Fully implemented RFID system makes Multnomah County libraries more efficient, secure and easy to use

PORTLAND, Ore. — June 30, 2011 — In April, Multnomah County Library completed the implementation of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology at all 19 neighborhood libraries, an effort that is already changing the way patrons use the library and saving taxpayer money.

RFID service improvements included the installation of new checkout stations and security gates at libraries, and the tagging of nearly two million library books, CDs, DVDs and other items with RFID tags. RFID tags store the item’s unique barcode number. The number can be more easily read with an RFID reader than with the library’s old barcode scanners, which makes check-in and checkout faster. Library staff can use an RFID inventory device to locate items that are on hold, missing or misshelved, thus enabling better and more efficient stewardship of the collection. The tags also work with the new security gates to prevent theft of library materials. Since RFID implementation at Central Library in January 2010, the number of missing items has been reduced 61 percent.

RFID-enabled checkout stations offer patrons the speed, convenience and privacy of checking out their own materials, with staff available to help when needed. About 80 percent of all checkouts from the library are now handled by the patron, up from 19 percent in 2009. About 31,000 items a day are checked out from the library.

"This was an enormous project," said Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke, "completed on time and on budget thanks to the hard work of dedicated staff and volunteers, and the support of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. This project also dovetailed with and supported our large customer service initiative, creating opportunities for reduced workload as well as chances to interact with our patrons in other important and meaningful ways."

With the new checkout stations and speedier processing of library materials, library staff can handle rapidly increasing workloads with fewer injuries. In the last decade, library checkouts and renewals have nearly doubled and holds have more than tripled, while staffing levels have remained approximately the same. Items with RFID tags require as much as 80 percent less handling than items with a barcode and a magnetic strip.

A citizen-led advisory committee recommended the implementation of RFID in 2009, citing a number of benefits to taxpayers, patrons and staff. The total project cost just under $3 million. Volunteers augmented the efforts of library staff to affix RFID tags to items in the library’s collection. More than 60 volunteers donated some 1,100 hours to the project, the equivalent of about six months of full-time work.

About Multnomah County Library

Multnomah County Library is the oldest public library west of the Mississippi, with a history that reaches back to 1864. Today, Central Library and the other 18 neighborhood libraries that make up the library system house a collection of two million books and other library materials. As Oregon's largest public library, Multnomah County Library serves nearly one-fifth of the state's population with a wide variety of programs and services. Over 35,000 people use the library each day, either online or in person.