Posted by Lori Ayre on May 14, 2013

My role as a library RFID consultant is to advocate for the library at several levels.  The most obvious way is to work directly with a library - ideally starting when RFID is just a twinkle in their eye.  I help them understand what the technology does and doesn't do and what they need to think about as they move forward.  The engagement might start early and go all the way through implementation.  Or it could just be for some of the pieces along the way. Ideally, I work with the library on the procurement so I can help ensure that they are asking for the things that are most important like standards compliance and performance guarantees, and that the library is addressing their own needs and not just using some raggedy 'ol RFID RFP they found online somewhere.  

I like to work with libraries on the demo portion of the procurement too. This is where the rubber meets the road.  I've seen good vendors go down in flames at demos.  So, it is important to have a solid balance of a good procurement document and a demanding demo.

But you can't always get hired by the library.  So, I try to talk about RFID issues whenever I can to help get the information out.  Webinars, conferences, and any other place where two or more librarians gather..... I write about it and sometimes get paid for the writing.  Most often not.

The second kind of library advocacy I do is with the vendors.  The only way for me to provide good information to libraries is to really know the vendors.  To that end, I've visited 3M, Bibliotheca, Tech-Logic and Lyngsoe offices and gotten tours of many of their installations.  I didn't see the HQ but I did get a nice tour from D-Tech as well.  I also make a point of visiting these vendors as well as some of the other players I haven't had a chance to visit yet like Envisionware and MK Sorting to find out what their latest offerings are, what issues they are encountering, and how they are handling issues of concern to me. 

In addition to learning about their products, I also share what I see in the libraries.  I talk about what is or isn't working, what new product ideas I've got and wish they would develop, and I give them any feedback I can that might make them a better provider to libraries. I see that as an important aspect of my library advocacy as well.

The third kind of advocacy I do is on the standards front.  Before the RFID data model was announced last year, I had a lot of back channel conversations with other people involved in library RFID standards.  During this time, I developed some very important relationships with my counterparts in other parts of the world:  Mick Fortune and Alan Butters.  Both of these men are RFID consultants.  Mick in the UK and Alan in Australia.  The UK and Australian libraries settled on a data model long before NISO did here in the US.  And we are all using the same basic approach (ISO 28560-2) so I have been able to benefit enormously from their work.

The three of us share the belief that RFID standards are good for libraries because they make interoperability possible (ideally) and provide a level of security for libraries (hopefully)....the theory being that standards are generally very thoroughly vetted before being finalized.  So, libraries that utilize standards are less likely to get caught having made any real big mistakes.  As such, we all take our role in the standards process very seriously and we struggle to understand the technology (some of us struggle more than others....) but none of us are engineeers so this isn't always easy. Still, each of us has deepened our knowledge of the technology significantly over the years in order to keep abreast of the issues and to offer opinions to key players in the RFID marketplace.  

I joined the NCIP Standing Committee in order to more effectively lobby on behalf of RFID standards.  As I've noted, my warm reception to that committee has been a great relief and I feel confident that my contributions there will be meaningful.  In fact, I think I've already made a big difference.  And while working on that committee, I'm also working closely with Mick and Alan to make sure we are a united front. They work on other standards bodies. All in all, I feel it's a great responsibility and a privilege to be in this unique role.

In each of these three roles, I only get paid for one, and that is when the library hires me.  No one pays for me to participate in NCIP calls or to go to Dublin for the in-person meetings we have twice a year.  No one pays me for the time I spend studying the intricacies of protocols and standards like NCIP, SIP2, LCF, ISO 15693, ISO 28560, and NISO RP-6-2012.  Or the difference between 15693 compliant tags versus 18000-3, Mode 1 tags, and AFI versus EAS as a security solution. Nor do does anyone pay me to write about it.  But of course, this work is necesary in order to be a good advocate,not just an RFID consultant that can write RFPs.  The vendors who have taken me on tours of their operations have paid my expenses, of course, but don't pay for my time.  

So, it is with some trepidation that I'm venturing into a new arrangement that could create new opportunities to do more of the direct library engagement work and to get paid for it.  The glitch is that that work may be subsidized by, or even wholly paid for, by a vendor.  The opportunity arose out of discussions with one RFID vendor that recognizes the limits of what they can do with their customers and our shared belief that to make meaningful use of technology like RFID, the library has to be ready to make some big changes.  

It is possible to spend a million dollars on a new RFID system with lots of self-check-out machines and still only have 65-70% self-check usage by patrons.  Or to get a great new sorter with automated check-in and still not get the books back on the shelf any faster than you did before.  Vendors can only do so much "change management" with a customer.  They can't help them define a new service model that makes sense in an automated, self-service environment.  They can't help them work through the personal and political issues that arise when libraries try to make these kinds of changes.

But I can.  And I think that is also part of my work as a library advocate. I want to help ensure that the library is making good choices and that they are leveraging their new technology to the max.  Not just popping a bunch of self-check machines around the library and calling it a day.  

So, my venture is to allow vendors to add services I will provide, as a subcontractor, to their responses to a library's Request for Proposals. In situations where I'm working with a library on an RFID or AMH procurement, obviously they wouldn't be able to do this but if I'm not involved with the procurement, this will be a way for libraries to be exposed to the services I can offer.

Let this be an official invite to any RFID or AMH vendor who would like to make a similar arrangement. I am not partnering with any particular vendor or making any deals to promote one vendor over another.  I see this as a win for everyone because it makes the vendor's product look better when it works as well as it possibly can, it exposes more people to the services I can offer, and most importantly, it makes the library's investment that much more meaningful and worthwhile.  

This is work that the vendor can't really do for the library but a library advocate can so I see it as a logical approach to promoting my services.  I hope other people agree and don't think I've tied my future to a particular vendor. I hope I can form this kind of mutually beneficial arrangement with other vendors so that libraries are more likely to get the kind of services they really need when introducing technologies that should, if implemented properly, completely rock their world.