When visitors borrow and return materials from the Westerville Public Library, a new bit of technology will be making the process smoother and easier.

When visitors borrow and return materials from the Westerville Public Library, a new bit of technology will be making the process smoother and easier.

The library's new radio frequency identification system made its debut at the beginning of September. The system catalogues every piece of media at the library -- nearly 300,000 items -- with their own chip, helping to ease the process of checking items in and out.

"We no longer need the line of sight with the barcode anymore, so you can check out five items at a time instead of one," said Don Barlow, executive director of the library. "And when you check out a CD or DVD, you don't have to open up each one."

Barlow said the library has been looking into radio frequency identification chips for as long as 10 years. But when they first considered the idea, it would have been a fiscally irresponsible move.

"The trouble was that the chips were simply way too expensive back then, something in the neighborhood of $1 or $1.20 apiece," he said. "Now, they're around 13 cents."

Barlow said the entire setup -- including chips, sorting equipment and installation -- cost the library around $300,000.

But he said the investment is well worth the cost, given its advantages and the way it streamlines the library's existing workforce.

"We anticipate a lot of employee-cost savings as we move through this," he said. "I'm not saying we're going to be laying off employees; what it does is allow us to have employees out helping the public instead of doing mundane tasks they had to do before."

Customer Services Manager Kristin Michel said the library's staff is adjusting quickly to the new devices, including a sorter that puts media in correct bins so that the staff doesn't have to check and sort items by hand.

"The sorter is doing the job in about half the time it took us to do before, and it's automating a bunch of that repetitive stuff they were doing on a daily basis all day long all throughout the week," she said.

"I expected more of an adjustment period. I expected more 'How does this work again?' ... But the nice thing about the sorter is that you can work with one person or you can work with five people. We're finishing work that would normally have taken us a long time in an hour and a half."

The new security system -- which detects when chipped items pass through gates at the library's exit -- is also an upgrade for both customers and employees. It not only stops would-be thieves, but it specifies which item was not checked out.

"When we have a mom or teacher who has a stack of 50 items, we can say, 'OK, who has 'Charlotte's Web'? and that person can come back and we can take care of just that one," Michel said. "There's a service piece to the security."

Perhaps more than anything, Michel said her and the staff are thrilled to be finished tagging each item.

Every piece of media in the library had to be hand-tagged in a process that took five months. Library employees spent most of the time tagging items as they were checked in, but eventually had to move to the stacks for items that hadn't been touched.

She said it was worth it, but Michel admitted the 300,000-item job was the worst part of the adjustment.

"It felt like a million," she said with a laugh.

@ThisWeekAndrew