If a library is the yardstick for measuring the prestige of a college or university, as educators and others have long held, then Utah's seats of higher learning are in big trouble.

Why?Because a long-awaited study released to the state Board of Regents says the development of college and university libraries has been at the bottom of the priority list for so long that it will take $73 million to bring them up to standard.

So long have library development projects been delayed that no longer are there any options for putting off action - all nine projects recommended in the study are critical.

"All libraries require some facilities enhancement, such as additional space in the form of remodeling, additions to existing facilities, construction of separate new facilities." But physical facilities were only part of the study. Library collections also were considered.

The study, made by Gillies Stransky Brems Architects and RMG Consultants Inc., considered libraries at all state-owned colleges and universities. Although the study focused on these libraries, it also said public school and public libraries have widespread problems.

"The ranking of the library projects is really a list of nine projects from most critical to critical. If any of these projects are delayed or adequate budget support is not forthcoming, library resources will not be adequate to support the curricula of each institution," the study says.

Major findings are that higher education libraries desperately need additional space; all have operating budgets far below national standards; all have collections falling far below the accepted national norms; and investments in technology could not substitute for building space and adequate staffing.

The plight of Utah's two research libraries - at the U. of U. and USU -demonstrate the seriousness of the matter. ". . . the library collections at the U. of U. and USU have been in a state of decline for a number of years," the study says. These two research libraries are extremely important for the services they provide to all of the libraries in the state, particularly with regard to research and the support of the other college and public libraries. These libraries are important factors not only in attracting and retaining research grants, faculty and research staffs within these institutions, but also in supporting private and industrial research and development in Utah.

The U. of U. library, for example, ranks 96 out of 106 in collections size among the Association of Research Libraries. It has fallen to 96th from 40th in 1976, and without immediate attention the U. could be disqualified by the association as a research library.

With such high stakes involved and much to lose, something must be done to rescue the libraries from their problems. But when and how much?

Identifying a problem and paying for a remedy are vastly different tasks, as legislators know. And this is especially the case, given the state's sluggish financial situation.

But the Legislature must grapple with the problem and come up with some answers. The study makes it abundantly clear that the problem won't go away - it just worsens.