The Bookmobile of the Last Frontier

Fairbanks North Star Borough Connects Communities Through Bookmobile Program

Tucked away in the Interior Region of Alaska lies Fairbanks, the second largest city in size found within the state. With Fairbanks serving as home to roughly 100,000 people and miles of rugged wilderness, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Libraries work to keep the city and outlying communities connected through their bookmobile and its affiliated programs while providing patrons with camaraderie.

Bookmobile History
FNSB’s bookmobile program originated in the 1970s with the same mission they champion today: to serve homebound individuals and to reach outlying communities. In the early days of the program, bookmobile staff would travel as far as 130 miles down the Denali Highway to Denali Park Village and serve the seasonal workers. Staff members would make this trip several times during the summer, staying the night and heading back to Fairbanks the following day. Today, the farthest the program reaches is the town of Salcha, which is about 36 miles away with a population of roughly 1,000 people. Some areas they assist are much smaller with just a few hundred residents. While the communities they serve may vary in size and population, they are all connected by the commonality that none of them have a permanent library branch to visit.

Photo credit: Explore Fairbanks, Alaska

FNSB Programs
The bookmobile carries a variety of items for children, young adults, and adults with a rotating inventory straight from the Noel Wien Library’s full collection. These materials are checked-out for approximately one month at a time and can be returned to the bookmobile, the Noel Wien Library, or the North Pole Branch. Patrons are able to make requests for materials, place holds, request inter-library loans, and get their library card all while visiting the vehicle. The bookmobile serves between 100-150 patrons per month which includes homebound visits, mini-libraries, and scheduled stops where people can board the bookmobile and browse.

They also run the Homebound program from their bookmobile, which delivers books in large and regular print, books on CD/player, and other multimedia to those who are unable to leave their homes. The bookmobile also visits nursing homes, assisted living centers, and senior apartments among others. Services are only cancelled if road conditions become hazardous or the temperature drops to -30 degrees Farenheit or more.

Photo credit: Explore Fairbanks, Alaska

The Bookmobile
Fairbanks utilized their original bookmobile until it was decommissioned in the late ‘80s. In the mid-1990s, they purchased a new van that was renovated locally and served the libraries until the purchase of their LDV-built bookmobile in 2014. For their new vehicle, FNSB chose a Ford E-450 chassis, giving them a spacious interior to work within. The interior features a variety of bookshelves including CD/DVD media shelves, oversize and picture book bin shelves, pre-order book shelves, and narrow book shelves. They chose to include a wheelchair accessible door and two passenger access doors, enabling all patrons the ability to enjoy the bookmobile. A gas-fired furnace and a 65,000 BTU engine-driven hot water heater help keep things warm while serving the cold Alaskan frontier. To finish it off, a welcoming LED “Open” sign lets everyone know that the bookmobile is ready for patrons.

Fairbanks’ bookmobile program perfectly exemplifies how a bookmobile can be both a mobile library and a tool to connect communities no matter the distance between them. Visit the website for Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Libraries to learn more about their programs. Learn more about the Fairbanks LDV-built bookmobile and others by visiting our webpage today.