Commentary: Continuing Cost of RFID Technology By SHIRLEY STUART

Tuesday August 23, 2005

The Friday, Aug. 5 article in the Daily Planet, “Library Workers, Patrons Denounce RFID System,” has several omissions and distortions.  

Opposition to RFID ballooned as the community became aware of its impact on our budget, of its potential for compromising patrons’ privacy, and the health risks imposed on library staff working in close proximity to the equipment day after day. To place this protest at the doorstep of the ACLU and EFF is insulting to all of us. Citizens in Berkeley approached these groups for advice about how to get rid of RFID in Berkeley, not the other way around. 

The article failed to include a major concern of people attending the forum: the exorbitant cost of RFID to the taxpayers of Berkeley: 

• Six hundred fifty thousand dollars was only the initial payment to Checkpoint, the company from which the library director bought the RFID system, and the cost will go higher the longer the system is in place (currently 60 to 65 cents for each book, magazine, CD, DVD, etc. in the collection). 

• In addition to buying more RFIDs as materials are added to the collection, RFIDs are routinely thrown away as weekly and monthly periodicals are discarded (again, at a cost of plus or minus 65 cents each, amounting to a waste of hundreds of dollars per week since the devices cannot be reused). 

• We will be at the mercy of Checkpoint for maintaining and updating the system for years to come (assuming that the company stays in business). 

When Paul Simon, Checkpoint System’s representative at the forum, was asked what the turnaround time was for repairs to the equipment, he replied, “Twenty-four to 48 hours.” It was then that a library staff person forced him to acknowledge that equipment at the Claremont branch has been down for six weeks, is still not working and he had no estimate for when it will be fixed. 

Once again, RFIDs will NOT replace bar codes on materials at the Berkeley Public Library. RFIDs read the bar codes and are another layer of equipment placed on top of what is an already functioning, cheap method of checking books in and out of our library. 

Panel member David Molnar, a U. C. graduate student, said he was able to buy an RFID reader that worked at Caeser Chavez branch library in Oakland for only $150. The thousand dollar model referred to in the article is for monitoring tags at a greater distance. 

Attacks are directed at Jackie Griffin, the current library director, because she is the primary reason that we are having to deal with RFID. She promoted it from the beginning of her employment at our library, she persuaded the Berkeley Board of Library Trustees to borrow a half a million dollars from the City of Berkeley budget to buy it, and she continues to champion it.  

If some of the people at the meeting were rude and angry, it is because we have reached a level of frustration that has turned up the volume on protest. This will continue until RFIDs are removed from our library and its branches. 


Shirley Stuart is a Berkeley resident.