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Growing Ocean-sized Capacity for Library Services in the Pacific

Friday, June 24, 2016

By Teri DeVoe

IMLS Senior Program Officer

Imagine a summer reading kick-off event, with an array of partners in support roles. The library has signed on to be a meals distribution site, to fill the gap we know exists when students are out of school. There are AmeriCorps volunteers at the ready to lead activities, and later in the summer the bookmobile will spend several weeks reaching kids with transportation barriers to the library. 

Coordinated efforts like this are happening in select communities throughout the U.S., but they are also happening in the Northern Mariana Islands, one of six Pacific Territories/Freely Associated States that receives IMLS library funding. American Samoa, Guam, Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands are also strengthening their communities with these funds – from digital literacy efforts to the digitization of important cultural heritage materials. And they are doing it against a backdrop of remote geography and climate change. 

Palau, for example, used its most recent IMLS award to rebuild a school library on one of the outer islands that had been devastated by a typhoon in 2013. Library staff loaded supplies by boat and took two days to set up the new space. Local volunteers also participated, which meant that the project built professional capacity for local library efforts in addition to building a new space. The Northern Mariana Islands were also hit by a typhoon in 2015 and used their Saipan-based bookmobile to collect supplies for relief efforts on a neighboring island. 

Efforts like these may become more common as climate-related challenges continue. But despite the uncertainties, the Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States are building strong foundations for their communities through a range of library and technology programs. This includes growing their own staff capacity. 

Professional development is among the goals of the IMLS Pacific Workshop, which convenes representatives from these six entities every two years in Hawaii, a gathering place that is physically and programmatically closest to them. It’s a less frequent convening than our all-states’ conference, and it incorporates one-on-one meetings in lieu of site visits to the field. We held our latest workshop in mid-May, where Associate Deputy Director Robin Dale and I conducted training sessions, hosted Hawaii State Librarian Stacey Aldrich as a speaker, and arranged field trips with the help of Lynn Masumoto, Hawaii State Public Library System. Specific sites included Hawaii State Library, Aiea Public Library, Salt Lake-Moanalua Public Library, and Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

We also had a unique opportunity to meet up with an IMLS-funded cohort of Pacific librarians-in-training, whose kick-off institute was scheduled for overlapping dates on a neighboring part of the island. Through a 2015 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant to the University of North Texas, this group will continue in a three-year master’s program and become the next generation of library leaders in the Pacific.

Throughout the week we heard many expressions of thanks for the ways that IMLS funds have benefitted these islands. It’s fitting to close with these words, which are as diverse as the library services our grantees in the Pacific provide:

Fa’afetai (American Samoa) - Si Yu’os Ma’åse (Guam) - Kommol tata (Marshall Islands) - Kalangan (Micronesia) - Mesulang (Palau)

The 2016 IMLS Pacific Workshop attendees:  Augustine Kohler (Micronesia), Speaker Stacey Aldrich (Hawaii State Library), Roy Rechebei (Northern Marianas), Jenny Ernest (Micronesia), Mary Arius (Palau), Carol Curtis (Marshall Islands), Erlinda Naputi (Northern Marianas), Justin Maga (American Samoa), Teri DeVoe (IMLS), Teresita Kennimer (Guam), Sandra Stanley (Guam), June Aflague (Guam), Raynold Mechol (Palau), and Robin Dale (IMLS) [not pictured]

Teri DeVoe is senior program officer for state programs within the Office of Library Services at IMLS. She can be reached at