Library system upgrade

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Library staff issuing books and other resources will soon be a thing of the past at the Oamaru Public Library. The manual process used to issue and return books is set to be gone early next year, as technological changes continue to alter the way libraries are utilised by the community. The library has invested in radio frequency identification (RFID), a technology that uses radio waves to transfer data from an electronic tag or label that is attached toa book or resource. It offers automation of book issues and returns, stock take, identification and security. RFID is a better way of identifying objects than the barcode system that has been used since the 1970s. Barcodes can only be read one at a time, while several RFID tags — the library has ordered 90,000 — can be read simultaneously when books are being issued or returned. About a third of the district’s 65,000 books have already been tagged. Oamaru Public Library manager Philip van Zijl said issuing and returning books could take up 25% to 45% of a staff member’s time. That included not only issuing and returning books, but also placing security strips in each book before they went on the shelves. Mr van Zijl described it as ‘‘repetitive, time­consuming’’ work, which would be eliminated to allow staff to help visitors in other areas. ‘‘RFID can release staff to interact and engage. It’s not just about the technology — it’s about actual engagement. ‘The reason why libraries use RFID is better customer service, in terms of reading advisement, technology and engagement. . . this is one way of meeting that expectation.’’  He said the self­issuing process was not difficult and a staff member would be on hand to help if needed. ‘‘It’s a user­friendly, simple way of doing what we can.’’  A personal library card is read by a kiosk and books are stacked on a pad — five at a time — for issuing. Payment for resources can be made by eftpos or cash at the kiosk. ‘‘We expect between 90% and 100% will be self­issues,’’ Mr van Zijl said. The technology will also be installed at the Palmerston Library, while the possibility of it being installed at the Omarama Library is being investigated. Each book and resource from all libraries in the Waitaki district will be tagged. Mr van Zijl said the technology has proved successful at larger libraries around the country, and he was confident the same would happen in Waitaki. ‘‘It’s widely used in other libraries . . . they are smaller libraries that have gone down this track. We are probably one of the smallest libraries that have gone for RFID because we are passionate about our customer engagement.’’ Staff had been trained and kiosks ordered, which were expected to be up and running in March or April. Mr van Zijl said he was thrilled about the next phase of development at the library, opened in 1975, which would eventually see its layout completely reconfigured. ‘‘I’m excited. It’s something that I’ve been working on for the last 18 months. It’s been a long process, but we are now at the end of the tunnel.’’