With a couple pushes of a computer touch screen Thursday morning, Melody Fountila found a way to make her daily train trip to San Francisco more enjoyable.
Fountila borrowed the novel "90 Minutes in Heaven" by Don Piper from the Library-A-Go-Go book-lending machine at the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station.
The beginning of the line for East County BART commuters is the first transit station in the nation to offer such a service. State and county library officials, along with BART and civic leaders, gathered Thursday morning to unveil the new European-inspired service and see it in action.
"I was just walking by and was curious about what was going on," Fountila, of Antioch, said. "I was handed a bookmark, and figured I should get a book now." Contra Costa County library staff were at the station signing people up for library cards and passing out information about the new service.
Fountila often "reads something important or sleeps" on the hour-long trip, she said.
As the first BART commuter to use the service, she was watched carefully by Chris Saylor of Brentwood and his 17-year-old daughter, Ashley. The two were headed to San Francisco to visit the campus of her future school, The Art Institute of California.
"I think it's a really great idea; it's fantastic," Chris Saylor said, noting that books available from the machine were newer paperbacks. Ashley Saylor said she could see herself using the lending kiosk on the way to school because it was "convenient." She was ready to check out a book Thursday — library card in hand — but she had a train to catch.
The machine, which resembles an ATM, is part of the county library system. A library card is required to borrow a book, and patrons can borrow three books at a time. The kiosk handles returns but not special requests. Books must be returned after three weeks.
After accidentally hitting the cancel button on her first attempt, Fountila held her card to the scanner and followed the screen's instructions to select a book. The machine has 400 books, including fiction, nonfiction and Spanish, and the stock will be updated, library officials said.
"I think it's great, and it's simple because you don't have to go to the library," Fountila said.
Once a book is selected, the paperback comes out of a bottom slot in a see-through plastic cover similar to a video rental. The machine takes about 30 seconds for internal robotic arms to recognize and select the book.
The process is "very easy," said Anjelica Morales, 17, of Antioch, adding she normally just stares out the window on BART trips. She borrowed a book on her way to school in Concord on Thursday.
The library has sought to provide "increased services for East County, especially with its unprecedented growth," said Cathy Sanford, the county's deputy librarian for support services. Those services haven't expanded as fast as the population, she said.
A second machine is planned to open by the end of July in Discovery Bay at the Sandy Cove shopping center, while a third is planned for a transit village near the Pleasant Hill BART station in 2010. A fourth station is planned for an undetermined site in West County.
The content of the Pittsburg/Bay Point station location is geared toward commuters, while the Discovery Bay site will have children's books, Sanford said. It will have fewer titles because children's books generally are larger.
Each kiosk costs about $95,000 and is funded by California State Library and Bay Area Library and Information System grants, said state librarian Susan Hildreth.
At the behest of the county Board of Supervisors, library officials sought ways to extend service without spending money. About four years ago, Sanford's colleague, Rose-Marie Westberg of Martinez, spoke of an automated book-dispensing machine she'd seen in Stockholm, called the Bokomaten.
Paul Burgarino covers Pittsburg and Bay Point. Reach him at 925-779-7164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.