Originally Published: December 2, 2009 10:12 p.m.
PRESCOTT - In just the past year and a half, about 1,500 movie DVDs have disappeared from the shelves of the Prescott Public Library.
Library Director Toni Kaus finds that a "shocking" level of loss for the library, which had a collection of about 8,000 DVD titles.
Estimating the value of each DVD at $25, Kaus noted that the recent thefts have cost the library about $37,000.
In an attempt to control the pilfering, Kaus is proposing a new security system that would sound an alarm when someone tries to leave the library with an unchecked-out item.
An added benefit: a significantly more convenient checkout and check-in system.
Called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), the system would involve placing a tag with a small chip and antenna in each book and DVD at the library.
In addition, the library would install security gates, which would sound an alarm if someone tried to leave the building without checking out an item.
While the added security was the focus of much of the discussion this week, Kaus said the system also would dramatically speed up checkout.
Under the new system, library patrons would simply place their books on a pad at the checkout station, and the RFID would automatically read and record the items.
While patrons still would have to scan their library cards, they no longer would have to scan each book individually.
Library volunteers already were hard at work this week in placing the new tags in the 150,000 or so items in the Prescott library.
Wednesday morning, volunteers Sharon Phelps and Beth Orth took turns activating and attaching the tags.
"We think it's totally amazing," said Phelps as she placed tags in books in the library's fiction section. "It's magic to me."
Library Circulation Manager Cindy Campbell said about 30 volunteers have been working mornings and weekends to do the necessary tagging. If all goes as planned, the system should be up and running by summer, she said.
The tagging work is happening now because of the extensive book transfers that go on between the libraries in Yavapai County.
Eventually, library officials say, the Yavapai County Free Library District hopes to have all of the books in the entire county collection tagged, which would help libraries as they get RFID on line.
The money for the preliminary RFID tagging came from the Yavapai County Free Library District, which purchased tags for the entire county library network, Kaus said.
RFID is already in place at Prescott Valley's new public library, and Assistant Library Director Ted Johnson said it has been working well in getting people quickly through the checkout process.
"It has helped us to be more efficient," Johnson said. "People are at the self-check machine, and boom, they're all checked out."
Kaus said Prescott Valley's introduction of RFID was an impetus for Prescott to look into a similar system because of the extensive book sharing that goes on between libraries within the Yavapai County library network.
Members of the Prescott City Council were receptive to the idea on Tuesday, putting the purchase on its consent agenda for next week's voting session - a move that usually indicates that an action has unanimous support.
Even so, a question arose about where the money for the $93,051 purchase would come from.
Kaus pointed out that the money would come from a Yavapai County Library District property tax levy that city must use exclusively for library automation and special projects. The expenditure would not affect the city's general fund, she added.
With circulation and gate-count at the Prescott library increasing by double-digit percentages every month for the past two years or so, Kaus and other Prescott library officials say the RFID would help the staff-strapped library deal more efficiently with growing demands.
Just this past month, the library's circulation count stood at 65,383, Kaus said.
The Prescott City Council will vote on the RFID purchase at its Dec. 8 meeting.