Checking books out of state-run bookmobiles will be like a trip to the store in the near future.

Scanning devices similar to those used in modern grocery stores will be tested in a Tooele County pilot program beginning this month. State officials hope to have the system operating in 14 bookmobiles serving 25 rural counties by next spring.Utah State Library System staffers spent a week this month putting bar codes on books used in the bookmobile collections and distributing special library cards to bookmobile patrons in Tooele County.

Using the coded cards will eliminate the laborious task of writing a patron's name on each card of each book being checked out. And, it will allow library officials to keep better track of its books and notify patrons on a timely basis when books are overdue.

Paul Stokes, field services supervisor for the Utah State Library System, said Tooele was chosen to test the program because of its proximity to state headquarters in Salt Lake City and the county's strong commitment to improving library services.

"This will be the first fully automated bookmobile system not using micro-wave relays for its computers in the nation," Stokes said. "There is a lot of interest around the country in our program."

State library staffers have spent almost two years developing the system and looking for compatible computer equipment. A wand device similar to that used for performing store inventories will be used in each bookmobile. The device will record check-in and check-out information during the day's scheduled stops. When the operator returns at night, the information stored in the device will be transferred to the regular computer system.

Stokes said operators will be able to track books better and also be better aware of book availability.

Stokes said the state hopes the new, more efficient system, will increase use. Some 1.2 million books were loaned through the bookmobiles last year. He said one deterrent to past use was signing check-out cards. And, operators will no longer be burdened with the task of searching manually through boxes to find the check-in cards, allowing books to be reissued more quickly. The computer generated lists of available books will also allow operators to be more helpful in helping patrons find desired books.