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Utah's libraries are checking out technologies and policies that someday could lead to a statewide information- and resource-sharing network, according to Amy Owen, State Library Division director.

Owen, who has been promoting the concept of coordination and cooperation as the best next steps in library evolution in Utah, said the Legislature's appropriation of $50,000 this year could be "the ticket" to electronic networking.In addition, the State Library Division along with local libraries are exploring a number of other programs to improve public access to libraries and develop new services, she added.

Owen said the impetus for much of the current dialogue about information sharing came from the 1991 Governor's Conference on Library Information Services, which developed a library improvement agenda for the next decade.

Called "Utah Plus," the agenda recommended improved access to libraries and the application of new technologies to make resources and information more widely available.

In the year since the conference adjourned, most of the "Utah Plus" goals have gained the support of local library administrators. But with some communities paying higher library taxes than others, issues relating to equal access remain controversial.

One of the objectives identified by the conference was the eventual development of a statewide reciprocal borrowing program, where people could check out books from any library regardless of where they live.

"It's a sensitive subject," Owen conceded. "In Salt Lake County it works well because of the reciprocal agreements between Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and Murray. But it's not that simple in other areas."

For example, reciprocity becomes more difficult in Utah County, where the level of support for local libraries ranges from $4 per capita to $15 per capita. Owen said some sort of state-supported solution may be achieved on a county-by-county basis, but not in the immediate future.

Moving more rapidly, she said, are conference recommendations dealing with the transition to information-sharing technologies. Through "electronic highways," people in even the most remote communities could have access to library data-bases, such as resource files for inter-library loan requests or research purposes.

"The state can play a major role in this area by helping to manage the transition to the new technologies," Owen said. "For the state to effectively bring about this kind of coordination, I think it has to become involved in the funding of some of these programs."

According to Owen, the state could help build the infrastructure (telecommunications network), help local libraries acquire and implement electronic equipment, coordinate licensing requirements, negotiate with data base publishers and provide support services.

Owen said local library officials have responded generally favorably to the networking proposals. "The larger libraries in the state are well positioned to move ahead, but some of the smaller libraries will need help."

She predicted that it won't be long before Utah residents will have electronic access to every library in the state, allowing them to peruse catalogue, full text and informational data bases.

"And increasingly, you will see libraries develop their own data bases that could provide such things as city council and planning and zoning agendas and other community information services," Owen said.