain said. Transaction receipts can be printed or emailed.
The RFID-based improvements also allow the library system to offer self-service holds. That means a patron can request a library book or other item online, over the phone or in person, and that item will be placed on a special shelf when it becomes available. When the customer comes in to pick up the item, they can take it off the shelf and use the self-check station, eliminating the need to ask a staff member for assistance.
Bean said she hopes patrons of all ages will enjoy the new user-friendly services made possible by RFID.
“Certain generations are pegged as being not tech savvy, but I think you can find resistance and acceptance in all generations,” she said.
For more information about Handley Regional Library System, visit handleyregional.org.