Glad You Asked: You have a bookstore? In the digital age?

By Mark Milligan

July 2016 brought the end of an era at the Utah Geological Survey, with the discontinuation of UGS publications on compact disc (CD). For about the past 15 years, the CD has been the primary format for UGS publications. During that time, we have also provided our publications free of charge through the UGS website.

Now, with the decline in popularity of the CD as a data storage medium, we are focusing our efforts on online publishing.

With few exceptions, all new UGS publications are being released as digital files through our website. The publications can be accessed and downloaded from our new, searchable UGS Publications Database (

At a customer’s request, the UGS can provide the digital publication files on a USB flash drive; this service is available for a nominal fee through the Natural Resources Map & Bookstore. Also, customers can continue to purchase print-on-demand copies of UGS publications through the bookstore.

Yes, the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) has a bookstore, the Natural Resources Map & Bookstore in Salt Lake City.

Why does the UGS have a bookstore?  State law mandates the UGS to “…prepare, publish, distribute, and sell maps, reports, and bulletins, embodying the work accomplished by the survey…” The Survey was founded in 1949 and originally sold publications from a sales desk in its office, then located on the University of Utah campus. The original “desk top” sales model lasted until 1992, shortly after the Survey moved its headquarters to Foothill Drive. The new offices included a “sales floor” for selling the roughly 1,300 maps, books, pamphlets, brochures, and various other publications the Survey had produced by that time.

Shortly after the Survey opened this sales floor, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) closed its Salt Lake City sales office and donated its entire inventory of topographic maps and geologic publications to the UGS. The volume of material received was enormous. Just the 7.5-minute quadrangle topographic maps included over 1,500 unique titles and a total inventory numbering in the tens of thousands. Thus the sales floor expanded, additional staff were hired, and the “modern” UGS bookstore was born. In 1996 the Survey, along with the map and bookstore, moved to its current location in the Department of Natural Resources building on North Temple.

But aren’t UGS publications available online? Most of them are. The Survey’s publication count now exceeds 2,300. Our publications have gone from print only, to primarily compact disc, to most recently digital files released through our website (see sidebar). Nearly all of our older publications are also available as scanned digital files on our website. Similarly, USGS topographic maps are available digitally from multiple sources online.

However, this wealth of online information has not caused our brick and mortar bookstore to perish. Sales decreased with the Great Recession, beginning in 2008, but have slowly increased since 2012. The Natural Resources Map & Bookstore’s survival in the digital age appears to be an example of an industry trend. Local, independent bookstores across the country have reported growth for several years, and a February 2016 article in Publishers Weekly reports that bookstore sales (including chain stores) rose 2.5 percent in 2015, though this was the first gain since 2007.

What is available at the bookstore? The bookstore carries a variety of books, maps, and publications by the UGS and other government entities, as well as private publishers. Specifically, the bookstore:

  • Carries or can print on demand any of the UGS’s 2,300-plus geologic books, maps, and other publications.
  • Sells government publications from other divisions of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, as well as the USGS, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies.
  • Stocks more than 1,500 USGS topographic maps and can print on demand any of the more than 55,000 topographic maps for the entire United States.
  • Specializes in books and maps for and about outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing, hiking, off-highway vehicles, rockhounding, and other activities.
  • Includes a unique collection of Utah-centric books on history and folklore; birds, flowers, and other flora and fauna; outdoor survival and orienteering; treasure hunting (not limited to rocks and minerals); wild game and outdoor cooking; petroglyphs and associated rock art; and more.
  • Prints or photocopies any of the 14,000 items cataloged in the UGS Library.
  • Sells Utah State Parks annual passes and Utah non-resident off-highway vehicle permits.
  • Takes both online and phone-in orders and will ship worldwide.

Why do customers still come in? There are probably as many reasons as there are customers. But here is a short list of some advantages of paper and other reasons to shop at the Natural Resources Map & Bookstore:

  • Go Big! Maps printed on a large sheet of paper can be much easier to use. Scrolling around the screen of a portable device or even a desktop computer is cumbersome and literally does not provide a big picture. Most home printers are limited to letter or legal-sized sheets of paper. The bookstore can print up to 36 inches in width and practically unlimited length.
  • Research yields some conflicting results but reading from paper arguably yields better comprehension than reading on a digital device. If nothing else, customers may find it easier to highlight and annotate printed material.
  • Desktop computers cannot be used outdoors and not everyone has a portable device.
  • Portable devices can be fragile and expensive. Using them in harsh environments while hunting, fishing, or doing fieldwork can damage or destroy them.
  • Paper can be easier to read than a screen in the bright light conditions found outside.
  • Paper pamphlets can work better than providing an on-screen link for takeaway information at public meetings. For example, customers presenting at neighborhood emergency preparedness fairs often use our informative pamphlets on rockfalls, landslides, earthquakes, and other hazards.
  • Some items are not available online. Although nearly all of the bookstore’s government publications are digital, many of the recreation and historical books are not.
  • Browsing! There is still a place for the not yet lost art of perusing spines and thumbing through printed paper books. The store stocks an eclectic collection. Come in and you may find a gem such as Wanted!: Wanted Posters of the Old West, which includes posters for “‘One Fingered’ George, a big, dark complexioned man” who has “pit of back and legs hair, walks very erect,” and “is wanted for murder,” or “Robert Paul Campbell who has a dimple in chin, soft peculiar voice, and a good set of teeth; takes short steps and lifts feet quickly,” and is “wanted for seduction under promise of marriage.” Sound intriguing? Come in and see what you can find.

Survey Notes, v. 49 no. 1, January 2017