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Measure would alter library control

Senator targets fiscal decisions and content

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Whether it's the content of books on their shelves or the use of donated land, library boards have always enjoyed a comfortable level of control over their operations.

That control could change drastically, however, if SB87, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, passes. The bill was pulled from a Senate committee hearing Tuesday for further revisions, although it could be back as early as next week.

Waddoups said that SB87 has "some problems," and that it would be amended to address those concerns, especially about the hiring of library directors.

"They (library boards) would rather have more say in that, rather than it becoming political favoritism," he said.

Some of the control that the library boards currently have should be adjusted, especially if it involves fiscal decisions such as the use of donated land or buildings, Waddoups said. He also was not opposed to placing the regulation of a library's content or restrictions on Internet use in the hands of elected officials.

"There's a lot of trash out there," he said. "I wouldn't mind if they could regulate that in the libraries."

Opponents of the bill, which include most librarians and library boards, said that it would cause a significant shift in the amount of power that library boards have, said Chip Ward, co-chairman of the Utah Library Legislative Committee and assistant director of the Salt Lake City Library.

Under current law, library boards are responsible for making decisions about everything from hiring of personnel to the content of their collections to future expansion plans, Ward said. Any control of the libraries by elected officials is done primarily through budgets and the appointments of board members.

"If the local government doesn't like what they're (the library board) doing, they control the purse strings," Ward said. "They could also stack the board, but they normally don't, because the typical attitude is hands-off."

SB87 would change that structure, requiring library boards to advise the legislative bodies of counties on expenditures, library policies and personnel decisions, Ward said. Nor would it allow counties to pass ordinances to give libraries additional control, even if the decades-long tradition had given the board autonomy.

The Weber County Library board of directors voted Tuesday night to oppose the bill and called on county commissioners to ask Waddoups to table the bill. In a position statement, the board said that the "troubling piece of legislation" needed more study, and they asked that all parties be included in any discussions.

"Utah's public libraries are currently governed by a legal tradition that has served Utah residents for more than a century," the position statement said. "Changes to this tradition should not be undertaken lightly or without public discussion and understanding of all consequences."

E-MAIL: jloftin@desnews.com