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"Books still account for the most significant amount of space in a library, and I think they will in twenty years," Edwards says. "We'll still have lots of books and magazines and all that stuff."

Based on interviews with the architect and others involved, as well as a sampling of some of the suggestions made during opinion-gathering meetings, it's possible to predict some of the unusual, exciting or just plain weird features to be built into phase one of Phoenix's new central library.

For starters, the card catalogue is history. Computer terminals located around the building will allow library users to electronically cruise the stacks, an activity that almost surely will be made easier by a more user-friendly approach to book storage. Bruder is well aware that an aging population will change the shape of public places. Someday, he says, "we are all going to be differently abled." Based on his discussions with that user-group, Bruder will devote special attention to lighting, signs, desk height and aisle width. Ramps likely will replace many steps. Some chair seats will be raised to make seating more comfortable for arthritis sufferers.

Chief among gripes with the current library are book-drop inconveniences and parking hassles. A drive-up book drop is a possibility (a conveyor belt would run returned books back to the circulation department) in the new building, which probably will have its own parking garage of approximately 500 spaces, to be used by both patrons and staffers.

The current library at Central and McDowell shares 260 spaces with the Little Theatre and Art Museum. Bruder estimates that more than 90 percent of the new library's patrons will arrive by car. By the time the new building reaches its twenty-year expansion phase, a rapid transit terminal could be included in the plan.

Expect the library's video collection, now not much more than a drab pile of black boxes, to look more like your corner video store.

Service lines in reference areas will be replaced by take-a-number systems now used by ice cream stores and butcher shops.

Self-guided tours of the library will be conducted via cassette-tape headsets, much like tours of Carlsbad Caverns.

Somewhere, there probably will be room for a snack bar. SO, BRUDER'S clear-plastic box begins to look a little like a shopping mall. That's not too far off, he says. Malls are just about the only places where the people congregate anymore, and this library should be just that kind of attraction. The central library already currently educates and entertains a diverse mob of citizens. The new library, riding high above Central Avenue and bordering the splashy new Deck Park, is expected to be an even bigger draw. "Of all the cultural facilities, it's going to the one most used, by an enormous cross section of the population," says ASU's Meunier. "Everything from the homeless to the best educated, wealthiest member of the community will use that library in one way or another."

And people like Julian Dotson, age fifteen, who on a recent day was sitting just off the old library's little courtyard, paging through a paperback. He had a Walkman plugged into his ears and a book report due in a few hours. Dotson, who didn't know a new library was in the works, didn't seem all that pleased with the idea of making the new library into more of a popular gathering place, complete with its own snack bar. The library is a place he comes to get things done.

"I come to get away from everything," says Dotson, a freshman at North High. "Nobody really comes here, and it's quiet. I have no quarrels with this library. It's big enough. It's got everything I need."

Aside from the Park Plaza hubbub, there's been little significant press coverage of the new library. Other library users interviewed recently by New Times seemed equally surprised that the old building will be replaced. They also were equally unaware of the city's supposedly elaborate "programming" procedure of gathering public opinion.

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Dave Walker