Saturday, February 5, 2011

Barcode Technology and its Application in Libraries and Information Control

Barcode Technology and its Application in Libraries and Information Control
Sarjiwan Dass1, Dr. Ajay Singh2

1Librarian, (DITMR) Delhi Institute of Technology, Management & Research
Vill. Fiorjpur Kalan, Sohna Road, Faridabad (Haryana).

2Assit. Professor Department of Management,
Dronacharya College of Engineering, Greater Noida (UP)


The application of barcode technology in circulation system of a library and information technology is most successful due to its speed, accuracy and reliability. This paper tells us barcodes, objectives of barcoding, and uses. This also inform us  different symbologies, working of barcode system, reading of barcodes, stationary required and aspects for printing the barcode labels. Barcodes have found varieties of applications in different fields, including libraries and information centers it describes in detail barcode based circulation system and how it overcomes all the difficulties in manual and computerized system. This paper also elaborates its applications for library and non-library functions and advantages made through this technology.


Barcode technology plays an important role automating the functions of the library, especially the circulation. Its application increases the speed and accuracy in operations.
Barcodes Technology provides a simple and inexpensive method of encoding text information that is easily read by inexpensive electronic readers. Bar coding also allows data to be collected rapidly and with extreme accuracy. A bar code consists of a series of parallel, adjacent bars and spaces. Predefined bar and space patterns or "symbologies" are used to encode small strings of character data into a printed symbol. Bar codes can be thought of as a printed type of the Morse code with narrow bars (and spaces) representing dots, and wide bars representing dashes. A bar code reader decodes a bar code by scanning a light source across the bar code and measuring the intensity of light reflected back by the white spaces. The pattern of reflected light is detected with a photodiode which produces an electronic signal that exactly matches the printed bar code pattern. This signal is then decoded back to the original data by inexpensive electronic circuits.
The basic structure of a bar code consists of a leading and trailing quiet zone, a start pattern, one or more data characters, optionally one or two check characters and a stop pattern.

There are a variety of different types of bar code encoding schemes or "symbologies", each of which were originally developed to fulfill a specific need in a specific industry. Several of these symbologies have matured into de-facto standards that are used universally today throughout most industries. The symbologies supported by B-Coder, the TALtech Bar Code ActiveX control and the TALtech Bar Code DLLs are those most commonly used across all industry (Bhasker Raj, A S,1995),(Roger C. Palmer).

In other words we can say that Barcodes are self-contained machine-readable identification labels with information encoded in a series of black bars and white spaces of varying widths that represent digits, and other punctuation symbols. These are readable only by a scanner. Barcodes by itself is not a system but an identification tool that provides an accurate and timely support of the data requirement for sophisticated management system.

The modern began of barcodes were in the US in 1916 by Clarence Sanders with a concept of self-service in her Piggy Wiggly store. After this success of barcodes other industries also became interested in adopting this technology. The barcode technology entered in Library and Librarianship in 1972, when Kentish town branch of COMDEN Public Library began Plessey Light Pen system for reading, the printed code.

The main objectives of barcoding documents in a library are as follows:
a)      To achieve accuracy;
b)      Time saving of users;
c)      Easy process as stock verification;
d)     To reduce operational cost; and
e)      Improve operational efficiency

There no’s of symbologies for barcodes technology. At present there are over 60 different coding schemes / systems of barcodes. Committees assigned to choose a corporate standard symbology waste a great deal of time. However, it should be noted that there is no one symbology that is the ‘right one’ for any organization. Each of these available symbologies has different advantages and limitations. Any way a modern scanner can automatically recognize and decode all the common symbologies. The most commonly used symbologies are briefly described (Pradeep, C and Rama Reddy,1998)

The symbology is a language used to represent or arrange the bars and spaces. It defines the technical details of a particular type of barcode: the width of the bars, character set, method of encoding, checksum specifications, etc. Since this arrangement can be varied to suit the different applications, there evolved a number of symbologies over the years. There are more than fifty different coding symbologies. Some of the popular symbologies areas are as follows:

I.                    Universal Product Code: It is the common code extensively used in retail trade. Its standardization in a form that allows many organizations throughout the world to interpret the same data is its prominent advantages. It also uses the space efficiently to record the data. Its limitation is that it can only record certain length of numbers.  
II.                 Interleaved 2 of 5 (I 2 of 5):It is very compact. But it can only record numbers. The code represents the number of even length. It is possible to scan only a part of the barcode and obtain something that looks like a valid result.  

