RFID in UK Libraries


The advantage of radio frequency identification (RFID) over other technologies used in libraries is usually seen to be its ability to combine the functions of the barcode (as a unique item identifier) and the security tag (able to indicate that an item is being removed from the library without permission), but with the added advantage of not
needing line of sight. The customer-friendly self service that this combination of features makes possible is at the heart of the attraction of RFID for most libraries.
There are many layers of misunderstanding between libraries and their suppliers over what RFID is meant to be/do. The first is the widely accepted use of the term ‘RFID’ as shorthand for self-service:

The contrasts between RFID as used in retail and RFID in the library
Some RFID suppliers have a track record in library self-service and security, a handful understand that library operations go beyond loans, but many came from the retail supply chain – a very different market altogether. In the fast moving world of RFID solutions appear and disappear rapidly. New tag technologies appear all the time making old ones obsolete.In retail such rapid change is welcomed. In a market where the priorities are speed of supply, greater accuracy and better margins data standards are practically non-existent and tags – and tag data – change almost as fast as the applications that use them. These solutions are not designed to be used by anyone else, Asda don’t share their RFID warehousing solutions with Tesco. So the solutions are “closed loop” – i.e. they are designed to work in a closed environment to perform a particular task

RFID Vendors

A list of RFID vendors used by each UK Library authority is on this wiki here
RFID companies and contact information

RFID specification

'Tendering for RFID Systems: a core specification for libraries.' By Mark Hughes & Mick Fortune. June 2011

Business Case for RFID

Making the business case for RFID (with financial information) An example from 2008 -Solihull

Discussion List

Mick Fortune runs the RFID listserve (LIB-RFID-UK)

IFLA special interest group

The IFLA IT Section has established an RFID working group. The role of this working group will be to review, discuss and publicise developments in RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) for Libraries. This includes:
  • Standards
  • Technological developments
  • Issues of privacy and confidentiality
  • Conference sessions in the annual IFLA congress to promote RFID discussion.
  • Application of RFID in libraries.

SIG web site

Library RFID website

Mick Fortune, owner and sole proprietor of Library RFID Ltd. He offers advice and support to librarians and the library industry.
Includes links to resources, standards etc


EDItEUR was active in the development of the ISO standard 28560 for RFID in Libraries, sponsoring one of the editors of the three-part standard and arguing for a flexible approach that mandates a minimum of data (e.g. unique accession number and library identifier) whilst at the same allowing for further optional elements to be coded if required by libraries.

ISO 28560

The data standard for libraries was eventually published in three parts in 2011. Part 1 defines the data elements that may be utilised in library RFID implementations (and used by both Parts 2 and 3 with minor exceptions). Part 2 - The preferred format for US, UK and ANZ libraries was adopted by the National Information Standards Organisation (NISO), and recommended by standards bodies in both the UK and Australia (and is supported by RFID suppliers in all three countries). Part 3 - essentially the Danish Data Model with some modifications is widely used in those European countries that previously used the Danish Data Model.

The UK Data Model

Data models for library use of RFID use may be defined by country, region, group or consortium. The UK data model was defined by Book Industry Communication (BIC) following the publication of ISO 28560-2. It defines 3 mandatory fields - the Unique ID, the ISIL code (issued by the British Library ISIL Agency) and an index field that indicates which (if any) of the optional data elements are present on a tag.

BIC continues to support the development of standards for RFID and the supply chain in general. Its membership comprises representatives from all the UK's major RFID companies as well as from LMS suppliers, stock suppliers and of course librarians. Its various RFID committees are chaired by Mick Fortune who also represents UK library interests on the relevant British Standards Institute (BSI) and International Standards Organisation Working Groups.

Guides to RFID

'Guidelines for the use of RFID in libraries' By Mick Fortune. MLA. May 2010 (now very outdated)

'Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future RFID in UK Libraries'.' By Mick Fortune. Library RFID Limited. IFLA 2011
Good up to date summary covering important current issues about standards and interoperability. From the presentation:
The UK Market.
  • 97.8% of UK RFID installations buy their entire RFID solution from a single supplier*
  • There is (almost) no competition once an RFID supplier is chosen
  • New products are available –but being proprietary –cannot be used everywhere
  • Most RFID companies are committed to change this scenario –but most librarians aren’t.
Source: Annual RFID survey -run by Mick Fortune (the author)

More recent survey results are available including the 2014 survey carried out earlier this year. (Results start here) The results were presented at this year's Wildau seminar in Berlin in September.

