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Often when librarians reshelve books at the Salt Lake Community College library, they must step over studying students.

"There are days that kids sit between the stacks because there is no place else to go," said head librarian Alex Stecker.For years, SLCC, the state's fastest-growing college, has laid claim to higher education's worst library. The 1988 statewide library study, commissioned by the Utah Legislature to assess needs, said SLCC "stands out with the highest need, primarily because no facility exists. . . The inadequacy of the library was apparent because it was very crowded even though it was observed during a quiet summer period."

The SLCC library was formed by converting classrooms in the Calvin L. Rampton Technology Building. The entire library occupies only 10,128 square feet, with 194 seats for library users. The college has about 12,000 full- and part-time students.

The study determined the SLCC library is one-fifth the size recommended by the American Library Association. Inadequate space means the library can house only one-half the volumes necessary for a community college.

All of that will change soon.

This spring, probably in April when the weather is more predictable, the college will break ground for a 62,000 square-foot, $8 million library. Construction is expected to take 18 months to two years. Sitting at the top of the state's capital facilities list, the SLCC library was funded by the 1990 Legislature.

The new library will be built northwest of the student union. When construction begins, SLCC will permanently close the east-west road, 4610 South, west of the student union, further funneling traffic to the periphery as outlined in the school's master plan.

Stecker said the college and its architects have visited libraries in Utah and surrounding states to assess what will work best at SLCC. "We've been all over. We want something that has both function and beauty," he said.

The two-story library will be built so a third floor can be added, if necessary, in the future. That was done with the student union; a second story was added several years ago to accommodate skyrocketing student enrollment.

The new structure will house about 80,000 volumes, still below the recommended standard of 87,000 to 97,000 volumes for a college the size of SLCC. But Stecker said all of the college's collection doesn't have to be located at one place.

SLCC satellite campuses offer - or will soon - smaller library collections, including 3,000 to 8,000 volumes at the Sandy campus, 125 to 250 specialized volumes at the college's aviation program located at the Salt Lake Airport and 5,000 to 10,000 books at the South City campus, which will open in March.

Besides a place to store books, the new SLCC library will have meeting rooms, staff offices and numerous study areas, which are so limited in the current library.

"Some students have no place to study but the library. They're married and have children, and they just can't study at home," Stecker said.