III.               Code 39 (Code 3 of 9):  It is alpha and numeric and can represent even some special characters such as ‘ $ ‘,‘ / ‘, ‘. ‘, ‘: ‘, ‘ + ‘, ‘ – ‘, ‘ % ‘ and can enclose ‘ space ‘. The code can be of any length. It can enclose all the capital letters of the alphabets but lower case letters can’t be enclosed. The code 3 of 9 is always started / ended with an asterisk (*), known as start / stop character. Bars and spaces are used to encode an individual character. 5 bars and 4 spaces, three of which are wide, represent each character and six are narrow.  

IV.              European Article Number (EAN): The EAN is only numeric but Code Bar is having facilities to enclose ‘ $ ‘, ‘ / ‘, ‘. ‘, ‘: ‘, ‘+ ‘, ‘– ‘, ‘% ‘in addition to numerals. Code Bar is used by Geac in library circulation system. Code 48, which include alphabetic characters, are used by many American Libraries. There are two-dimensional barcodes also which can store large quantity of data in a small area. The European Article Number is a superset of the UPC and encodes digits. It is available in two variations: EAN 8 to encode 8 digits and EAN 13 to encode 13 digits.

V.                 CODE 128: It is a continuous alphanumeric symbology of variable length encoding full 128 ASCII character set. Every symbol starts and stops with a unique start/stop character.

VI.              Coda bar: It is a discrete, self-checking numeric symbology including six other characters and four unique start/stop characters. Each character has three bars and four spaces. It encodes only numeric and few special characters and is most widely used coding symbology. Generally libraries use this symbology to encode books and borrowers card.
VII.            Code 49: Code 49 is a first two-dimensional barcode symbology. It is a multi-row, continuous and variable length symbology encoding the full ASCII 128            character set. Each row is composed of 18 bars and 17 spaces. Each row contains a row number and the last row contains information regarding the row number in the symbol.

While choosing a symbology for library applications care is to be taken of developments in computer technologies and requirements of the library. Today, computers are alpha numeric, and as a part of basic computer technology, barcode should also be alpha numeric. Code 3 of 9 is alpha numeric and it encodes characters bi – directionally. This means that whether an operator scans a barcode from left to right or right to left, the reader can interpret the symbol and transmit the data in proper sequence. These features of code 3 of 9 have been the dominant consideration in its adoption by libraries and information centers.   

Barcode technology works in the same way as a keyboard. Barcode system works in much the same way a keyboard does. As pressing a key sends a signal containing a character code to the computer, reading a barcode results in the same kind of signals being sent to the processor. The barcode, in effect, acts as a unique control number, which is associated with a record giving appropriate details of individual items. While scanning, the light is reflected from the barcode and the pick up optical device receives less light from the dark bars than from the spaces between them. The signals received through this process are than converted into a form, which can be recognized by the computer (Chandok, Seema, 1998), (David J. Collins and Nancy N. Whipple).  
The decoder uses a mathematical algorithm to translate the electric impulses into binary codes and transmits the encoded message to a PC, a controller or host system, for further processing.

