Public Comment

Library Trustees Rubber-Stamp Costly New RFID System

By Gene Bernardi
Tuesday October 26, 2010 - 10:12:00 PM

Friday October 15, 2010, a few people received notice (just 3 days after receiving a notice that the Board of Trustees regular meeting of October 13th was cancelled) that BOLT would hold a special meeting Monday October 18, 2010 with the only Action Item: “A. Contract: BIBLIOTECA, Inc., Self-Check…” This is a contract to replace the five year old $2.5 million* Checkpoint Radio Frequency I.D. (RFID) system with a new RFID self-check system for $447,000 and growing.  

Despite the last minute, short, weekend notice for a Monday night meeting at 6:30pm, eleven members of the public concerned with the RFID system showed up. Nine spoke, eight asking that the Trustees vote for a barcode check-out system and not an RFID system raising concerns with privacy invasion and radiofrequency radiation health effects from the latter. The ninth person was satisfied that a new non-nuclear company would be replacing the 3M company with whom the Library has a maintenance contract through March, 2011 for upkeep of the proprietary Checkpoint RFID system still in place.  

The Library Trustees were provided no other bid information from the competing vendors so that they could make a deliberative decision. Several members of the public beseeched the Trustees to request staff provide them at least the bid received from I.T.G. for a barcode self-checkout system. This information was not provided to the Trustees in their agenda packet.  

It was obvious that staff (and perhaps behind the scenes powers that be) had no intention of giving enough information to the Trustees such that they could make comparisons between the companies bidding, or discuss the pros and cons of a barcode vs an RFID system, and have an in depth discussion and critical review of various options before making a decision.  

Unfortunately, the Trustees were quite comfortable with the paucity of information provided them, and chose rather to congratulate the staff on their great job, and dismiss the concerns of the public by noticing that no Library employees had come to object to their boss’s, the Library Director’s, recommendation for a new RFID system. And so all four present, of the five member self-selected Board of Library Trustees voted for a new RFID system, with implementation to start in Central and the two branches to be demolished, the South, and West libraries.  

Staff claimed you will now be able to check out an entire stack of books mixed with DVDs and CDs all at once, not wasting one precious second from your busy life. (Hmmm! Isn’t that what Library staff said five years ago when they were installing the Checkpoint RFID system?)  

*See SEIU 535’s 9/21/05 memo to Berkeley City Council and BOLT. The original contract was $643,000. However, Director Griffin hired temporary employees and used librarians and library workers to install the RFID tags, and additional materials not included in the original contract were purchased.