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Milwaukee Public Library Develops Innovative Tagging Process for Collection

Full RFID Implementation with ITG Underway Across 13 Locations

Norcross, Ga. – June 29, 2010. The Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) is currently retagging its entire collection and converting from RF to RFID one branch at a time in partnership with ITG (Integrated Technology Group). Like a major military invasion, MPL coordinated weeding, tagging, equipment transport, manpower, timeframes, budget, and strategy to make sure branches converted to RFID with minimal surprises. Thanks to detailed planning, the cohesive RFID rollout will be completed on schedule by year’s end.

As tagging work is done, ITG is installing a complete RFID library automation system, including XpressCheck™ patron self-service units, FlexCheck™ staff stations, Total Mobile™ tagging and shelf management carts, and sorters, into most locations. To date (June 29, 2010) 11 branches are fully tagged and six are operational.

Upon selecting ITG as their RFID vendor in late 2009, MPL’s Coordinator of Circulation, Kathryn Mlsna was chosen to lead the implementation phase of the project, and an RFID committee was formed. The library system consists of 12 branches and a large central library with nearly 2.5 million items in its collection. Mlsna determined that 1,498,813 circulating items needed RFID tags (annual circulation for the system is approximately 2,945,000).

Working with Danielle Rodriguez, Head of Serials, she began tagging books to see what issues workers might face in the process and what an acceptable performance level should be. They noted items per hour for individuals and teams, and took into account the occasional programming difficulty presented by the library’s existing RF tags. They decided on a benchmark figure of 150 items per person per hour, and they began to flesh out the details of the MPL plan.

An Excel spreadsheet was prepared showing, by branch, how long tagging would take with one cart, two carts…to eight carts per day working 40 hours a week. Eventually MPL decided to commit six carts to tag programming at the central library, with an estimated completion time of 21 weeks. For neighborhood libraries, teams of eight could complete each branch in 1.5 to 2.5 weeks, for a total of 22 weeks. Most of this workforce is temporary employees, hired through an agency.

“We track each person’s performance every week,” explains Mlsna. “Early on, the fastest [for books, not media] was 207 per hour and the slowest was 143 per hour. So we set 140 as our low number, and if someone works below that level we let them go,” she says. “It is much easier to do with a temporary workforce.” And she notes that unlike a volunteer group, this group of full-time employees has a high level of retained knowledge about the process and does not need frequent assistance or retraining.

“We devised a plan for each library based on the hours it is open,” Mlsna explains. “For twenty-nine of the forty hours a week we spend tagging, the branch is closed. Branches don’t open until 1 p.m. three days a week. Some are closed Friday or Saturday,” she says. One full day of downtime is built into the schedule to move the carts from one branch to the next as each location is finished. When possible, meeting rooms are blocked off during tagging for the processing of AV material. And, the battery-powered carts need to charge overnight, and in branches, managers must make sure the carts are plugged into outlets that stay on after hours.

The total cost to MPL of this effort (not including about 3,000 hours of regular paid staff time devoted to the project) is estimated to be $189,930. Early in the process, Mlsna says she got quotes from third parties to come in to the library and do the tagging and programming that were easily three times higher than that figure.

“This process has been working really well,” says Mlsna. “We really gave it a lot of forethought and fine-tuned the details with Chris [Long of ITG]. It’s a big relief to have it working so well.”


About the Integrated Technology Group
Integrated Technology Group ( develops, markets, and supports library automation technologies that empower librarians to make operations more efficient and better serve their patrons. ITG's products include patron self-checkout, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Automated Materials Handling (AMH) systems, library materials security, public computer reservation, and print management. With over 30 years experience in the library industry, ITG combines smart technology and progressive design to create standard solutions that can be easily customized to meet site-specific requirements. ITG, a division of Vernon Library Supplies, Inc., is headquartered in Norcross, Georgia.

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