All Sheila Dixon wanted to do was give her daughter a head start on a science project. What better place to go than the library? Instead of books, she and 14-year-old Melinda discovered a truth about computers: Don't trust em.

At least the Dixons wound up with enough time on their hands to make some new friends.

On a recent Sunday at the Phoenix Public Library's main branch at Central and McDowell, Sheila and Melinda had walked over to the bank of computers that now serves as the library's card catalogue. They were excited but their fervor soon was dashed.

Library officials had draped a sign over each of the terminals. "Computers are down," each of the signs read.

Oh, well, there was always the card catalogue. Sheila knew the library hadn't been making new entries to it for a year or two. But she supposed the old-fashioned paper method would be the next best thing. Wrong.

The cards from the library's mammoth catalogue still exist. But they're in random piles for use as scratch paper at the computers. Which were down. (Excuse me, which aisle do I go to find the computer manuals?)

Sheila and Melinda had another option: Wander through the library searching for books on astronomy whose call numbers they didn't know. They decided to wait it out. The computers couldn't stay "down" for long. Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty. The handful of folks waiting for access to the machines grew to a few dozen. It was a hot August afternoon. The scent of rebellion was in the air.

"This stinks," Sheila Dixon said to no one in particular. "It's like we're stuck here until the computer decides it wants to work."
When would that be? For once, the reference librarians were stumped. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I can't answer that question," one of them told her and the increasingly restless crowd.

"I been coming here every Sunday since 67," a gentleman named Ralph Johnson told Sheila, "and this just don't cut it. I don't mind a little technology, but it had better work. Last Sunday, it was down the whole day."
Is that true, or was this a momentary glitch in Progress?
City librarian Ralph Edwards says the library's computers went down just twice in the month of August: "Unfortunately, both times happened to be on Sundays--a very busy day for us. It's very unfortunate, but computers occasionally do go down."

(As for the retired card catalogue, Edwards says, "I personally would have liked to keep it out there longer, but the staff on the floor said it was too outdated and was giving out wrong information.)

By the time the computers got revved up again that Sunday--90 minutes or so after the library opened--Melinda Dixon wasn't so excited about her science project.

"Mom, you said we'd be done by 3," she whined. "I've got a lot of stuff to do."
An exasperated Sheila agreed.
"We're out of here," she said to her new acquaintances. "See you some other time."



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