Serving legal needs

guam law libraryThe Guam Law Library was established in 1978 to serve the growing needs of Guam’s legal community and the public. It is located in Hagåtña adjacent to the Judicial Center. In addition to providing computerized legal research services on-line and CD-ROM, it currently houses more than 53,000 volumes of legal reference materials and serves as the island’s depository for an array of public materials pertaining to the law including executive orders, legislative bills introduced, public laws enacted, as well as written decisions of Guam’s local and federal courts. Its collection includes statutory and administrative codes from all the freely associated states and other island nations of Micronesia, making it the most complete legal research center in the Western Pacific.

The library is open to the public free of charge, seven days a week, including most holidays. Members of the Guam Bar pay a fee for special library privileges and may arrange to access the library at any time, day or night, on any day of the year. Legal professionals from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau make regular visits to Guam to use the library’s resources, which are largely unavailable on these islands. Staff also perform search and copy services to provide expedited information to patrons via facsimile and e-mail.

Historical Overview

Recognizing the need for adequate and readily accessible legal research materials, the Guam Bar Association formed a Library committee in January 1978. The committee’s activities resulted in the introduction of Bill No. 899 to establish the Guam Territorial Law Library in the I Mina Katotse na Liheslaturan Guåhan/Fourteenth Guam Legislature, passed into law as Public Law 14-155, which became effective 18 December 1978. The library’s name was shortened to “Guam Law Library” in December 1997 when Public Law 24-89 discontinued the use of the term “territorial” in government titles.

Prior to the establishment of the Guam Law Library, Guam’s bench, bar and public relied upon collections maintained by the Office of the Attorney General, the District Court of Guam, and the Superior Court of Guam. In 1979 their combined inventory numbered some 20,000 volumes, though fewer than half were usable as resources. Lack of central planning resulted in gaps and needless duplication. Mold, especially after the mid-1970s Typhoon Pamela, and lengthy delivery times from the US mainland presented further challenges to acquisition and maintenance.

The Territorial Public Library’s small, well-chosen collection of constitutional law materials was superior to any of the three public law libraries, none of which employed a full time professional librarian. The public law libraries offered no real services to the public and few to private attorneys who sometimes had to track down materials by looking through sign-out logs and negotiating an exchange with a previous borrower.

By 1980 the first Board of Trustees had purchased and expanded a small residence adjacent to the Superior Court and acquired its core collection by purchasing the holdings of a defunct California law school. By 1995 it more than doubled its physical space and housed more than 43,000 volumes (in excess of 4,000 titles) in paper format, the equivalent of 5,000 volumes in micro format and over 100 legal periodicals. Four professional law librarians served over this period, the last one until 1994. Since that time the library has been run by a small, well-functioning team headed by the Library Administrator, an employee of more than 25 years, who acts as the de facto librarian.

The Collection

The library houses a basic law library collection with a strong emphasis on materials from Pacific islands and all local materials, especially those which cannot be found on the Internet. These include written trial court decisions and orders, legal opinions of the Attorney General, personnel rules and regulations for Government of Guam agencies, Civil Service Commission reports. The core case law portion of the library’s collection is made up of the national reporters and some state reporters, primarily California, and the federal reporters. The library also carries most major treatises and encyclopedias such as AmJur and various forms and practice manuals such as Moores Federal Practice. The collection also includes some thirty rare books, bar study materials and continuing legal education (CLE) materials required for Guam bar members.

In addition to printed materials, law library patrons may perform basic on-line legal research using Lexis, Westlaw and HeinOnline.

Services and Staff

Guam Law Library is currently staffed by three full-time and one part-time employees. Library staff orient and assist patrons to identify and locate materials in all formats (print, fiche, CD, or on-line). They do not offer legal advice, but can search and copy specific legal citations and provide express delivery via facsimile to anywhere in the world. There is a fee for this and certain other services.

In addition to on-line research databases, access to which remains free of charge, computers can be rented for general internet browsing or word processing. The library maintains fax and photocopy machines for use by patrons as well as a small stock of convenience items such as legal pads and pens. Several conference rooms are available for quiet reading or meetings.

Budgetary and personnel restraints preclude outreach services to the public, such as brown bags or pro bono clinics. The automation of a card catalog will allow the public to browse current titles and circulation status via the Library’s website.

In the past, the Guam Law Library maintained a collection at the Judge’s Library and judicial chambers at the Judicial Center Building. There is no longer space for a full library at the Judicial Center, but library staff continue to maintain collections in each judicial chamber. Also in past years, the library served those housed at the island’s Department of Corrections. Prisoners are now able to arrange computerized research at their facility. The Library continues to donate the bulk of its superceded materials and advance sheets for use at Department of Corrections.

Structure, Funding and Budget

The Guam Law Library is chartered as a non-profit, non-stock public educational corporation exempt from Guam tax and licensing requirements. The corporation is governed by a nine member board of trustees. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Guam, Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of Guam and Chief Judge of the federal District Court for the District of Guam serve ex officio or may appoint a representative for a term of years. The director of the Guam Public Library System, formerly known as the Territorial Librarian, also serves ex officio. The remaining five trustees are members of the Guam bar appointed to fixed terms by I Maga’Lahi (the Governor of Guam), the Guam Judicial Counsel, the legislative chair of the judicial oversight committee of I Liheslaturan Guåhan (the Guam Legislature), and the president of the Guam Bar Association. Trustees serve without compensation.

The Guam Law Library is without control over its primary revenue sources, which come from various fees, fines and interest. This funding structure is similar to that used by many county law libraries on the U.S. mainland. The library is to receive a portion of the amount charged by the Superior court for filing fees, a portion of dues collected by the Guam Bar Association and interest on the Judicial Building Fund as well as certain penal fines.

The Building

Today the Guam Law Library is a one story commercial building of appproximately 6,800 square feet. It began as a small, tin roofed residence on San Ramon Road purchased by the first Board of Trustees who quickly completed its first addition by 1980. A second building was added in 1988 and rented out as private law offices. Major reconstruction from 1991 – 1993 eliminated the original structure and integrated the existing three wings under one roof. This was remodeled in 1996 to add a new conference room, a microfiche room and additional shelving.

By Carol Fitch Baulos, JD

For further reading

Dear, Alan E., M.L.S., J.D., Consultant’s Report to the Board of Trustees, Guam Territorial Law Library, May 1995.

Gallagher, Marian G., B.A., LL.B., B.L.S., Consultant’s Report to the Guam Bar Association Library Committee, March, 1979.

Greshman, Joelle V., M.L.S., Consultant’s Report to the Guam Law Library Board of Trustees, [June 2006?]

Guam Law Library (accessed August 12, 2010).