Sanpete Bookmobile on the road in Nephi Canyon

On the Road Again With Utah’s Bookmobiles

By Renée Leta

The road trip is a quintessential summer activity for many Utah families, but the day-to-day routes of Utah’s bookmobile librarians rival these epic journeys. For example, U.S. 89 is the longest highway in the state, covering more than 500 miles through the central part of the state. Approximately one-fifth of the road runs north to south through the Sanpete Valley. Each year, the Sanpete Bookmobile clocks more than 10,000 miles. 

“One of my favorite stops is in Centerfield at the church on Highway 89,” says 19-year veteran librarian Jim Ericksen, who drives the Sanpete Bookmobile. Centerfield, located two miles south of Gunnison, is home to approximately 250 families. The stop in town offers enough room for parking the library truck, as well as patrons’ cars.

”The bookmobile is a gathering place.”

— Jim Ericksen, Sanpete Bookmobile librarian

“It is a time that people in the community can visit with each other, catch up with friends they don’t see otherwise, and share information about books they like,” he said.

For more than 60 years, the Utah State Library Division’s bookmobiles have serviced rural communities. Currently, the state operates a fleet of five large trucks designed to reach remote areas, each with a headquarters library. The Sanpete County Bookmobile carries some 5,000 books at a time, a selection curated for all ages of readers, designed to augment school libraries. There’s also another 25,000 items available at the county’s headquarters library.

A casual photo of Jim Ericksen, Sanpete County librarian and bookmobile driver.

In addition, patrons can place holds on books, order books online through the state’s catalog system, and access interlibrary loans from other states. 

“It is fun to work with people and families who come aboard,” Ericksen says. “Most of our patrons prefer to have a book in their hands versus a device to swipe and read.” 

A partnership between the Utah State Library and Sanpete County funds the bookmobile, with additional grants from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as cooperation from local schools. 

“Our [county] commissioners recognized that in a small community like Wells, patrons might be 15-20 miles from the closest library,” Ericksen says. 

Despite weather, scheduling, and sometimes logistical problems, the Sanpete Bookmobile provides valuable access to books, with a schedule of 24 stops every two weeks.

The Sanpete Bookmobile route stops at 10 schools, the most school visits of the state’s bookmobile routes. Homeschooling families are also invited to take advantage of the program. Of the nonfiction book checkouts, student select about 60 percent of those. Fiction stories in the form of graphic novels are becomeing increasing popular, Ericksen says.

“Whether it is ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Wings of Fire,’ or ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ junior book series are popular and helpful for students who have trouble getting into reading,” Ericksen says. “Access to books, especially during the summer, helps students stay on grade level and keep their mind active.” 

Discover: Learn more about the state’s summer reading programs or the services offered by Utah’s bookmobiles.