A bill mandating that every local council in the country maintain a free public library was approved by the ministerial committee for legislation Monday. It would provide government funding for half the cost of the library. Approximately 1,100 public libraries operate throughout the country. But the lack of government funding has left many in the poorest areas of the country unable to purchase additional books or to maintain or develop facilities. The government currently funds NIS 15 million to NIS 17m. of the estimated NIS 200m. needed annually by the libraries. The bill, proposed by Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), will reach the Knesset plenum on Wednesday. Authors Eyal Magad, Israel Segal and Naomi Ragen are expected to attend the plenum vote to lend their support. The bill also mandates that libraries not charge for lending and provide Internet-based services. It gives the finance minister the prerogative to decide the level of state participation each year. It would also allow some small local councils to maintain libraries jointly.