Library makes mall shopping virtually complete Check out the Internet or a book at kiosk

September 20, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Their eyes on store windows or on their small children, passers-by at Towson Town Center mall seemed to take little notice yesterday of the kiosk near one of the escalators -- despite the flashing computer screen, keyboard and telephone receiver.

But the $35,000 device, which looks like a bank machine, may be a glimpse of the county library system's future.

Starting today, mall patrons can, by merely touching the screen, call any county library or county office, apply for a library card, reserve a book or check its availability, and get information on anything from their favorite chocolate candy to the latest Consumer Reports article on something they want to buy.

Access to the Internet is free, too, and library officials say it's the first such public device in Maryland to offer free graphic Internet access. With a few coins or a charge card, people can order and print out tax forms, copy a document and fax papers.

A 15-minute time limit is intended to permit many people to use the service.

If the first-time experiment works, the library may plant similar devices all around the county.

"What we see here is a precursor of a whole new library service," said Jim Fish, the county library director.

Library computer expert Michael W. Stevens said that providing fast, convenient access, information and interaction with local government and services -- including Internet access to mall stores' web pages -- "is where we can carve a niche for ourselves."

"It's the hot issue in libraries right now," Stevens said. If people can look up magazines or books on America Online, "what's left for libraries?" he asked.

The gray metal kiosk, outside the camera store near the escalators on the mall's lower level, could be considered the first new library branch the county has opened since closing the Loch Raven library, along with eight other minilibraries, in 1993.

"It's a virtual branch," Fish says. The county library system has 15 branches.

Cassandra McLean, 35, a mall employee who stopped yesterday to look at the kiosk said, "I'm just curious about it. I wouldn't use it myself."

Garry Hermann, 33, a Baldwin businessman, was intrigued.

"It's amazing stuff, pretty interesting," he said.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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