The library system in Utah County is unique. All libraries are owned, operated and funded by the individual cities, and nothing ties the county's libraries together. Since some libraries have better facilities than others, state officials want those facilities available to everyone.

At the last Utah County Council of Governments meeting, local leaders decided to set up a committee to study local library problems.State library officials say the lack of cooperative tie-ins between cities limits access to library facilities.

Cities do sell library cards to non-residents. But State Library Director Amy Owen said there is no countywide program providing residents with access to several libraries, something most of Utah's counties have.

"Anyone can use materials while inside the library. The problem comes when people want to check materials out," Owen said.

Of the state's more populated counties, Utah County is the only one that does not assess a certified library tax rate. Salt Lake County spends more than $7 million on library service, Weber County about $2 million and Davis County about $1.5 million. Utah County spends about $50,000 on the Bookmobile.

Combining Salt Lake City, Murray and surrounding areas, more than $12 million is spent in Salt Lake County for library service. Combining Utah County's library budget with those of all the county's cities, about $2 million is spent locally on library service. Orem is the only area city that spends more per capita than the state average.

Another problem surfacing in Utah County is the smaller cities' dependence on the larger cities for library service, with the likes of Mapleton, Salem, Alpine and Highland unable afford to fund an adequate library. However, the larger cities no longer want to subsidize library service for the smaller cities.

"No library wants to turn people away. But for money reasons that is what is happening, and it's an issue that's surfacing in a lot of counties right now," Owen said.

Those living in the smaller cities say they should have access to neighboring cities' libraries because they do most of their shopping in those towns.

The problem became evident last year when Alpine and Highland battled American Fork over library fees. American Fork wanted both cities to contribute to its library budget, saying more than 25 percent of those using its library are Highland and Alpine residents.

Highland and Alpine officials said if they were going to contribute funds, they wanted a say in how the money was spent and some ownership of the assets they were helping to purchase. The result: American Fork Library now has the most expensive non-resident library card in the county.

"If (contributing to another city's library budget) is not what we feel is best for our citizens, then we are stuck out in the cold," Highland Mayor James Hewlett said.

Owen said there are several possible solutions to the county's library problems. The most logical - an intergovernmental agreement between cities or an agreement between the county and several cities for compensation for library services provided.

For example, Carbon County reimburses the Price City Library $15 for each library card issued to a county resident. A similar scenario would be for Utah County to reimburse the Orem and Provo libraries $15 for every library card issued to a non-Provo/Orem county resident.

"There are quite a few of our citizens who would be interested in something like that," Alpine Mayor Elaine Barnes said.

However, this solution has problems also. Provo and Orem residents become upset when their library becomes overcrowded with people from other cities. Because of overcrowding, Orem and Provo are both considering library expansions.

Also, county commissioners have resisted efforts to increase taxes in the past and would likely do the same if asked to increase taxes to subsidize library use.

"Utah County residents are just starting to let their communities know how important library service is to them. So it may take several years before a complete solution evolves," Owen said.


(Additional information)

Library funding comparison

1989 library budget Expenditure per capita

Utah County $51,670 $2.50

Santaquin $6,978 $2.58

Pleasant Grove $60,009 $3.20

Payson $59,280 $6.06

Lehi $64,241 $7.79

American Fork $169,430 $8.37

Provo $709,680 $9.69

Spanish Fork $113,366 $10.17

Springville $176,786 $13.10

Orem $974,047 $15.12

State average expenditure per capita - $13.64.Fee for annual family non-resident library cards.

Source: The State Library System

Fee for annual family non-resident library cards.

American Fork $56

Pleasant Grove $25

Lehi $25

Orem $25

Provo $25

Springville $25

Spanish Fork $10

Payson $10