What was going on with this early 90s interactive library kiosk?
August 5, 2019 3:45 AM   Subscribe

I remember there being a kiosk in the local library when I was a kid in the early/mid-90s that was my first introduction to using a touch screen. I think it involved Penn and Teller telling me to eat healthier sandwiches and I don't think I'm making this up, but I need some answers as to what this was and why it existed in the first place.

I know there are a lot of librarians on here so maybe one of you can help me:

It's somewhere between 1990 and 1996 and at the exit of my local library was this small computer kiosk. It had a touch screen where you could choose different little, semi-interactive mini-programs to run, and I remember thinking this was very futuristic, but also not especially fun, or at least not geared towards kids.

My favorite thing to do on it (not sure what this says about me) was build a sandwich. It was a program where that's what you did, you built a sandwich. It didn't involve a lot of (or any?) graphics, just choosing different toppings to put on a sandwich by selecting buttons, and then it would tell you (I guess, based on calorie count?) how healthy or unhealthy your sandwich was, depending on what bread you picked or if you put mayonnaise on it or what meat you chose or whatever.

What I'm less sure about, but also remember vividly, is that Penn and Teller were the hosts of this. They appeared in grainy FMV interstitials and would scold you or congratulate you depending on how healthy your sandwich was. Maybe give you some advice about future sandwiches.

I don't remember any of the other programs on it very well. It's possible they were all about public health or other social wellness initiative type things, but to me, this was the closest thing it had to a video game on it.

Did anyone else ever experience this? What was this thing, what would you even call it? And what was the program? Who made it? Is there any remnant of it on the internet anywhere?

I'm 99% sure I'm not making this up.
posted by StopMakingSense to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I do not remember this but I am dying to figure it out. I suspect it was regional and probably grant-supported. What library was it?
posted by jessamyn at 7:04 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

What city was this library in? Based on the time period, I'm betting this was some sort of pilot project or local initiative, and if we can ID the project we can find out more about the specific kiosk.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:58 AM on August 5, 2019

Not totally positive, but Pohick Regional in Burke, Virginia is most likely.
posted by StopMakingSense at 12:29 PM on August 5, 2019

Early '90s saw the publication of Penn & Teller's "How to Play with Your Food" (1992); mentioning on the off-chance your remembered program was part of book promotion.

I used the contact form on their website to ask about the program, but they also have an official Facebook account you might hit up.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:06 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks! The Penn and Teller connection is the part that’s most baffling but also the most tenuous in terms of my memory. Maybe it was just a tall man with a ponytail in a suit! It’s possible I’m conflating two different things, but there was definitely some FMV involved.
posted by StopMakingSense at 4:48 PM on August 5, 2019

I wasn't able to find anything, but for a next step, try contacting the library branch and/or the library system and posing this question to them. You might get somebody excited to help dig it up - or maybe even "oh, Martha's worked here since '85, she'll remember!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:29 PM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

No idea if anyone is still following this, but I got an update from the library which is a victory for my sanity, if not your own, and a testament to the genuine wonderfulness of librarians:

"Thanks for your question. I was around for part of that time period at FCPL, and remember a kiosk the larger branches had called CRIS. I mainly remember it as a place where residents could pay taxes and a few other services like that, but the library itself didn’t have much input to or connection with CRIS. I have asked several colleagues and they agree about CRIS likely being what you are thinking about- it was located near the front door of the “old” Pohick (we have since been renovated) and it did have various interactive content, though no one remembers anything about sandwiches. Having said that – we (staff) weren’t looking for sandwiches or exploring it too much, so I think your memory sounds plausible.

I found this web page - http://icasit.gmu.edu/projects/business-multimedia-kiosk-systems/county-resident-information-services-cris/ - just by searching Fairfax county cris kiosk in google. The page seems to refer to the project as current and I don’t think that is true (but I am not sure). Other parts of the demonstration links on the page though bring the kiosk back from and seem to back up the possible interactive sandwich motif.

As it happens, we have another library employee that I believe was part of the county’s CRIS team. I have forwarded your message to her in hopes that she was part of that team and that she might have further information to pass along. I will let you know what I hear back.

I hope this helps!"
posted by StopMakingSense at 7:52 PM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

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