What's your frequency? Menlo library plans upgrade

Hopes to replace barcodes with radio tags for checkout

A desire for faster checkout and fewer literary thefts lies behind a proposed Menlo Park public library upgrade. As part of a system-wide change within the Peninsula Library network, barcodes tagging each item will be replaced by radio frequency identification (RFID) chips.

Menlo Park Library administrator Susan Holmer said she is requesting money for the upgrade from the city's capital improvements program budget. The plan has yet to be approved by the council, which should vote on the improvements at its April 26 meeting.

The project to retag all of the materials and purchase equipment would cost about $150,000, which would come from a combination of general funds and special library funds, according to Ms. Holmer.

The Peninsula Library System negotiated the contract with vendor 3M since the upgrades are system-wide.

Librarian Nick Szegda said the RFID system would let patrons check out a stack of items at once, instead of going item by item. "The current system also gives us frequent false alarms -- the library patron has (his or her) items checked out, but because of the limitations of the technology, checked-out items still trip the security alarm," he said.

"Front desk staff have to then call the patron back and re-check all of (the) items. This happens at least once an hour."

Not all Peninsula libraries will make the switch at the same time. The Foster City and Redwood Shores branches are first up, with Menlo Park currently figuring out its plan for retagging the collection and planning to start with the more popular collections by July or August, according to library staff.

San Mateo, Mountain View, and Santa Clara already use RFID; residents may also have spotted the technology in action at Ikea and Home Depot.

At a time when the City Council is thinking about closing the library one day a week, on top of deciding last summer to close the day after nine holidays, justifying the need to swap checkout systems could be an uphill battle.

"I would say RFID is a 'pothole' issue -- it costs money to fix now, but it saves money in the long run," Mr. Szegda said. "We are automating the routine stuff to focus on the things we do best -- talk to patrons about books, promote reading, and answer complicated reference questions that Google cannot. There are still quite a few of those!"

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Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm

The Menlo Park Library has slashed its book collection and become primarily a source for cheap video rentals. The money could be better spent in actually buying books. The last few times I attempted to find a book to read at the "library" I was shocked by the pitiful few shelves of new books and the empty stacks where treasured old books used to reside. By "more popular collections" I assume they are referring to the videos, which actually make them a return on their purchase at a buck a rental. I understand that a lot of people prefer e-book readers to a physical book, but many of us don't.

Like this comment
Posted by Hello 2011!
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 29, 2011 at 12:37 am

Anyone who knows anything about anything knows that the MP Resident vintage is a dying breed. Movies are actually "free" (granted, taxes and donations buy them) at the library, fyi, and books are a waste of paper, space, and resources. Need look no further than the dumpster at MP library itself. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but libraries are sitting on real estate with a better future use. If you don't wish to use a computer for your information these days (i.e. books, etc), then you'll be left behind soon and upset. All those books are going to be located on a server someday, and you won't have to step a foot inside a library again. It's not a victory or loss, just a simple fact.

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