Getting On With the Business of Literacy in American Samoa

Photo courtesy of The National Park Service 

As cities, states and regions spread out across the United States and its territories plan for a return to economic and civic activity post pandemic, Justin Maga, Territorial Librarian for American Samoa and the Feleti Barstow Public Library, is focused on getting back to what he sees as his library’s core business, public literacy.

Since 1973 Feleti Barstow Public Library, the main library in American Samoa located in the village of Utulei on the main island of Tutuila, has provided library services to Samoans. Access to continuing education and lifelong learning opportunities through the library is a geographical challenge for American Samoa which consists of five islands and two coral atolls. There is one branch library (in Ofu, Manu’a) so patrons often travel to Feleti Barstow to borrow books. Maga says, “We have a lenient return policy because we know that weather can create unexpected travel hazards for our patrons.” 

COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges of getting back to the business of literacy for the Feleti Barstow Public Library. During the flu pandemic of 1918 American Samoa had no cases due to early efforts to isolate the islands. The same scenario has unfolded in 2020. Travel to and from American Samoa was halted early in March 2020. Maga reports that citizens are coping pretty well, feeling fortunate to be virus-free while at the same time preparing for reopening and for what life in the archipelago will be like post pandemic.

With the goal of improving access to reading and achieving literacy gains for the citizens and students using the Feleti Barstow Public Library, it became clear that new ebook and audio book service options needed to be investigated. Maga and others were looking for an ebook solution that would improve access in spite of geographical separation, provide easy access to a broad ebook collection aggregated from several sources that allowed the library to offer a service that was Feleti Barstow branded, required no ebook service switching between commercial  distributor services and had the capacity to grow with content that may be unique to the region. The SimplyE platform was selected due to the a user-friendly experience for patrons and an easy-to-manage system for library staff to maintain.

Maga is looking forward to opening the library for business post pandemic and suggests“Launching SimplyE will be a way to celebrate a new beginning by offering our patrons access to lifelong learning opportunities from their phones regardless of where they are.”

Behind-the-scenes preparation for the launch of SimplyE is now underway at Feleti Barstow. Working with the LYRASIS team, staff members are being trained to provide support and training  for users and administer the system. 

The citizens of American Samoa still  enjoy the cultural experience of borrowing physical books and Maga expects Simply E to both compliment and provide greater access to  books in all formats, while growing readership. Pre-launch plans include developing radio public service announcements and a TV infomercial to let American Samoan citizens know that Feleti Barstow is back in business and better than ever.

About LYRASIS and SimplyE

SimplyE is a technology developed at NYPL (New York Public Library), based on open source technology and designed to make access to eBooks easier, eliminate the disintermediation of the library in the current eBook delivery system and provide a better patron service experience through mobile technologies, adherence to accessibility standards and more library control. 

Robert Miller, LYRASIS CEO explains, “LYRASIS, the Digital Public Library of America, and the New York Public Library are focused on the twin themes of improving experience for the user and enhancing the local strengths of public libraries. We are so pleased to join in partnership of the American Samoan State Library with this non-profit supported eBooks solution.”

LYRASIS began offering the SimplyE platform as a hosted service for improving eBook content access among libraries and their providers to meet a growing need expressed by public library leaders looking for an affordable solution for eBook management that simultaneously would enable the creation of a diverse catalog of materials to meet the needs of all the patrons they serve. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provided funding to NYPL and its partner libraries and consortia to begin development of Simply E in 2013.

In 2018, the three program principles, DPLA, NYPL and LYRASIS, entered into a partnership to further develop, host and maintain the platform and deliver content through a new non-profit marketplace operated by the DPLA. The LYRASIS  “Library Simplified Hosting” coupled with the SImplyE app and the DPLA Exchange marketplace creates a library controlled national platform for a turnkey eBook service that is interoperable with existing commercial offerings already in place at libraries. This non-profit solution, allows libraries to take control of their eContent shelves, patron privacy, and merge open content with that from many commercial providers, and deliver it in SimplyE. Hosting SimplyE with LYRASIS makes it turnkey and seamless.