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PSP Celebrates 45 Years in the Library Solutions Business

You might have November 5th marked on your calendar for a fireworks celebration, but this month, PSP has a bigger reason to celebrate as November 2023 marks our 45th (sapphire) anniversary!

We can’t quite believe it but we’ve been supplying cutting-edge solutions to UK libraries since 1978. To mark the occasion, we’re offering FREE installation on stock control and self-service systems (when purchased together) and we’ve taken a walk down memory lane to highlight some of our key company milestones…

Once upon a time…

Before PSP Asset Protection there was Plescon Ltd, which came into being on 30th November 1978, under the initial name of Coildean Limited. The purpose of this new company? To supply, install and support radio frequency (RF) book detection systems in public libraries. 

Following on from previous security practices, such as supernatural curses on book thieves, locked chests and chained up books, the new RF and electromagnetic (EM) technologies were a marked improvement but with the same aim!

It is believed the first ‘modern’ detection system used by a library was installed around 1964, soon followed by others, and they were seen by most as a long overdue (pun thoroughly intended!) answer to losses; however, others felt they were “another gimmick in an electronics-happy age.” (Knight, 1978).

Plescon Ltd HQ in Chattisham, Suffolk
Plescon Ltd’s Headquarters in Chattisham, Suffolk (1984-1995)

Standing on the shoulders of giants

By 1978, Plescon Ltd could take advantage of the work undertaken by the pioneers of library security and offer reliable systems that had been fine-tuned over the early years and initial problems resolved. Concentrating on public libraries, Plescon grew quickly on the ‘electronics-happy’ wave but libraries were experiencing a significant reduction in their losses, meaning the systems were paying for themselves within a relatively short period of time, and detection systems were quickly becoming an accepted part of a modern library.

Plescon and other suppliers, most notably 3M, had the advantage of working from a standing start at a time when sources of information were primarily found in books, which were the domain of libraries. Over the years, alas, this has changed…

The times they are a-changin’

The past decade has seen a huge shift in how and where people get their information from, resulting, incorrectly, in the relevance of libraries being questioned. Whether decreased funding has been a result of this perception or not, 45 years on and the landscape is hugely different, which has seen Plescon/PSP embark on a number of changes and iterations.

In 1992, Gwen Broadhead became Managing Director in the face of one of the first major challenges the company faced. Technology, as it does, had moved on and EM technology was starting to grow in popularity and overtake RF technology. Without an EM solution to offer, competitors were starting to infiltrate the public library market, which had been dominated by Plescon, so a change was needed. With the benefit of hindsight, the decision to source an EM system and design a full range of accessories around it was an obvious one, but at the time it held huge risks and could have seen the company fail.

Plescon Ltd at the Library and Information Services conference
Plescon Ltd at the Library and Information Services conference, circa 1993. (Gwen Broadhead, right)

An eye on the future

Under Gwen’s leadership and the enthusiasm and technical skill of a young Marvin Crisp (his name may ring a bell!), Plescon evolved into Plescon Security Products and developed a comprehensive EM solution, including the launch of Kwik-Issue self-service, which was, at the time, the only real competition for 3M’s range of SelfCheck machines. (It is worth noting that at the time (1999), 3M were selling lots of their SelfCheck units for around £20,000 each!) This completely refreshed the company and kept Plescon Security Products up there, trading blows with the might of 3M.

The competition within the market, and particularly between Plescon Security Products and 3M, saw systems being improved and prices levelling off. The main beneficiaries of this were the libraries, which were getting more choice, better quality and lower prices. Also, the development being undertaken by Plescon Security Products saw the introduction of the snazzily titled “Scanner mounted combined deact/react unit”! This was a low-cost and semi-automated way to quickly scan a barcode and instantaneously deactivate or reactivate an EM security strip. This opened up the school library market, which became a defining market for the company.

The new millennium saw a new technology start to emerge and it was not long before RFID started to trample all over EM and RF technology, with its potential to completely reimagine stock control and security. It is fair to say it didn’t quite live up to its hype initially but certainly piqued the interest of the library market. It is also fair to say Plescon Security Products were slow to adapt and the development of ORFID, the RFID solution created in partnership with Optical Solutions, lagged behind a number of new competitors that had entered the space and it was a slow start that the company could never truly claw back.

A changing of the guard

In 2003, after over 20 years leading the company, Gwen took a back seat and handed the Managing Director role to me, Nick Hunt, her son. We say “back seat”, but Gwen went on to oversee the design of BottleLox™, which is still used in the majority of supermarkets to protect their bottles of expensive alcohol.

As in 1991 when Gwen took over, 2003 saw the new MD facing the second major challenge for the company; fighting to get traction in the big RFID race and, by my own admission, mistakes were made. One of Gwen’s phrases she would often say to me growing up was “more haste, less speed”, which I never really understood but later found out it meant that if you try to do things too quickly it will take you longer. Advice, I concede now, I should have heeded during the first five years of my leadership.

Here are some of the ads we ran in the early 2000s…

Plescon Ltd dominoes ad
Plescon Ltd love is ad
Plescon Ltd boxer dog ad

The birth of PSP Asset Protection

On the 33rd anniversary of Plescon Ltd, the third, latest and hopefully last major change was undertaken with the launch of PSP Asset Protection Ltd. It was an opportunity to give the company a chance to restock, reset and refresh. Over the last 12 years, PSP went about its business relatively quietly, drawing on 40+ years of experience and the skills of some excellent members of staff to create a completely new portfolio of solutions and services and build a reputation as a reliable and trusted supplier.

In her 1978 article, ‘Library Security Systems Come of Age’, Nancy H. Knight prophesied that “The future for theft detection systems will be in the availability of models to fit the size and needs of all libraries”. However, since 1978 the majority of detection systems have remained very similar to their early counterparts; floor-mounted pedestals across the doorway, with the means of detection being the only thing that has changed. 

In 2017, after a lot of discussions, testing, arguing, cheering, and questioning, PSP added eRLS to their RFID offering. Using ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID, suddenly there was an option for a theft detection system available that could “fit the size and needs of all libraries”. Using small-form security panels that can be placed above doorways the need for cumbersome pedestals placed across the doors was finally replaced. Having learnt not to rest on our laurels, we recently acquired the eRLS library stock control software from our partner Babel and have relaunched ‘eRLS RFID, Powered by PSP’ as an all-new, best-in-class library security solution.

As a family business, Plescon and PSP have been part of my life since 1984. I started here in 1997, so I experienced the company when it was at its height but was also very much in the eye of the storm when things got tough. The past 5 years have been as exciting as those early days…

“It was a time of innovation back then and it felt like we couldn’t get it wrong with products really taking off. Now we have eRLS RFID, the Infiniti library management system and KwikCount backed up by an amazing team. We took our time to get things right and we’re now really benefiting from that patient approach. As someone used to say to me – more haste, less speed!”

Nick Hunt, MD, PSP Asset Protection

Bonus trivia

As a reward(?) for sticking with me right to the end, here are a couple of fun facts that have nothing to do with libraries… Number 1 on 30th November 1978 (when Plescon Ltd came into being) was ‘Da ya think I’m sexy?’ by Rod Stewart and Number 1 on 18th November 2011 (when PSP Asset Protection was registered) was ‘We found love’ by Rihanna ft Calvin Harris. Hope you found those pointless points of no-interest-whatsoever useful!

Needless to say, if you’d like to have a no-obligation chat about our library products and services and how they can make your library run more efficiently, or if you have a question about our long company history, please do get in touch as we’d love to hear from you!