The Contra Costa County Library is offering book lending machines through a program it's dubbed "Library-a-Go-Go." The machine - which will be the first of its kind in the country - is scheduled to appear in May at the Pittsburg Bay Point BART station.
It works just like an ATM: You hold your library card up to the machine's digital reader and make a selection on the touch screen; then the machine's robotic arms will grab the book and spit it out through an open slot.
"And off you go on your merry way," said deputy county librarian Cathy Sanford.
You return the book to the same machine, by sticking it back in the slot where the arms will grab it back up.
The idea behind the program is twofold: to encourage reading by making it more convenient to borrow books, and to extend services to towns and communities that don't have libraries of their own.
Sanford said Library-a-Go-Go is a pilot program, and its success will determine if the plan is pushed out to the rest of the state.
"I remember when ATMs first came along, I didn't use them for years because I thought, 'I want to go to a teller!'" said BART public information officer Luna Salaver.
But she said the book lending machines won't be replacing people or jobs. They're meant to support commuters that read on the train.
"There's something to be said for reading a book," she mused. "You can read a book without satellite, without electricity. When push comes to shove, it's the old-fashioned way of getting information - and escaping."
The library decided to partner with BART partly because of the county's infamous commute.
"Contra Costa County," Sanford said, "the highest commute west of the Mississippi River."
But that's not the only reason this is right up the public transit company's alley.
"BART has a rich history of being in the technological forefront," said Salaver. "This book lending machine is just another part of that."
The technology behind the book machines comes from a company in Sweden. There, and in other Scandinavian countries, they have been successfully using similar machines for several years, Sanford said.
Roughly the size of an outdoor portable ATM, one machine can hold around 400 books. The collection in each machine is chosen based on the interests of the community where it's located.
A machine will be put in the shopping center in Discovery Bay, also in May, and one is planned for the Pleasant Hill BART transit village in about two years.
Seng Lovan, branch librarian at the Danville Public Library, said these areas have a demand for library services that isn't being met, and "there's a lot of enthusiasm from the community."
The book lending machines will be accessible to anyone with a Contra Costa County Library card, and the regular library rules and regulations will apply.
BART also announced last week that it is improving the magnetic stripe on its tickets in response to mounting complaints about them becoming demagnetized.
The company receives about 250 complaints a day from commuters whose remaining fare has been erased from their ticket, said BART chief spokesman Linton Johnson.
The BART board approved a contract last week to buy 180 million new tickets. The magnetic part of the new tickets will be nine times stronger than before. Other than that, the tickets will look exactly the same, Johnson said.
He said with the proliferation of cell phones, iPods and other devices, the problem is getting larger and larger. Before BART launched its public information campaign to warn riders about demagnetization, it was receiving up to 800 complaints a day.
The transition is expected to be complete toward the end of this year.