by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:46:00 11/26/2010
Inquirer. net Filed Under: Education
“Life happened because I turned the pages.” —Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (1996)
BAY AREA, San Francisco—If I cannot restrain myself from talking about public libraries in a developed country—the one (and only) principal reason I envy the life here—it is really to highlight how literacy and access to books ought to be a basic right that each and every citizen enjoys.
No, I do not have the illusion that American society is not confronted with a declining literacy rate and a fading interest in books. But its citizens are constantly reading more than we do. They read while waiting for the train or a concert, on train rides, even in the course of a morning walk—all of them keeping a book or even a Kindle on hand so that no time is ever wasted. I’d crane my neck, curious to know what they are reading. Most of them carry copies from their public library, as the library name was prominently stamped on the books. (Yes, many others are busy with their mobile phones.)
How could this habit have been acquired if these readers were not immersed in their early years in schools and an effective public library system? No wonder American comic strip characters make a big fuss about acquiring a library card. A library card is indeed a proud badge to own.
Marvin Atienza, a Chevron executive in Concord, recounts that in his school library in Cavite, he would salivate before the locked bookcase of the complete set of brown and gold gilded Encyclopedia Britannica volumes, something he could not yet be allowed to borrow because he was just in grade school.
Fortunately, today’s enlightened teachers know that when the inclination is there, prescribed learning dates should be thrown out the window. Seize the teaching moment as it comes few and far between.
Bless Marvin’s curiosity for not being doused. He went on to become the very first student in his grade school to become a scholar at the Philippine Science High School where he thrived in being constantly challenged. Today in the book paradise that is the US, he is a public library regular and takes pride in having a library card.
Fellow reading advocate RayVi Sunico continues to remind of this contradiction: we, a country whose economy has yet to boost the quality of life and purchasing power, are the very country that has to purchase books that we need. Little wonder that between the more basic needs and books, books are easily dismissed as luxuries.
RayVi’s tireless refrain on the paradox: “A good public library system means reading is not dependent on purchasing power. This is why I point out that the richer the country, the less money people have to spend on buying books.”
Let me not be perceived as merely raving and ranting about the absence and the dismal state of existing public libraries in the country. To date, no one has challenged my lamentations, but I continue to patiently wait, as only reactions in unison with my views have come in.
And there seems to be a glimmer of hope. I stumbled on what appears to be positive news from Mindanao: In 2009 the Davao City Public Library headed by Nora Fe Alajar had been selected by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as the most outstanding public library in the country. The library in downtown Davao promotes reading among the children in 14 villages through its mobile libraries. Other libraries in the short list were those in Dagupan, Angeles, Zamboanga, Bacolod and Talisay.
There is a blog anonymously run by “Mindanao Librarian, Region XII, Philippines.” I’m impressed that she does not bother to identify herself except to say, “I am passionate about public and school libraries being socially-inclusive learning spaces. I am also a staunch advocate of reader development, particularly for the traditionally marginalized Mindanaoans. I have great faith in the power of information to transform individuals and communities. I dream of the day when Mindanaoan children will be better able to navigate and compete in a world driven more and more by new information challenges.” Shouldn’t that be every librarian’s credo?
What’s even more heartwarming is that she actually enjoys reading—and lists Jessica Zafra’s “Twisted” series among her favorites—and keeps abreast with what’s current, what’s popular and what might appeal to reluctant readers. For how can a love of reading (a truly tired phrase today) be passed on if the librarian does not have it herself? The Mindanao Librarian needs to be lauded and publicly acknowledged.
National Book Week carries this incredibly ponderous theme, “Pandaigdigang Pakikipag-ugnayan sa Pamamagitan ng mga Aklat at Impormasyong Teknolohiya at Komunikasyon.” Could we not do as well with something catchy and memorable as these popular slogans, “Hooked on Books,” “Get Caught Reading,” or “Any Day, Any Time, Any Book,” in Filipino?
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is a member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation.