Recently, Popular Science posted an article about a new “Robo Librarian” that uses RFID technology to track down missing and misplaced books in libraries. It’s an interesting concept, but while the article would make you believe librarians spend most of their days looking for lost books, it’s simply not true.
Books that are misplaced, mis-shelved, or simply lost, are a common problem in libraries. While we employ people to keep our shelves organized, neat, and structured so that we can find items easily, there are always reasons books cannot be found. Sometimes it is a library error–we might put them in the wrong place because of a distraction. Sometimes, it is a patron error—taking that book off a shelf to see if you might want to read it can mean putting it back in a slightly wrong position. And sometimes, people walk away without checking out books, and we might not see them again.
But whatever the reason, libraries work hard to keep their collections current, shelved properly, and available for patrons to take out. It is not usually the job of the librarian to shelve or “read” the shelved books to keep them in order. Many times, this is the job of a student page or volunteer. And they are wonderful, taking care of this small but important task for us.
However, the system is not perfect, and books can become lost. The new AuRoSS by A*STAR Robotics employs the use of RFID tags placed on the books to scan shelves and check for errors. While it is time consuming to remove each book to check the RDIF tags, this robot can simply scan a shelf without the need, and find places where books have been improperly shelved, or are missing altogether. It’s a fascinating idea, and one that might soon be used everywhere, if this article were to come to fruition. While it is very important, don’t let the fear of robots making librarians obsolete scare you. Shelving is just a small library task, and one that does not require a human touch, or a degree.
Take a minute to read the article, however. Robots might be a new thing you’ll bump into when you’re at the library in the not too far off future.