The Berkeley Public Library’s two-year budget is on the trustees’ May 20 meeting agenda. This is an opportune time to inform the trustees of our dissatisfaction with, and the dysfunction of the radiofrequency (RFID) self-checkout system.
Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense (SuperBOLD) will make reference at the trustees’ meeting to a quote we obtained from an established vendor for a bar code self-checkout and security system to replace the Berkeley Public Library’s (BPL) RFID system. The quote for this new bar code system, including training, shipping, installation and three years maintenance is $240,303. The library director indicated in a Nov. 10, 2008 memo to the Peace and Justice Commission that maintenance and replacement of aging RFID equipment by the 3M company would cost $70,000 for the first year and increasing in subsequent years. That means just maintaining and replacing RFID equipment for three years would cost about as much as a brand new, more reliable bar code self-checkout system; a system that would not be privacy invasive. For example, your movements can be tracked when you are carrying BPL books or media containing an RFID tag.
The Peace and Justice Commission recommended in early January 2009 that the City Council deny the waiver, but the City Council, nevertheless, approved the waiver in its Jan. 27 resolution that allowed the library to contract with 3M (a company involved in the nuclear industry) to maintain the RFID system. The council rationalized that “contracting with this vendor ... will not violate the intent of the act as no equipment will be purchased from this vendor ... and no new software technologies will be produced by 3M.” The council limited the contract to two years, requiring the library to come up with an alternative to 3M by that time. A two-year contract at $56,305 per year, or $168,915, (enough for three years!) was signed with 3M effective March 15, 2009 through March 14, 2011, presumably for maintenance only and no equipment replacement or software upgrades. Does this make sense, considering that the director said money was needed for “certain important system components primarily equipment and software updates”? As taxpayers and concerned citizens do we want money to be spent to complete “a bridge to nowhere”? Why not buy new interoperable, more reliable equipment for a bar code self-checkout system, rather than spend money maintaining aging proprietary equipment nearing its life cycle end, equipment the City Council resolution forbids the library to replace?
The time to replace the RFID system with a non-nuclear company’s bar code system is now, not two years from now! This will make it possible for the City Council to revoke the waiver of the Nuclear-Free Berkeley Act and for SuperBOLD to stop its legal challenge of the city for violating the act.
The Board of Library Trustees will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 20 at Berkeley’s South Branch Library (Russell and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way). Please arrive early, sign up to speak and ask the trustees to replace the RFID system now!
Gene Bernardi is a member of SuperBOLD.