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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK


Robo-librarian books late returners

The automated system should keep more books on the shelves

Next time your library book runs overdue, watch out, robo-librarian could be on your trail.

Robo-librarian: soft cop
An automated system has been developed which telephones offenders to remind them of their misdemeanour.

The first message is a polite reminder, but if the book is not returned, a "more aggressive" message is despatched. It would be possible for the calls to be made at unsociable times.

Robo-librarian: hard cop
The system was devised by a New Zealand company, Talking Technologies, and is on show at the Library and Information Show (LIS), at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, UK.

Cheap and chatty

Ray Stark, of Talking Technologies, says the system is cheaper than posting letters and does not just chase late books, but can inform library users of reservations that have come in. It can also take messages from borrowers wanting to renew books.

Robo-librarian: friendly cop
The system is certainly persistent - it can talk to people, answerphones, fax machines and email addresses and redials engaged numbers until it gets through. If a number is wrong, it tells the administrator.

Other uses envisaged for the robot telephonist are informing bank customers of overdrawn accounts, sending out local authority information such as forthcoming road works and possibly the automatic collection of poll information.

[ image: Human librarians now have cyber assistance]
Human librarians now have cyber assistance
However, one regular library user told BBC News Online they would not welcome being called by a computer: "It's too impersonal. I'm used to being sent email by a computer but being spoken to by a computer is different."

Book finder

The LIS also featured a web-based program which helps bookworms find fiction to their taste.

"Forager" asks borrowers to describe the kind of book they want - frightening, optimistic, weird, sexy etc. - and then makes suggestions.

It has been developed by Applied Psychology Research and its multi-media specialist, John Turner said: "It allows people to choose up to 20 million different combinations of factors. Forager will then automatically suggest the books which most closely match their needs."

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