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RFID – The People Side of Implementing a New Technology

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on September 10, 2014

It’s been a little over a year since we stuck our first RFID tag on a book until we turned on our RFID gates at our main public entrances. As with any change, some staff embraced it and some wished it would go away. Deciding how to shepherd staff through the transition makes it easier to get the patrons to accept the change in routine until it becomes second nature.

Quality Control – If we knew then what we know now, a whole lot of people—staff and volunteers—would never have been involved in attaching RFID tags to materials. As time went on, we developed procedures and protocols; but in the beginning, no such luck. From our perspective, we have had to redo previous work. It can make for some potentially icy relations between co-workers when one person is very precise about tag placement and another is not!

Information Distribution – Everyone needs to know what is going on with the project and where it stands. It’s vital to keep the staff and volunteers informed. While it may seem obvious to say, it’s especially important that the volunteers know what is going on. They are more likely to be asked by the general public, “What’s going on at the library with RFID?” than your staff. We are lucky to have an awesome volunteer coordinator who made sure to keep our volunteers informed of what was happening, and as a result, they had correct information to share with others about the project.

Practice Compassion – There were some folks on staff who, unless it was an absolute mandate from the director, were not going to use the RFID system because “they’d seen how it worked!” What they had actually seen was some of the early testing and necessary adjustments. As you would expect, it wasn’t pretty. After the bugs were worked out, things were fine. It takes compassion among colleagues to understand where both the apprehensive-of-change and early adopters can find common ground. It was also very important for the administrative team to listen and pay attention to the individual staff members who were resisting using RFID for what they felt were very good reasons.

Exploit Your Assets – On the days where new elements of RFID first meet the public, it’s good to schedule your most positive, supportive RFID cheerleaders. They can help patrons learn new routines and answer questions. They can empathize with patrons over their concerns or challenges, but they won’t join in the belly-aching of “why did you have to change something that wasn’t broken?” We are fortunate that many on our front line staff were RFID supporters so implementation has worked fairly well for us.

Focus On the Positive – Our administrative team was torn for a while about what they wanted to say to people when the RFID gates sounded. The implication was that people were stealing items and that RFID was solely for security. In our case, while this was an issue, it wasn’t the main reason we moved to RFID. We needed to have better statistics on our circulation because a portion of our funding is tied to circulation of materials. As a result, when the gates go off as people are exiting the building, we have our staff trained to say a version of, “It looks like some of your materials didn’t get checked out completely. May I help you get everything checked out?” We have also talked with staff about emphasizing to patrons who ask why we have moved to an RFID system that we are doing it to keep better track of our circulation. So far, patrons have seemed interested and pleased with this answer. They don’t want to think about stealing library materials being a problem in our small town!

Bringing RFID into your library is a wonderful way to help your staff and patrons learn new techniques to manage any change in their life. And the added bonus is you get a materials management system as well!

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