'A Guide to RFID in Libraries'
By Simon Edwards and Mick Fortune Book Industry Communication November 2008
It covers the library aspects of RFID and the key issues

'Making the most of RFID' By Martin Palmer. Facet 2009
Price: £44.95 (£35.96 to CILIP members):
ISBN: 978-1-85604-634-3
'…it is THE book to read if you want to inform yourself about the technology…highly recommended for all levels of library and information personnel and for library students and faculty alike…this is a compulsory read and a book I would strongly recommend.' LIBRARY MANAGEMENT


Interoperability has proved to be a major challenge in countries that did not originally adopt a data standard (like the UK). In the absence of such a standard RFID suppliers created their own data models. This frequently resulted in difficulties when a library chose a new supplier as tags already in use might not be readable by the new supplier's hardware. The solution was to establish a common data standard for all new installations and since 2011 the new RFID standard (ISO 28560-2) has enabled interoperability at the tag level between all of the UK's major RFID suppliers.

During the discussions to establish the UK agreement on data standards - which were brokered by BIC's RFID committee - it became apparent that RFID use in libraries was being artificially limited by its dependence on 3M's ageing SIP protocol and the committee turned its attention to finding a way to allow more rapid and consistent development of RFID services and applications by creating a data framework (essentially a data dictionary of data elements and values) to be used when exchanging data between RFID and LMS systems. The "Library Communication Framework" (LCF) was launched in 2014 by BIC and has already been adopted by suppliers such as Axiell, Capita, Bibliotheca and 2CQR for new products. As of September 2014 mobile app specialist Solus announced their intention to use LCF in the development of their self-service and mobile applications. The framework is managed by BIC on behalf of the library community. Its management team comprises members from RFID, LMS and library backgrounds together with representatives from JISC.

ISO 28560-4 (for UHF based systems) is currently awaiting publication.


Near Field Communication (NFC) is a form of RFID used for close contact applications like those used in many smartphones and tablets. Concerns about the vulnerability of library stock to malicious attack by using NFC in a smart device led to the industry developing guidance for librarians concerned about the possibility. These were published at the end of July 2014 by BIC. Soon afterwards Apple announced the availability of NFC in their latest range of iPhones and Ipads increasing concerns even more. An article by Mick Fortune on the subject was published recently. NFC operates at the same frequency as the vast majority of tags in use in libraries so the opportunity to use devices in conjunction with stock is real - which, although presenting a possible threat also opens up new vistas for interaction between individuals and library stock - like self-issue or at shelf use monitoring.

'New RFID Standard Raises Prospects for Interoperability.' By Patrick Hogan. ALA Techsource. 24 August 24

Data protection and Privacy
Concern about the impact on libraries of EU action on RFID (August 2010)
(from the EDItEUR website).....
'The European Commission is taking some formal action with respect to RFID applications, based on data protection and privacy concerns. There is a serious risk that this could result in legislation that could affect the use of RFID in libraries. An initial review of the consultation document indicates that there is a bias towards a level of security and privacy that is currently not possible to implement in RFID for libraries. Given the success of RFID in libraries and the acceptance by the general public and university students, we feel that a robust response needs to be made to this public consultation document'.

EU mandate M436 was issued in 2014 and requires member states to consider measure to be introduced to further protect the privacy of the individual. Whilst the mandate is not of itself a legal requirement it clearly sets out the steps that need to be taken by RFID "operators" (librarians are the operators in the terms of the mandate) to comply with its recommendations. These include the display of signs wherever RFID is being used to be accompanied by a Privacy Impact Statement advising consumers/readers of what information is being stored/used by the library's RFID system(s). BIC is currently preparing an advisory on the subject for librarians. The Information Commissioner's Office (the relevant UK agency) has advised BIC that it has no immediate plans to introduce legislation in this area.

A new RFID standard to enable interoperability has been established but is not yet fully implemented. In April 2011 an alliance of leading UK suppliers, including 3M, Intellident, 2CQR and Bibliotheca RFID Library Systems AG joined forces to carry out interoperability testing on tag formats. Importantly the Alliance vendors say: [[#_edn1|[i]]] ‘This means that customers can now buy products from any of these suppliers with the confidence that the tagged items will be interoperable – ultimately paving the way for cross-loaning of items across authorities’. However the issue of RFID systems and tags already in use now will still need to be addressed and this is likely to need close working with the RFID vendors and additional library resources to enable interoperability.

[[#_ednref1|[i]]] ‘Intellident and Alliance complete ISO-28560 testing.’ Press release April 2011.