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LIBRARIES PREPARING FOR WAVE OF BUDGET CUTS

The state Library Division has tightened its ship in preparation for an expected wave of federal budget cuts.

A systemwide restructuring, approved here Tuesday by the Utah State Library Board, means some programs won't survive without financial life preservers from the state Legislature and county governments - particularly those in rural areas.The division received $1.1 million in federal funding this year, but that amount likely will be cut in half or worse by 1997, division director Amy Owen said. To compensate, the division is scaling down and redirecting its efforts and is asking the state for additional money - possibly as much as $250,000 more for fiscal year 1996.

Counties eventually will need to contribute a larger share of funds for services now provided by the division, including the bookmobile program - the only library resource for some rural Utah counties. The restructuring will remove the employee now in charge of the bookmobile program into the division's development services department.

The reorganization plan asks that rural counties capable of doing so should take over their bookmobile programs entirely by the year 2001. Those who can't will be expected to gradually increase their library funding each year leading up to that date. Douglas Abrams, the division's deputy director, told the board his staff will develop a strategy by this spring that will show counties just how much more they'll have to spend in the future to retain their current level of service.

Ironically, the division was set up 40 years ago primarily to oversee the state's bookmobiles - trailers which travel to small towns carrying books and other materials for checkout. But bookmobiles are less suited for travel on the information superhighway, which the division has navigated with increasing vigor and success. It recently won the National In-for-ma-tion Infrastructure Award, pre-sented by Vice President Al Gore for implementation of a statewide computer network with enhanced databases and a World Wide Web home page. More than half of the state's 86 libraries now are linked to the network.

Not surprisingly then, one of the division's future priorities will be to expand its ability to access, compile and distribute electronic information, with a focus on the In-ter-net. The restructuring will preserve that goal, while lessening or shifting the emphasis placed on others.

"The broad brush strokes are there but a lot of the detail, especially the operational detail, has yet to be filled in," Owen told the board during its annual meeting at Deer Valley Resort's Silver Lake Lodge. "There's still a lot of planning to be done (including) how we calculate the dollars and who gets what."

In general terms, the division's restructuring means the following will happen:

Services for the blind and physically handicapped will be retained, but operating costs will be cut. Bookmobile operations are to be decentralized with the division serving only as a consultant to county and local library boards. Both the children's video program and federal document collection will be discontinued, and the Professional Skills Institute will be reorganized.

A priority will be placed on the division's ability to continue offering library service development grants, despite the uncertainty of federal funding. Outside funding sources will be pursued to pay for construction and expansion of Utah libraries.

Internet user training will be extended and certification training will be maintained. The size of the division's staff will be frozen, although one current vacancy likely will be filled. Division involvement will be lessened and local participation increased in a number of other existing programs and services.