Beloit Public Library has taken advantage of its doors being closed during the Safer At Home order to upgrade to Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

Over the past five weeks, staff have spent approximately 1,600 hours working to apply and activate the new tags on every item in its 160,000-piece collection. RFID tags use electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track objects and will eventually replace the need for barcodes.

The library has been closed since March 16 due to the state’s Safer At Home order. Conducting this project during closure has had its advantages.

“Tagging items while closed has been a benefit because materials haven’t been moving on and off of our shelves like they would have, had we been open,” said BPL Head of Library Resources Michael DeVries. “We also have been able to dedicate more staff time to getting this project done quicker – several weeks rather than several months.”

BPL, along with other 28 libraries in the SHARE Consortium, are upgrading to RFID tags to improve the speed and accuracy with which items are processed. The end result will be materials moving into the hands of patrons more quickly and without as much physical contact for staff behind the scenes.

Patrons also will notice a difference in the time that it takes to check out. One entire stack of books can be checked out in a matter of seconds, compared with the time it takes to scan traditional barcodes, one at a time. In the current health crisis we now are experiencing, it also means materials are being touched less.

The RFID project is possible thanks to funding from Arrowhead Library System, as well as a 2020 SHARE RFID Adoption Grant from the Lakeshores Library System.

Eight libraries applied for the Lakeshores RFID grant. BPL and Rochester Public Library were chosen. Arrowhead Library System, of which BPL is a member library, also contributed funds toward Beloit’s tagging project.

The library is hoping to complete the RFID tagging project next week with the last of the back-ordered tags having arrived. Tags will not be activated until all materials are tagged and encoded.

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