portable information technology

Yesterday, Open Stacks author Greg Schwartz wrote about smart tags being used for books so that wireless phone users could point their phone at the book and call up information from the OPAC or websites like Amazon.com, and that got me thinking. My library Dean came back from ALA fired up about a new technology in barcoding called RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). Right now it’s a hot topic among consumer advocacy and privacy groups, but the technology has been slowly creeping into libraries through technologies like self-checkout systems and collection inventories.

Personally, I’m divided on the issue. I think that libraries will likely use this technology responsibly by doing things like turning off the tags after they have been legitimately checked out so that they will not be able to track where the book is physically (except for the information in the patron record, of course). I do have some concerns regarding commercial use of the tags. I understand the security issues, but if the tags aren’t automatically turned off when the item is purchased, much like when the ink tag is removed from an item of clothing, then it does pose some questions about consumer privacy.

As for Mr. Schwartz’s wish for smart tags in books that talk to wireless phones, I expect that it shouldn’t be long before someone develops a technology that will facilitate the communication between RFID and smart tags.