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Security's New Chapter

WHEN THE SECURITY TEAM at Queens Library in New York City set out to replace the library’s 17-year-old access control system, upgrading the existing system best suited their needs. By upgrading and then replacing proximity cards with smart cards, the library was able to meet expanding security needs without replacing its access control infrastructure.

The Queens Library includes 62 library locations, seven adult learning centers, and two family literacy centers in the New York City borough of Queens. It is the largest circulating library in the nation, and serves 2.2 million visitors a year.

Michael Daly, director of logistics and security management for the library system, oversees security for all the library sites from his headquarters in the Central Library building in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens. Security includes access control, alarm systems, and CCTV. The department has about 25 security technicians on staff and also relies on the cooperation of the IT department.

Daly had replaced the library’s old lock system—where employees punched in a four-digit code to gain access—with a Checkpoint proximity access control system in 1992. Last year, he was charged with providing an updated access control system for the Central Library and new systems for branches being built.

The primary reason for the update was a desire to improve customer and employee safety in the Central Library, which fills nearly a city block. Daly became concerned after members of the public were found after hours in the library stacks—an isolated part of the building that is open only to library employees. These instances, coupled with several, well-publicized sexual assaults at other libraries in the area, led Daly to consider a new security system.

The need to protect library assets, including rooms full of irreplaceable historical documents relating to Queens Borough, was also an important motivation for the upgrade.

Protecting the public factored into the decision as well. As a community library, the Central Library has numerous programs for members of the public, who can access the entire main floor and parts of the second floor and the auditorium area. Some 2,000 children attend programs at the Central Library or visit the social center. Various city and private agencies also support a number of summer youth work programs at the facility.

As new library branches opened, the existing security system was stretched thin. For each new library branch, security must install from 18 to 64 card readers. The most recent branch was completed two years ago, and three more branches are currently under construction.

Though Daly did explore other options, he decided to upgrade the existing system because the new product, the Pinnacle system by Sielox (formerly Checkpoint), would work with the legacy equipment. This meant that Daly did not have to replace card readers. Instead he could add new card readers and new technology, where needed, while retaining the existing infrastructure.

For example, Daly wanted to give employees smart cards to replace the existing proximity cards. The new cards provide access control just as the previous cards did. However, the smart cards also serve as an ID and contain an RFID chip and bar code to allow employees to check out library materials.

The new software also allows security personnel to control the entire access control network via a secure Web connection. Security can now upgrade or reconfigure controllers, readers, cards, and other hardware by connecting to the Web through the library’s intranet.

The card readers are now integrated with the CCTV system so that security personnel can see who is attempting to enter a particular door. The software also displays the person’s ID photo on a monitor, allowing security to compare the photo to the CCTV image of the employee.

Another goal was to have the new system operate more quickly. The new software increases the capacity and speed with which security can process card access data. The old system consisted of a dial-up modem and a dedicated phone line programmed to download card reader information at regular intervals. The new card access system works in real time over the existing IT network and allows security to conduct diagnostics and updates using a Web browser.

Another aspect of the installation, according to Daly, was that the library had to remain open and functional during the upgrade. To ensure this smooth transition, security held numerous meetings with the installers and conducted walkthrough inspections to point out the location of each device. “We had minor glitches as with any large project,” says Daly. “The meetings and walk-throughs helped us deal with those quickly. We happily had no surprises.”

Because library security personnel were already familiar with the Sielox product, Daly could continue to do maintenance in-house. The four-member maintenance team received training on the new system and continued with their duties without any interruption.

The integrated nature of the system has helped Daly expedite several security incidents since it went online a year ago. For example, two employees were accidentally locked in the Flushing branch when the library closed down at night.

Access cards do not open external library doors after closing hours. Under library protocol, two things must happen in such instances. First, the police must be called to ensure that everyone is safe and that library property is protected. Second, the door must be unlocked by a library employee.

Before the system upgrade, an employee would have traveled to the branch, met the police, and opened the door. With the new system, security personnel could view the situation and unlock the door remotely when the police arrived.

Daly also notes another crucial change—attitudes toward security have evolved, and personnel now appreciate its value. “Years ago, when we first decided to install an access control system, our unionized work force was opposed to the idea,” says Daly. “There was a big controversy and fear that Big Brother was watching them.”

Under the most recent contracts, the union has required that all new buildings be equipped with access control. According to Daly, this is a reflection on the success of the program at the Central Library. “Staff members feel more secure, and they demand an access control system,” he says.