 Implementing barcodes in library applications following hardware and software are required: 
a)       Personal computers, (PCs);
b)       Barcode Scanner;
c)       Decoder;
d)       Printer;
e)       Printing Software;
f)        Communication Software;
g)       Database of Library Holdings;
h)       Library Software; and
i)         Membership Database; 

It is ideal to print barcodes on self-adhesive labels with the help of laser printer to achieve the required precision for the laser scanner. However, this may be expensive. The alternate strategy is to print them on a reasonable good paper and paste them with the help of gum or other adhesive. It is cheaper but laborious.
Scanning of barcode which results in the extraction of data from the label laminating the barcoded label is ideal. If cost permitting, it must be adopted. It is necessary for the protection of the barcodes for their long life.

The barcode labels require high quality if printing. Defects in printing will lead to wrong reading of data. It is of utmost importance that barcode labels have high-contrast, well dimensioned bars and spaces. Important considerations for printing barcode labels are as:

i) Paper Quality: High quality paper, free from imperfections is essential.
ii) Ink Quality: Resistance to smudging and spreading, non-reflectance and good contrast.
iii) Print Quality: Free from voids and speaks.

Before discussing of barcode based circulation system, it is necessary to study the difficulties experienced in the manual and computer based circulation system so that the usefulness of barcode technology can be appreciated:

            Under this system in libraries has been in the vogue, since the libraries conceived the concept of issuing library documents to their clienteles. Manual system has under gone drastic changes but still they are not capable to cope up with the emerging trends. Some of the major difficulties of manual system are:  
a)      It is difficult to know the status of a particular book. 
b)      Providing reservation for books is a tedious job. 
c)      It is cumbersome to ascertain that to whom a particular book has been issued. 
d)      To provide a clearance certificate to a particular reader is quite difficult since the counter assistant will have to verify borrower’s record and other documents to ascertain whether a particular book is pending against the borrower or not. 
e)      Difficult to ascertain the status of a book. 
f)       Charging and discharging of books are time consuming, as stamping of due / return date and the work of making other entries are to be carried out. 
      Over coming the above-mentioned flaws and various other difficulties, far better, efficient and fast operation of circulation system has been possible with help of computer. With their speed and huge data storage capability computers are able to provide efficient and effective circulation work. 

In computerized circulation system the borrower presents before the counter assistant his library card and the book(s) to be borrowed. The circulation assistant inputs the identity number of the borrower through keyboard and activates his database record. Depending upon permissibility the document’s accession number is entered in the computer and the book is issued to the borrower. It is the computer software, which computes the due date for return, fine and makes reservations against books. In a manual system it is difficult to ascertain whether a particular book is issued or not and hence reserving a book becomes a cumbersome job. Such problems do not exist with the computers. The database is always ready for any query. Thus, with ease, the entire operation can take place without any loss of information and control. However, even in computerized circulation system, there is a need for circulation staff to input data like member code, accession number, etc. into the machine. This often slows down the entire process. Further, there may be data entry errors, which reduce the efficiency of the system (Ramesh L S R C V and Vali Hussain, 1997). 
Before the introduction of bar code system in circulation control of a library following pre-requisites are essential. 
a)      Complete database of library holdings and library members is to be created. 
b)      The holding of library (complete database) is to be converted in barcodes. The member identification number (reader tickets) is also to be converted in barcodes.
c)       Library membership cards should be printed and barcodes should be pasted on them.
d)      Educate the users with the need to care for the barcode labels on the books.  
e)      Test the system before final application.  

The automation in libraries requires that the barcode be incorporated on each reader’s tickets. A borrower’s file giving full details is to be prepared using the automation package. The barcode number is to be incorporated in the borrower’s records by scanning. Similarly a file of all documents in the library is to be prepared. Each item in the bibliographic file has its own unique barcode number. The barcode label is stuck in a convenient place such as opposite the due date label (Goudar I R N: Barcode technology and Its Application to Library Services, Head, ICAST National Aerospace Laboratories Bangalore), (Sambasivan, K.: Use of Bar Codes in Libraries. International Library Movement ,1997).  


