Friday, August 3, 2007

Technologies Which Will Most Improve Libraries

For Librarians: RFID will most improve libraries for librarians by simplifying many of the mundane tasks they currently perform. RFID will make circulation faster and easier as it automates check-out and check-in procedures. Specialized machines can even sort materials based on their RFID tag, thus also streamlining the reshelving process. RFID tags will make it easier to locate misshelved items and keep track of items in inventory and through security measures.

For Patrons: OpenURL will most improve libraries for patrons by allowing them to find the information they need when they need it. OpenURL has the ability to expose library resources which the patron may not have been aware of, thus greatly increasing the usefulness of what the library has to offer. OpenURL eases the task of finding high-quality full-text material, whether online or through redirection to print material.

Integrated Library Systems (ILS)

Brief description: Integrated library systems usually consist of a database, software to act on the database, and two graphical user interfaces (one for librarians and one for patrons). An ILS controls what the public sees in the OPAC and provides many functions for librarians both to add information to the OPAC and controls for handling library materials and functions.

How is it used in a library? An ILS includes the capability to checkout and discharge materials while simultaneously updating the public OPAC. An ILS also allows librarians to track materials from the time they are ordered to their eventual withdrawal. Cost information can be stored along with circulation statistics. An ILS also enables librarians to keep patrons on record, which is necessary for assessing fines and notifying patrons of holds or overdue material. An ILS also enables patrons to conduct web-based activities related to their library account, such as renewing materials and placing holds.

Expected Social Impact: An Integrated Library System allows for the shortest delay between the transfer of knowledge between library staff and library users. An ILS allows materials to be added to the OPAC as soon as they are catalogued. Items which are checked out or returned are updated in the OPAC as soon as the transaction is processed. Integrated Library Systems become part of the disintermediation of the library because the ILS acts in place of the librarian. Instead of talking to a librarian, a patron is able to find the information they need at a computer terminal. They usually do not realize that the information is there because the librarian put it there in the first place.


Brief Description: RSS is commonly accepted to stand for Really Simple Syndication. Denoted by the standard feed icon to the left, RSS enables users to subscribe to several sources of information and retrieve them in one central location. RSS is generally used for frequently updated material such as news headlines and blogs. The RSS feed is an specially formatted XML file which must be decoded by a reader. The RSS reader checks all subscribed feeds and downloads new content as it appears.

How is it used in a library? RSS feeds are used in a library environment to keep patrons informed on what is happening at the library. Libraries can set up feeds to distribute information on library news and events, as well as announcing new library resources. Depending on the library, new resource feeds may be available for a specific area (Children's or YA) or call number/subject heading.

Expected Social Impact: RSS provides another example of society's desire for one-stop shopping. Information seeking behavior may be shaped by RSS feeds so that individuals stop seeking out different sources of information and rely on their RSS reader to bring all the news to them. RSS could also have an impact on computer supported cooperative work (CSCD) if researched were to create feeds of their processes and findings. Others interested in the same topic could subscribe, learning from mistakes and building off successes. This would, of course, work best in an environment without concerns for recognition and rewards.


Brief Description: Short for Radio Frequency Identification, RFID uses tags with embedded radio signals to identify objects. A separate RFID reader or interpreter must be used to translate the data contained in the tags. The small RFID tag consists of a circuit for storing information and an antenna for transmitting this information. Passive tags have no power supply and can be manufactured as stickers to place inside books. Passive tags have a short range and the RFID reader must be within a few meters to pick up the signal transmission. At the left is an image of an RFID tag from the Wikipedia article about this technology.

How is it used in a library? Libraries can use this technology to track library materials. RFID tags placed on library materials can be used for circulation, security, shelving, and usage statistics. RFID tags do not operate on line of sight as do traditional barcodes used for circulation, so multiple items can be checked out at one time. RFID tags can be embedded with a security signal that activates corresponding RFID security gates if material has not been checked out. There are smart shelving units available that use RFID technology to keep track of the books which are supposed to be on them, identify books placed in the incorrect order, and which can even track how many times an item is removed from the shelf and replaced by the user. Even without the smart shelves, RFID tags can be used to inventory and locate mis-shelved materials when someone walks by with an RFID reader.

Expected Social Impact: RFID has the capacity to greatly simplify many library activities both for the librarian and the patron. Unfortunately, RFID faces challenges for widespread implementation because of feared privacy violations. And indeed, if put to the wrong use, RFID has the potential to turn our world into some version of "Minority Report" with people being tracked through embedded tags and marketing materials aimed specifically at passing individuals. This is an extreme scenario and certainly something out of reach of the passive tags used for library materials, which are little different privacy-wise than the barcodes already in use. The real expected social impact is the steadily decreasing need for contact with another person when carrying out transactions. RFID tags are already in use for "smart pass" debit cards and automatic toll deductions. In libraries, RFID tags could greatly simplify the self-checkout process and greatly reduce the amount of time needed to check out a large amount of material.

OpenURL Resolvers

Brief Description: OpenURL allows a user to search one database and be seamlessly linked to the full-text article in another database. This is done by encoding metadata about the article and passing it through a link to a resolver. The resolver uses the encoded metadata to search the local holdings and presents the user with options for full-text access. OpenURL linking benefits users in numerous ways. The link resolver automatically identifies appropriate copies and services for each item. Using a link resolver simplifies the process of connecting a user from a citation source to the appropriate content.

How is it used in a library? Libraries use OpenURL resolvers to point patrons to the full-text of resources available through library subscriptions. OpenURL exposes resources in other databases to patrons to expand their access, which would otherwise be limited by having to search in many different places.

Expected Social Impact: As OpenURL implications become more common, the social implications are many. It is becoming more common for research to take place entirely online. Most undergraduate students will use a source that is available online over a better source which they have to come into the library to use. OpenURL both exacerbates and relieves this situation. Through OpenURL, students can quickly check for full-text access to a certian citation from all library resources. Thus, students are more likely to use high quality material because they are more likely to be able to find the full-text online, but they are even less likely to use print material because a simple click of the "Back" button allows them to try again with a different citation. Other social implications include the generalizing of OpenURL to non-academic applications, such as a single check-out from many different online vendors.