The Vatican Library in partnership with Texas Instruments has begun the use of computer chips known as radio frequency identification tags (RFID) in the library's collection of 1.6 million volumes in order to streamline the retrieval, storage and inventory processes.
Raffaele Farina, prefect of the library, said about 50,000 books have been tagged with the technology so that they can be instantly traced by activating a hand-held wand that can read data from the chips. Previously, administrators were forced to close the library for an entire month each year to verify its contents, manually cross-referencing what was found on each shelf against the library's collection database. When the RFID project is completed, the Vatican estimates inventory will take only half a day.
Each chip stores the individual book or document's catalog data – such as title, author, number of pages and publication date – on a specially designed 'library friendly' tag that prevents item damage. The printed tags also include visible text, allowing for faster labeling. When new data is added to an item, the record in the library's collections database is simultaneously updated via wireless communication between the reader and software management system.
"RFID improves the way librarians manage their collections, streamlining and automating item retrieval, storage and inventory processes," said Bill Allen, marketing communications manager, Texas Instruments RFid Systems. "Books and documents that used to be misplaced or misfiled with the Vatican Library's manual system – essentially 'lost' for extended periods – are accurately located and accounted for by librarians with a quick scan of the shelves using a handheld reader."
The Vatican Library is the first in the world to use this system. According to Farina, the RF-ID system has hitherto been used only in warehouses and retailing. Eventually chips will be installed in all the library's books that are stored on 30 miles of shelving in its Vatican City site, improving security and greatly speed up delivery of volumes to users of the library, he said.
In the future, the library plans to extend the system to include access control, loan management and parking management by issuing RFID-tagged badges to staff, students and researchers. Administrators also intend to tag priceless objects such as paintings and other works of art, museum items, manuscripts, coins and historical items on display or stored at the Vatican Library.