After 20 years of improvement, the Yellow Pages deserve some respect. At least, Scott L. Bringhurst Jr., who has witnessed the changes, thinks so.

The latest edition is loaded with new features, which have been clouded by errors discovered by phone users. And that bothers Bringhurst, sales director for US WEST Direct's Utah operation."I get a little frustrated when we get bad press after spending a lot of time and effort for something very valuable to the community," he said.

On the other hand, this year marks the first time Bringhurst recalls receiving compliments on the latest edition of Yellow Pages.

He said praise has poured in for the slick, four-color section in the front of the book promoting Utah's tourist attractions. Compliments have also been received for the easier-to-find street directory and the alphabetized markers on the edge of the pages.

But, when you leave out the street guide one year, don't include West Valley City on the map the next year, then don't put in enough of the city the following year, and get a couple of historical site addresses wrong, the benefits of added features don't get much attention.

Bringhurst doesn't discount the errors. He hates them as much as anyone. That's why he promises they will become fewer each year as US WEST Direct continues to perfect its product.

"This is a constant refining process," he said.

Surveys of Yellow Page users will continue to find ways of improving and refining, with the objective of creating a phone directory where consumers can find what they need to know as quickly as possible.

Surveying the public led to changes in this year's Yellow Page directory: an index tab to make it easier to find the street guide and subject index, and the shaded page edges indicating the alphabetized sections of the book. Bringhurst won't disclose proposed changes for next year's directory already in the making.

As more than 1 million directories are distributed throughout the state, the US WEST sales force has already started soliciting listings in the 1989-90 book. Outlying areas in the state will be canvassed first, then after the first of the year, the entire sales crew will comb the Wasatch Front for advertisers.

Bringhurst said the Yellow Pages directory has come a long ways from when it was printed from ink on hot lead. Along with the implementation of computers in producing the directory, paper and printing quality has improved, which always helps advertising sales.

The push for perfection is driven by competition, US WEST Direct says. Although the phone giant has ruled the directory listing market for 80 years, it insists competition is out there (see accompanying story), which is why it won't disclose the costs or revenues associated with producing Yellow Pages.

Bringhurst said costs run in the thousands and US WEST Direct is a significant contributor to the phone company's bottom line. US WEST Direct is a subsidiary of US WEST and sister company to US WEST Communications, formerly Mountain Bell.

All the US WEST phone books are published in Denver and many of the directories in US WEST's 14-state area are similar. But Bringhurst said the 25-page street guide in the Salt Lake directory does make this market unique.

"I'm not positive, but this is probably the only book with a street guide this size; at least (it is) in US WEST's 14-state area," he said.

Two years ago, US WEST's head office tried to make the Salt Lake book like all the others - just a few pages of street maps - Bringhurst heard the outcry and the old guide has since returned and will never leave.

"It adds to the cost of the book, but it's an important part of the community, and this demonstrates we are interested in what they (customers) want and need.

Bringhurst said that commitment is why they have spent the time and money producing the special sections and will continue to improve them.