TI's RFID tags help The Vatican manage its unique library and priceless historical artefacts

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The Vatican Library has adopted Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology from Texas Instruments as the heart of a new management system that greatly simplifies the enormous task of maintaining and identifying its vast collection which includes some 2 million books, manuscripts and other priceless items. The library, which is renowned for one of the world's greatest collections, also intends using the RFID system to provide many more facilities including access and parking control for its many users, as well as loan management and general security for its many priceless works of art and other items.

Starting last year, the Vatican library began a major programme to attach labels containing tiny RFID transponder chips and inlays onto its books. Using simple handheld RFID readers, library staff can search for and identify any book simply by passing the reader along the shelves.

With the new RFID system, which was installed by TI's Italian systems integrator Seret Srl, staff in the Vatican can now find and identify any books on its shelves quickly and accurately, saving time and most importantly avoiding the problem of misplaced books becoming effectively 'lost'.

As an indication of the effectiveness of the new system, the library previously had to close for an entire month every year just to carry out an inventory check and verify that the correct books were in the correct positions on the shelves - a costly and time consuming task involving a team of people checking each book and verifying it against the database. With the new RFID system, the same task will take just half a day a year with far fewer staff. Closing the library for a month was a major inconvenience to the many students, researchers and users of this important collection.

The system provided by Seret meets the Vatican's requirement for compatibility with worldwide library standards including the provision of external access to the database via the Internet for remote searching of catalogues etc. According to Emilia Di Bernardo of Seret "TI's RFID tags are already widely used in library systems throughout the world and both the management software and the database are designed by Seret to worldwide standards such as the WebOPAC on-line public access catalogue system so compatibility is not a problem".
One of the many benefits is that if any books are inadvertently put back on the wrong shelf, instead of being 'lost' until the next annual inventory check, staff can quickly locate them by scanning the shelves with a handheld reader, making sure that the books are always available and correctly located.

The TI RFID tag inlays have a 2k-bit memory and are fully re-writeable with a very long life - very important as the Vatican Library thinks in centuries rather than years. However, to ensure extremely long-term data integrity, the data on the tags is re-written every time it is read, keeping the data on the tags refreshed and providing virtually unlimited lifetime. The management software also ensures that any tagged books that have not been 'read' for say 5 years are specifically read and re-written to maintain their data integrity.

Seret also provided the complete management software for the library system. Their software automatically prints special 'library friendly' adhesive labels programmed with the data on each book along with visible printed text to speed up labelling operations. Already over 50,000 books have been labelled with the special labels that do not damage valuable books and documents.

To make the system more versatile, the data programmed into the tags is automatically duplicated in real time in the main database. Whenever data on a book label is updated, the reader simultaneously communicates this by wireless to the main database. This means the data on the RFID chip and in the database is always the same with no delays or mismatches while data is entered into separate databases.
To make library management even easier, each shelf has a tag programmed with data on all the books that should be on the shelf. Staff can then automatically check that all the books are correctly located in the right order in the correct location making it easy to manage the huge inventory quickly and easily.

Looking ahead, it is planned to expand the RFID system to include access control, loan management and even parking management by issuing tagged label badges to staff, students and researchers. Data on access rights, parking rights etc would be stored on the badges helping to ensure efficient management for this unique historical institution.

The system is likely to expand even further to include tagging priceless objects such as paintings and other works of art, museum items, manuscripts, coins, and countless other historical items.

The concept of a total integrated system based on the RFID tags from Texas Instruments and Seret's unique management software makes this one of the most comprehensive systems of its type anywhere in the world.

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