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Extent to which radio-frequency identification self-service technology improves and hinders library customer service
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) self-service technology has both enhanced and impeded the delivery of customer service in libraries. According to Li, Deng, and Bertino (2014), RFID is a form of technology which allows for automatic recognition and tracking of items through radio waves, and is employed widely in various settings including in shops, hospitals and libraries. In the context of a library setting, RFID self-service technology can enable library patrons to automatically check out, renew and return items without the direct need for staff assistance (Kapoor, Dwivedi, Piercy, Lal, & Weerakkody, 2014). RFID self-service technology can also allow for functions such as placing item reservations (Ferguson, Thornley, & Gibb, 2015), and paying fines and fees (Bibliotheca, 2018a). Boyd (2018) highlights that an RFID tag (with a microchip in it) is secured to each library item, the information in the microchip is read and updated by a reader in combination with the tag’s antenna, and the information is then transferred to the host computer. RFID self-service technology has improved customer service in libraries through enabling increased efficiency and convenience. However, the advantages are equally counteracted with high financial costs and privacy concerns. Therefore, it is argued that RFID self-service technology has both strengthened and precluded the delivery of customer service in libraries.
RFID self-service technology may improve customer service in libraries by increasing the speed and timeliness of transactions (Nisha, 2018). Time is saved as patrons can more immediately check out resources through RFID self-service technology and they do not need to wait in line at the physical library desk for library staff to manually process the resources (Tanuja et al., 2018). Furthermore, RFID self-service technology can allow numerous resources to be piled and scanned at once which further increases the speed by which transactions occur as items do not need to be handled one by one (Monash Public Library Service, 2017). Therefore, RFID self-service technology has enhanced the provision of customer service in libraries by enabling expedient and efficacious circulation processes (Omoadoni, 2019).
RFID self-service technology can result in streamlined work processes, safer work practices and a reduction in demands on customer service staff in libraries (State Library of New South Wales, 2013). Staff productivity is increased due to the technology (Omoadoni, 2019) as processes are simplified, staff duties are decreased and manual handling is reduced which can minimise the risk of musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive tasks (Dong, 2014). RFID self-service technology may also result in greater accuracy and reliability as well as reduced risk of human error (Monash Public Library Service, 2017). Sigwald (2016) outlines that RFID self-service technology decreases the time required to manage individual transactions with patrons (thereby saving costs in the long term), and emphasises that fine and fee management can also be managed efficiently via the technology. Additionally, Sigwald reports that implementing a self-service reservation shelf can free up staff from inefficiently obtaining reservations for patrons which can cause lengthy wait times and reduce customer service. Furthermore, information regarding the borrowing and returning of items is automatically and expediently updated by RFID self-service technology (Bhattacharya, 2014). Overall, RFID self-service technology has resulted in greater efficiency in the work processes required for effective customer service in libraries.
RFID self-service technology has freed up library staff to interact more meaningfully with patrons (Matthews, 2017). Staff can allocate their time towards other customer service tasks such as assisting patrons with more complex queries and participating in community engagement projects (Monash Public Library Service, 2017). Due to RFID self-service technology, staff may be liberated from having to remain at the library desk to manage menial tasks such as checking out items, which therefore allows them to properly engage with patrons, be responsive to patrons’ needs and conduct outreach (Sigwald, 2016). Ferguson et al. (2015) highlight that the efficiency that stems from RFID self-service technology enables better use of staff resources as staff’s time can be spent delivering patron-centred services that require face-to-face interaction and librarians can put their professional skills to better use. Ferguson et al. also explain that there is limited eye contact during the standard library checkout desk transaction and by freeing up staff from such duties they are able to devote more quality time to patrons.
RFID self-service technology may improve customer service in libraries by providing better and more reliable security regulation of library materials (Monash Public Library Service, 2017). RFID self-service technology can offer greater security for library resources compared to barcodes which are more fragile and RFID tags can operate even when they are not in the reader’s line of sight (Chelliah, Sood, & Scholfield, 2015). Sigwald (2016) found that RFID self-service technology removed the need for staff to pass patrons their resources beyond the security gates, which contributed to an increase in library service hours, as less staff were required to operate the library due to the technology. As a result of RFID self-service technology, there has been a reduced volume of false alarms and security searches of bags (State Library of New South Wales, 2013). RFID self-service technology assists with managing theft and items which have not been returned, thereby helping to save costs (Dong, 2014). If an incorrectly processed item travels through the RFID gate an alarm will be triggered, thereby discouraging dishonest behavior (Omoadoni, 2019). If the RFID security alarm does trigger, staff may feel that it is less confrontational, accusatory and uncomfortable when they liaise with the person responsible as they can refer to the specific item that was not processed correctly (Bibliotheca, 2018b)
Despite its benefits, RFID self-service technology has hindered the provision of customer service in libraries by generating privacy and security concerns. The American Library Association (2019) highlights that there is the potential for the inappropriate application of RFID technology which can jeopardise patrons’ privacy, particularly if RFID tags are read by unauthorised people. Whilst the RFID tags used in libraries generally only contain information about the item itself (such as data related to identifying the item), security concerns still exist and patrons may be apprehensive towards the technology (Chelliah et al., 2015). Ferguson et al. (2015) highlight that issues regarding RFID and privacy relate to the possibility of surveillance through the increased ability to track resources, and the opportunity for hot listing which may involve assembling an account of items on controversial topics (such as bomb making) and viewing who has utilised them. However, according to Ferguson et al., no major library-related RFID privacy violations have been reported as of yet, and some believe that the privacy concerns raised are hyperbolic and somewhat excessive. Ferguson et al. highlight that most libraries currently use high frequency 13.36 MHz passive tags which are only detectable from one metre at most and require the reader to make a signal for information to be sent, therefore likely limiting the tracking of items to inside the library rather than in the community. Nevertheless, technology is constantly changing and privacy concerns related to RFID self-service technology may negatively impact on customer service in libraries.
