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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 134-139-E
Division Number: III
Professional Group: Public Libraries
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 139
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

Challenges in providing public library services in a multicultural and geographically remote area

Christine K. Scott-Smith
Guam Public Library System



Guam is the largest and southernmost island of the Mariana Island. Ferdinand Magellan landed on Guam in 1521 and Spain subsequently claimed the island in 1565. Guam became a U.S. possession and was placed under the administration of the U.S. Navy after the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1950, after the enactment of the Organic Act, the island was placed under the civilian administration with a governor appointed by the President of the United States of America, under the consent of the Senate. The first election for Governor and Lieutenant Governor was held in November 1970. Guam elected its own executive and legislative branches of government then, and thereby increased its local autonomy.

Guamanians, although citizens of the United States through the enactment of the Organic Act in 1950, cannot vote in the national elections, and had no representation in the US Congress until November 1972, when Guam was authorized to elect a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representative.

Over the years, the people of Guam have assumed direct responsibility for their island's political and economic future. A plebiscite on the issue of political status was held in September 1987. The people of Guam chose to pursue Commonwealth as their political relationship with the United States. The US Government never entertained the issue, and Guam remains a territory of the United States of America.

Guam has an area of 215 square miles and is located 6,000 miles to the west of the U.S. mainland. It is 3,700 miles west from the state of Hawaii.

Guam has a warm tropical climate year-round with temperatures ranging between 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. May and June are the hottest months, with most rainfall occurring from July through October. The average precipitation is approximately 90 inches. Tradeswinds blow from the northwest during the dry season (December through April). Guam lies within the typhoon belt that stretches across the Western Pacific. While typhoons have their seasons, storms can occur at any time.

Guam, the westernmost territory of the United States, possesses the finest deep water harbor between Hawaii and the Philippines. With its strategic location and harbor, Guam has assumed an important role in American military activities.

The northern and central sections of Guam are more developed than the south. Housing subdivisions, tourist industry, and commerce are concentrated mainly in the central and northern areas. Therefore, approximately two thirds of Guam's population is concentrated in these two areas. According to the census conducted in 1990, the population of Guam is estimated to be 152,695 in 1996, and 156,221 in 1997. As of November 1996, the total number of military personnel stationed on Guam has dropped from 23,000 to 15,950.

The two official languages on Guam are English and Chamorro. Approximately 29% of the population speak these two languages. Guamanians of Chamorro decent comprised the majority of the population. The remaining minority group is composed of non-Chamorros that have entered Guam for various reasons from other parts of the world, including the U.S. mainland. The 1990 census indicates that approximately 37% of the civilian population on Guam is Chamorros or part Chamorros, 23% Filipinos, 15.5% Caucasians; the remaining population are comprised of Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, and other Pacific islanders such as the Marshallese, the Kosraeans, the Yapese, the Pohnapeians, the Chuukese, the Palauans, the Kiribati, the Nauruans, the Woleaians, and the Mokilese, etc.

A Brief History of the Guam Public Library System

The first libraries on Guam were small collections of religious books kept by Spanish priests. Shortly after the United States Government occupied Guam in 1899, a library for the U.S. military personnel and their dependents was established. Library services to local people in the years before World War II was limited to a small collection of books set up in 1909 for teachers and a small circulating library organized in 1924. It was not until after the War, that a public library was established on Guam.

The Guam Public Library officially opened its doors on January 31, 1949 in Agaña, its capital. (To reflect the indigenous pronunciation, Agaña officially became Hagåtña in 1998). An initial collection of 13,000 books from deactivated Navy libraries and a donation from the Los Angeles Public Library was housed in two Quonset huts in the Plaza de España. A staff of three people (one head librarian and two part-time helpers) opened the library for only 20 hours a week. In June 1949, by an act of the Guam Congress, the library was named the Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library. The Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library moved from the Quonset huts into the current building in 1960.

Today, the Guam Public Library System is composed of a main library (the Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library) in Hagåtña, and five branch libraries located in the villages of Agat, Barrigada, Dededo, Merizo, Yona, and a bookmobile. The Guam Public Library system also provides service to the Department of Youth Affairs, and the Department of corrections.

The collections of the GPLS, including both print and non-print materials, total over 251,000 items. Story programs are offered for pre-school and school-aged children throughout the year on Saturday mornings in all six libraries. Summer Reading Program and Summer Art Program At Your Public Library for all ages are offered annually. From time to time, special programs such as Teen Read Week, Read Across America and National Library Week Activities are organized and During the school year, tours of the public libraries are arranged in cooperation with classroom teachers and other interested groups. Assistance is available to all public library patrons in the use of reference materials, CD-ROM's, Internet searching, and Guam Collection materials. Regional Interlibrary loan supplements GPLS's collection.


By far, the most inhibiting constraint confronting the GPLS and its progress is funding. All other challenges derive from this insufficiency of funds.

The economic conditions on Guam are not healthy at the present. The priorities for governmental expenditures are focused on public safety, utilities, health, tourism, and "education". Unfortunately, the public libraries on Guam, through the infinite wisdom of its leaders, are not considered as an educational agency. The library was separated from the Department of Education on August 6, 1954 by an act of the Second Guam Legislature. That legislation also provided the library an operational fund of $22,800.

GPLS is a Government of Guam's line agency. All budgets approved by the GPLS Board are submitted to the Governor's Office and the Bureau of Budget and Management Research. The Bureau has the responsibility to recommend the Governor for approval or disapproval of the budget. The Guam Legislature has the power to appropriate money for all the operations of the Government of Guam, including the libraries. Unfortunately, regardless of all the campaign promises during election time, GPLS (or education in general) is clearly at the lowest rung on any leader's ladder. Allotted budget for GPLS decreases every year. The current recommended FY 2000 Budget Cap for GPLS is $1,220,862 (plus $103,886 Federal funding from IMLS). The per capita for "Library Materials" is $.31.

The absence of professional librarians continues to be another challenge. There is no Master's degree program in Library and Information Science offered on Guam. All professional librarians must be recruited from off-island. According to the CRITERIA FOR DETERMINING ADEQUACY OF PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICES set down by the GPLS Board, GPLS lacks at least ten professional librarians. A recent hiring freeze law passed by the 25th Legislature on Guam adds another hurdle to the long and rigid path for us to achieve our goals.

Lack of funding for traveling to professional meetings in the continental United States for staff development is yet another constraint.

Last, but not least, the library is located far from its source of supplies. All acquisitions must be done by mail or fax. Consequently, decisions on material selection, equipment and supplies must be based on written information, rather than first hand inspection. Every limited library supplies are available in the stores on island, there is no library supply vendors or book jobbers. Slow mail delivery and shipping causes lengthy delays in receipt of book orders, periodical subscriptions and supplies.

Other challenges include: natural disaster such as typhoons, accompanied by water and power outages; censorship; instilling the concept of "Service with a Smile" etc.


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