Checking out books in the library at Minnesota’s Eagan High School is so automated, it requires only the push of a finger. A student’s finger, that is.

Since last September, the school’s library has been beta-testing fingerprint-scanning technology to identify students accurately without using a password, key card, personal identification number, or other identifying information.

“It’s fast and it’s accurate,” Principal Tom Wilson said about the system that helps manage the school’s 13,000 library books and 15,000 textbooks.

Students simply lay their index finger on a reader and watch their account information appear on a computer monitor. Then, they scan the book’s bar code, demagnetize its spine, and the transaction is logged into the computer.

ID cards can be lost or stolen and passwords forgotten. That’s where biometrics technology—which mathematically measures physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, retinal patterns, or voice, in order to establish identity—offers a distinct advantage.

“Instead of getting kids to carry their ID cards with them, they always have a finger, so it works out perfectly,” Wilson said. The system works so quickly that it eliminates long lines at the checkout desk, he added.

The system tracks each book electronically, because “it’s all in the database of who has what book,” Wilson said. “It’s easy for us to print out a form and notify the student that they have the book.”

The way Wilson sees it, the more books the school recovers, the more money it saves. This year, the school was short 105 Spanish textbooks but was able to reclaim 97 of them.

“If 100 students have a book at home, you’re talking about $8,000,” he said. “This gives us a tremendous economic advantage.”

Laura Nagel, library media specialist at Eagan High School, said registering the school’s 2,000 students initially was a big task, especially since she had to do it more than once.

“It was a little bit of a bumpy road in the beginning, because they were smoothing out the software,” Nagel said.

To register each student, the librarians typed in the student’s identification number and scanned both the left and right index finger three times to enter the student’s fingerprint into the system correctly.

The fingerprint reader doesn’t keep a record of the entire fingerprint, just the five points of identification that it stores as an algorithm. “It’s not a fingerprint vault or anything like that,” Nagel said. “You’re not really being fingerprinted—it’s the way your fingerprint allows us to access your account.”

“My kids think this is the coolest thing around,” Wilson said. “We’ve had zero resistance to it.”

For Nagel, the greatest benefit of the system is checking out textbooks, since the library is responsible for handing out the textbooks to entire classes at once.

“I don’t think we’ve reaped [the full] benefits yet, but I’m hoping this fall when it comes to textbook checkout, we’ll see the difference,” she said. “When you have 90 kids in an hour, this makes it go a lot faster.”

At this point, the students still have to demagnetize the books themselves, since the automated system does not integrate with the school’s magnetic book-security system. There is nothing stopping the students from just walking out of the library without checking the books out, except for a watchful librarian.

But Wilson believes the technology has great potential. Eventually, he hopes to use it in the cafeteria, for gaining entrance to the building, for access to computer workstations, and—most importantly—for taking attendance. “Teachers loathe attendance,” he said. “It’s such a hassle.”

Wilson envisions students slipping their finger into the scanner every day as they walk into class. Because it’s computerized, the system could record the exact time students arrive. It also would accurately identify the student and let the office know instantly who was absent or late.

Nagel said that some educators from the St. Paul School District in Minnesota think the fingerprint-scanning technology could be a solution to the problem of elementary school children getting on the wrong buses.

Because of the district’s high immigrant population, young children often can’t say where they live in English, she said. If the district had a portable fingerprint scanner, teachers could look up a child’s information easily.

Eagan High School uses a fingerprint scanner developed by Las Vegas-based SAC Technologies, in conjunction with the Winnebago Spectrum library management software now owned by Sagebrush Corp.

Eagan High School

SAC Technologies

Sagebrush Corp.