If you had a bookmobile somewhere in your childhood, you might remember the feeling. The coziness. The freedom. Here was a library that, if you added a sofa and a sink, could be a mobile home.
But if you're a city kid these days, you may go through the rest of your life without getting a bookmobile thrill - without knowing that flutter in your stomach that happens when you get to check a book out of something that moves. Without knowing the satisfaction of having a library come to you instead of the other way around.When children's author Virginia Sorenson visited Salt Lake recently, making an appearance at the Open Classroom at Garfield School, she told the sixth graders of her fond memories of the bookmobiles of her youth.
The children listened raptly as Sorenson spoke of what an Event bookmobile day was. She told them about the little boy who brought a red wagon to carry home his books and of the African woman who carried books in a basket on her head. These were colorful stories and the children were fascinated. But there was this one nagging question, which one of them finally mentioned:
"What's a bookmobile?"
That's when teacher Carolyn Turkanis realized that the bookmobile, like cows and cornfields, had become another victim of urbanization. Unlike cows and cornfields, however, you can't easily drive out to the country to see one.
The Salt Lake County Library System does have one bookmobile, which travels to places - like Bluffdale and Little Cottonwood Canyon - whose residents don't have easy access to a regular library. The Utah State Library has 15 bookmobiles that travel to the state's more remote corners. But the Salt Lake City Library discontinued its bookmobile service after opening two new branch libraries in 1985.
So Turkanis arranged for the State Library to bring one of its bookmobiles to Garfield Elementary School on 15th East. Because the bookmobile wouldn't be coming back, the students weren't allowed to actually check out books. But they listened as Paul Stokes, the State Library's development manager, explained that the state's bookmobile drivers last year brought 1.5 million books to Utah's small towns.
"Our philosophy," explained Stokes, "is that we need to get books into the hands of the people." That's why the bookmobiles don't charge fines and why they let their patrons check out as many books as they can lug out.
Bookmobiles also have different sets of problems from libraries that stay put. Occasionally, Stokes explained, bookmobiles on the move have to swerve suddenly to avoid hitting cars that aren't paying attention. That's when you suddenly end up with a waist-high pile of books in the middle of the floor.