A $20.6 million budget request was approved Monday for the Salt Lake County library system for 1999.

Approved by the County Library Board during a meeting at Holladay Branch Library, the budget represents about a 4.4 percent increase over this year's $19.7 million budget.Mary Callaghan, a library board member and county commissioner, abstained from voting on the budget. She and Commissioners Brent Overson and Randy Horiuchi will be asked to consider the budget along with requests from other county agencies.

Library system director Eileen B. Longsworth said the $20.6 million request includes money for new positions to open the Riverton Library, now under construction and which will be about twice the size of that city's present library.

Also, the budget includes money for expansion of library collections, money for additional computers throughout the library system and funds for capital projects to improve and maintain libraries throughout the valley.

If approved, the budget will go a long way toward replacing computers that will become obsolete at the year 2000 and unable to make needed changeovers. The budget will permit full-service operations at all county library facilities, the director said.

Part of the discussion at the board meeting, conducted by chairwoman Lohra Miller, centered on long-range library planning and many current and projected needs at libraries.

"If we are unable to fund (those needs) under current tax revenues, we may have to make some real hard choices. In the long term, the budget (situation) looks pretty healthy. But there are some concerns over how we're going to continue to grow, expand and meet those needs under our current tax revenues," Longsworth said.

The only long-term need that the proposed budget includes is architectural fees for a new Draper library, which is scheduled to open in 2001. The 1999 budget would include funds to begin the design process for that library.

Asked after the meeting about the budget, Miller said she has a few concerns that she said she had discussed with Longsworth. But Miller said she "feels it will be a good budget."

Longsworth told the board that the library system, like all other county programs except police and fire services, is affected by a hiring freeze, which was announced about 10 days ago. The hiring freeze will be effective through at least Dec. 31 and was implemented because of expected serious budget problems in some areas in the county.

Longsworth said the freeze will make library operations more difficult, particularly in services provided by shelvers and customer service personnel. Not being able to hire personnel as needed in those areas may restrict services provided to the public, Longsworth said.