Libraries Will Soon Move Into Bay Area BART StationsBy Connie Kim
It's another sign of the future where computers and machines are taking the place of people. This time, we may be saying goodbye to our neighborhood librarian.
The Contra Costa County Library plans to unveil automated book-lending machines, a first in the country. Similar to ATMs, users simply insert a library card, select the book they want and wait for the machine to spit out the novel of their choice. When they're done reading the book, they return it at the same machine within three weeks just as they would at a traditional library.
It's not only easy to use, but also easy to access. CCC Library is working with BART to put the machines at BART stations and shopping centers. The first Library-a-Go-Go machine will be available at the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station sometime in April.
"This is a fantastic idea," said chairman and District V Supervisor Federal D. Glover. "It just makes so much sense to bring books right to the people, especially in the Bay Area, where we average the second-longest commute in the country."
The first phase will put machines at three other locations, including the transit village at the BART station in Pleasant Hill, a site in Byron/Discovery Bay and a fourth location that has yet to be decided.
The idea is perfect for the far eastern area of Contra Costa County, such as Discovery Bay, Byron Knightsen and Bethel Island, where brick and mortar libraries are lacking. Readers would be able to take advantage of the service without ever having to drive to a building that would cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars it doesn't have.
Anyone with a CCC Library card will be able to check out and return books at the machines for free.
"Library-a-Go-Go offers passengers a library experience that is fast, available at convenient hours, easy-to-use and customer-focused," said BART District 2 director Joel Keller.
The same rules apply to Library-a-Go-Go users as those who use a traditional CCC Library; they can check out each book for three weeks, and if they're overdue, they have to pay a fine, which can be done online.
The machines at BART stations will hold about 400 popular and best-selling titles, both fiction and nonfiction, and will be accessible during BART hours. The one at Discovery Bay will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will hold about 270 books, including children's books, which take up more room than adult books, according to Cathy Sanford, Deputy County Librarian.
Once the machines are installed, staff will be available onsite for about a month to get people registered with library cards and to answer any questions about using the machines, Sanford said.
CCC Library is using grants it received to buy the machines, which cost a little under $100,000 each. Costs of maintaining them will be minimal, because they can be monitored remotely from the main branch in Pleasant Hill, Sanford said.
CCC Library will be the first in the nation to buy and use the machines. Another library in Westchester County, N.Y. has been testing one internally for about six months. It hopes to buy one in the future, but Westchester Library officials did not have a timeline.
The machines were created in 2004 by Distec, headquartered in Sweden. They're already being used in Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Copyright ©2008 NBC 11. Published 02/14/2008.