(a) Checking System at the Gate
This is the checking system when a user leaves the library with the issued document. For this purpose, barcode technology can be effectively used and a terminal can be installed on the gate. Since charging/discharging is done online, the whole database is automatically updated. When borrower leaves the library, accession number of the document carried by the user will again be scanned at the gate. In case of issued document the computer will approve the exit. But, in case, someone is carrying a document that has not been issued, the computer will give an alarm and a message to the immediate effect.
(b) Identification of membership
We know very well that in libraries entry is restricted to their members only. Thus a person is deputed on the gate as gateman or security guard to check identity cards of each person entering the library. If the members are provided barcoded identity cards, then this checking becomes very easy. A barcode scanner is installed at the gate of the library and every person entering the library has to place his/her identity card on the scanner. If the person is not a member of the library, the computer will give the alarm and thus restrict the entry and the identification of unauthorized entry will be made.

(c) User Statistics
Under the manual system most of the libraries maintain gate register wherein members are requested to enter his/her details and mark their signature as a proof of their visit to the library. It is time consuming and users show indifference towards entering their particulars. With the help of this register time series and classified statistics can not be given instantly. When users are provided with barcoded identity cards, it is possible to overcome all these difficulties. Thus user statistics are useful for various purposes, particularly for improvement in library services and control.

(d) Charging and Discharging of Books
Due to normal distribution system the charging and discharging of books is a time consuming process, as stamping of due dates and other data entry work have to be carried out. But in barcoded environment, when a user goes to the circulation counter, the counter staff scans his/her identity card and activates the borrowing status. If the computer permits the borrowing facility, the document is scanned for accession number and is issued to the user without any delay.

(e) Issue of No Dues Certificate
No dues certificate is issued when any member leaves the organistation/institution and his/her membership is cancelled and the library issues no dues certificate. This process is time consuming and error prone in a manual system. In an automated system using barcode technology the member surrenders his/her identity card and the counter staff scan it. The automation package will search the database for any document issued in his/her name. If nothing is due, no dues certificate will be printed. Otherwise, the related list of documents issued in the name the member.

(f) Stock Verification & Cross-checking
Stock verification and cross checking is a very tedious and time-consuming job in libraries and during stock verification & cross checking the users are restricted to use the library facility. Here barcode technologies used very effectively, and it is quicker and error free. Under this process, all the documents in the library are scanned and data is gathered in the hand held terminal. When it is about to full the data is downloaded in the host computer. Once all the documents in the library are scanned, it is compared with the database of the total documents.If it does not tally, it will give the details of documents of which accession number has not been scanned.


(a) For Security Check
The barcoded identity card will also perform the security check at the gate and allow only authorized persons to enter such as in case of libraries.

(b) For monitoring Attendance
The barcode technology could be used for monitoring the attendance of the employees. Under this process, the identity cards of the employees have to be barcoded with their employee codes and a barcode scanner is installed at the gate of the organization. Every employee has to get his/her identity card scanned at the gate while entering. The system will mark the attendance of the employee along with the time of arrival and departure of employee.

(c) For Stock Verification and cross- checking
Through this every item of store is barcoded, stock verification of the store items can also be easily performed, as in case of books in the library.
Application of barcode technology is made in the libraries with a view to automate the data entry process of circulation system. The use of barcode technology increases efficiency and eliminates human errors as in case of manual data entry. It has got the following advantages :

              I.      Increased accuracy;
           II.      Increases the speed of operation;
         III.      Improves efficiency of the staff and quality of services;
        IV.      Increased user satisfaction and hence improves the image of the library;
           V.      Reliable statistics for Management Information System (MIS) and management control;
        VI.      Elegance and aesthetics of the front office and its activities;
      VII.      Highest degree of reliability;
   VIII.      Saves the time of borrower;
        IX.      Perfect entry and retrieval of data;
           X.      Improves information availability; and data integrity.
        XI.      low labour cost

Apart from accuracy, reliability and speed in circulation, there are many other applications of barcodes, which has been mentioned earlier. Once the system becomes functional the technology can be effectively applied in the work of stock verification, generating user statistics, periodical control, transfer of stack from reference to lending and vice versa, weeding out the collection and updating the records, providing location codes such as departmental library etc. 

