Utah's college and university libraries have been at the bottom of the priority heap for so long that it will take at least $73 million to bring them up to a par, a statewide library study concludes.

Conditions have deteriorated so much that consultants evaluating the nine college and university libraries only labeled projects to upgrade them as "critical" and "most critical."And, while the study focused on college and university libraries, it said that public school and public libraries also suffer from widespread problems.

"The lack of priority in Utah for libraries at all levels is acute. Libraries at all levels are in critical need of support. The study team's observations indicate that Utah is at or near the bottom nationally in support of public school libraries, which are vital components in the entire educational system," the study said.

The study, which was just released to the State Board of Regents, was mandated by the 1988 Legislature after the colleges and universities requested $170 million to upgrade their libraries. The Legislature wanted to know the extent of the problems and how emerging technology could ease the space crunch.

For years the schools had worried about dwindling state funds for libraries, complaining their accreditation was jeopardized because of inadequate staffing, space and collections.

The study, conducted by Gillies Stransky Brems Architects in association with RMG Consultants, involved a steering committee with representatives from the Division of Facilities Construction and Management, the regents, the State Library, State Office of Education and the colleges and universities.

Among the major findings in the massive study are that higher education libraries desperately need additional space; all have operating budgets far below national standards; all have collections that fall far below the accepted national norms; and investments in technology could not substitute for building space, improved library collections and adequate staffing.

The study places Salt Lake Community College at greatest need, mainly because it has no facility and houses its books in converted space in a classroom building.

But, the study said, the depth of the problem can be illustrated by the fact the University of Utah and Utah State University, which the study ranked in the middle of priorities for projects, have library collections "which have been in a state of decline for years."

The U. ranks 96th out of 106th in collections size among the Association of Research Libraries, the study reported. That ranking is a dramatic plunge from 1976 when the U. ranked 40th.

Without immediate attention, the U. could be disqualified as a research library by the ARL, the study said.

The study also reported that Utah library budgets are anemic, ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent of the institution's total education and general expenditures. National standards indicate that level should be 6 percent, the report said.

When the U.'s Marriott Library opened in 1968, its funding level was 6.8 percent. That has dropped to 2.3 percent.

Citing inadequate collections at all libraries, the study said "the libraries lack the basic core collections required for the most frequent use by students."

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