RFID self-service technology has hindered the provision of customer service in libraries due to the financial cost, time and effort required to implement the technology (Khayyum Baba & Reddy Tripuram, 2014). Implementing RFID self-service technology can be both time and labour intensive (Chelliah et al., 2015). Handy (2014) outlines that whilst RFID technology is cheaper than it has been in the past, the high cost may prevent some libraries from accessing and utilising it. According to Handy, various costs are incurred relating to the technology such as the tags themselves, self-service stations, software and vendor-related expenses. Handy outlines that staff require training on RFID self-service technology, and extensive time is spent tagging numerous holdings, fixing mistakes, and moving and shelving resources. RFID self-service technology results in high initial expenditure and investment, and requires significant change management efforts (Bhattacharya, 2014). Furthermore, Handy explains that the library may have to close when implementing RFID self-service technology and if it remains open the services provided to patrons may be significantly disrupted. There may also be staff resistance in relation to the technology and concerns regarding the potential loss of jobs (Sigwald, 2016). Therefore, the financial requirements, effort and time required to implement RFID self-service technology in libraries can create major constraints which may impact negatively on the delivery of customer service in libraries (Chanda & Sinha, 2019).
RFID self-service technology can also give rise to technical issues and technology-related concerns which may impact on customer service provision in libraries. According to Khayyum Baba and Reddy Tripuram (2014), RFID self-service technology can result in exit sensor issues and tag collision which can be inconvenient and cumbersome. Tag collision may occur if multiple tags send data simultaneously and the reader cannot make sense of the signals (Cmiljanic, Landaluce, & Perallos, 2018). Singh and Mahajan (2014) explain that there is also the potential for exit gate sensor issues because such sensors need to read tags at longer distances compared to short-range readers. Additionally, Singh and Mahajan highlight that the integrity of RFID self-service technology can be compromised if a tag is covered with layers of aluminum foil to inhibit radio waves or if the tag of one item is positioned against another so that it significantly overlaps the other tag. Furthermore, Guo, Huang, and Chen (2014) highlight that the library sector is in desperate need of clear standards to ensure standardised, consistent practices and procedures in relation to RFID technology, as the lack of current uniform standards may negatively impact on the implementation of RFID self-service technology and therefore affect customer service.
RFID self-service technology can also generate a range of patron fears, concerns and apprehension which may reduce their customer service experience in libraries. Ferguson et al. (2015) highlight that some patrons are concerned about the loss of human contact from RFID self-service technology and librarians may have to convince patrons that it provides opportunities for librarians to assist them in other ways. For some patrons, the lack of face-to-face contact as a result of RFID self-service technology may make services appear less personal. Furthermore, not all patrons have the confidence or capabilities to use RFID self-service technology due to a lack of experience with technology or disability (such as vision impairment). Additionally, Ferguson et al. highlight that some patrons may feel uncomfortable only requesting assistance from librarians for complicated questions as the traditional checkout desk may enable them to build rapport over simple, non-confrontational tasks. There is also discussion about whether the electromagnetic waves from RFID self-service technology may cause health implications in the long-term and whilst there is no evidence to suggest that it is unsafe, it may cause concern for some people (Bhattacharya 2014). Therefore, RFID self-service technology has given rise to a number of patron concerns which may hinder the provision of customer service in libraries.
Overall, RFID self-service technology has both advantageous and equally disadvantageous effects on customer service provision in libraries. RFID self-service technology has enhanced customer service provision in libraries by offering increased convenience, efficiency, speed, streamlining of work processes, freedom for librarians to focus on other tasks and better security of library items. However, RFID self-service technology has also generated potential privacy issues, technical issues, patron concerns, and issues relating to the cost, effort and time required to implement the technology. RFID self-service technology has a complex, multi-faceted impact on customer service in libraries. In deciding whether to implement RFID self-service technology, libraries need to take into consideration staffing, privacy concerns and finances as well as the advantages such as increased convenience and efficiency, to ascertain whether RFID self-service technology will be useful, effective and worthwhile for the library, and its particular needs (Handy, 2014).
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