Surprise: An RFID-related topic I don’t intend to bitch about

RFID self-checkout is still an enormously expensive way to complicate every transaction a library item undergoes. (And now the cover story that RFID – a word that still is not four syllables long – was put in place to extend service hours without additional staff has been blown out of the water. It’s a pretext to fire staff.) I still set off alarms walking into branches. I still have trouble with any unusual request (e.g., return but put me back on the holds list). I still have problems. So do you! And our problems will never end.


The esteemed colleague who manages this project – in all fairness, about as well as it could be managed – has basically solved the problem of RFID (again: “arfid” or “riffid”) gumming up your CD drive or DVD player. The old tags were self-adhesive paper abominations more befitting the Soviet Union. Half of them you had to handwrite a barcode number on (around a curve). Half of them are stuck on imperfectly in the first place. The other half unbalance your drive, causing whirring or simply an unreadable disc. When they really heat up, they come unglued and can get stuck in your player (apocryphally). I’ve peeled several of them off just to get the damned disc to play. (Sometimes I put them back on, other times not, but in the latter cases I left a note.)

I was warned these things were coming, but I still didn’t know what the hell was going on when I saw them. Behold the StingRay by Smartrac. (PDF datasheet.)

‘Edward II’ with white stick-on RFID, ‘Guest of Cindy Sherman’ with transparent StingRay

It covers the entire surface of the disc. It’s transparent save for a silvery bit of branding (in Futura caps) and “Toronto Public Library” in black Helvetica, which I suppose could be worse. I don’t know how a civilian could peel it off. I don’t have a clue how you’d retag an item in-branch. You probably can’t.

Now look closely. The silvery lines around the periphery are the RFID circuit. It’s got one kilobit of memory (!) and Smartrac claims it can be read at a distance of 30 cm.

A weird, vaguely futuristic appurtenance. And the only thing remotely cool about this entire RFID boondoggle.