The application of Barcode Technology, no doubt, is a boon for library and information profession. Its application, however, in a particular library should be well planned and thought of. The cost factor and other issues such as-is it comfortable and convenient to use should be considered seriously. Reliability, servicing and maintenance for the scanners should be well judge.

Barcode technology is a most accurate and least expensive way to identify item/document and get data into the computer. Its application increases productivity, and eliminates human error, improves speed of operation and services.

The operational cost reduces by eliminating book cards and book pockets. The magnitude of expected improvement of the introduction of the barcode technology in a library with the automation is directly proportional to the size of its collection, the number of users, and the number of transactions per day. Thus, application of this technology will definitely improve the image of the library and develop a positive attitude of users towards the library.

Technology never stands still. It always advances. To overcome the problems faced in inputting data through keyboards in computerized circulation systems and achieve maximum efficiency, there is a need to further improve the automation of circulation system. This can be done through automation of data entry. The technology, which can automate the process of data entry and in reach of library profession, is barcode. 

Anil Singh. Application of Bar Code Technology in Libraries. Library Herald. V.40, N. 1 (2002), p 43-47.

Bhasker Raj, A S. The Bar Code Technology and Applications. Electronics for you.
V.27, N.4 (1995), p.99-105.

Chandok, Seema. Application of Barcode Technology in Libraries. Library Science
Slant with Documentation. V.35, N.4 (1998), p.247-50.

Counting on Bars. Dataquest. V.12, N.22 (1995), p. 95-99.

David J. Collins and Nancy N. Whipple: Using Bar Code: Why It's Taking Over

Gample, S R and Wadyane, H S. Using Barcode for Circulation in the Central Library
of IIT Bombay. Annals of Library Science and Documentation. V.40, N.1 (1993), p.

Goudar  I R N : Barcode technology and Its Application To Library Services , Head, ICAST National Aerospace Laboratoriesbangalore-560017

Jeevan, V K J. Barcoding for Faster Library Transactions. DESIDOC Bulletin of
Information and Technology. V.20, N.3 (2000), p.15-19.

Manjunath, G K and Pujar, S M. Barcoding for Library Documents, Planning,
Techniques and Tools. Annals of Library and Information Studies. V.49, N.4 (2002),
p. 119-125.

Misra, K N. Use of Bar Code Devices in Library Management. Paper presented in XX
IASLIC Conference, 1995, Lucknow.

Patel, Dharmista R. Barcode System in Libraries - its Uses and Importance. Annals of
Library Science and Documentation. 1996; V.43, N.1 (1996), p.1-10.

Pradeep, C and Rama Reddy, E. Application of Bar Code Technology for Library
Operations: Experience of IGM Library, University of Hyderabad. University News.
V.36, N.35 (1998), p. 6-9

Ramesh, L S R C V and Vali Hussain, Mohd. Barcode System in Libraries: a
Modernised Concept in Practice. ILA Bulletin. V.33, N.1-2, (1997), p. 1-4.

Roger C. Palmer :The Bar Code Book: Fifth Edition - A Comprehensive Guide To Reading, Printing, Specifying, Evaluating, And Using Bar Code and Other Machine-Readable Symbols (Paperback)

Sambasivan, K. Use of Bar Codes in Libraries. International Library Movement.
V.19, N.3 (1997), p. 149-56.

Stephen A. Brown: Revolution at the Checkout Counter: The Explosion of the Bar Code (Wertheim Publications in Industrial Relations).



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  2. sir, very good article. thanking you

    o seshaiah

  3. Well articulated paper in a critical aspect of library automation.

    K.N Igwe
    Lecturer, Dept of LIS, Federal Polytechnic Offa, Nigeria.

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