We are library-less on Public Library Day
For everyone’s information, today is the 115th Public Library Day. This is the day when we celebrate the establishment of the National Library of the Philippines, plus hundreds of other public libraries across the archipelago.
The Public Library Day is an obscure, Oh-do-we-really-celebrate-that-kind-of-day type of day. Unknown to many, the National Library (NLP) actually celebrates this day by holding talks and seminars on—what else?—libraries, for—who else?—librarians.
If you think about it, that’s pretty sad.
And what’s even sadder is the fact that we sort of don’t have a National Library for this year’s Public Library Day. And in two or three more Public Library Days in the future.
Last Friday, I visited the National Library at T.M. Kalaw St. in Manila, expecting to be surrounded by a gazillion books. I was excited to finally visit the National Library. The thought of sniffing both old and new books made me even giddier. (Admit it, you do that, too.)
I’m ashamed to admit that it was my first time to visit the National Library, to think that it’s just a bus ride away from where I live. But hey, I thought that our libraries inside UP Diliman provided me with enough resources during my undergrad days.
Apparently, the National Library has a lot of interesting books, including the original manuscripts of Jose Rizal’s Noli me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and Mi Ultimo Adios.
But what greeted me were piles of gravel and sand, scattered around the building. Inside was much worse: The books I hoped to see were covered in plastic tarps and huge pieces of cloth; librarians and employees wore masks because it was too dusty inside from the ongoing construction.
It turns out that the NLP is currently retrofitting its building, effective last July 2014, and may last until 2017.
With the building currently undergoing renovations, the NLP isn’t really much of a library these days. And in the next couple of years.
Basically, activity inside the National Library is currently crippled: Students and teachers transferred to other places, since the area was not conducive to productivity. The multimedia section, where the microfilms can be accessed, was the only functioning section of the library.
Equally disappointed, I opted to apply for a library card instead. The old laminated cards have been replaced by new ones made of plastic. They can get it done for you in a few minutes.
Although the National Library is temporarily incapable of being a “library,” in the strict sense of the word, I have tons of respect for the librarians who continue to do their work, despite their dusty and noisy surroundings. Honestly, I was expecting them to be the stereotypical cranky old maids who drive people away with their soul-snatching stares. Instead, who welcomed me was a soft-spoken, approachable librarian who patiently answered every query.
“We can’t provide you with hard copies of theses today,” the librarian said. “I’m afraid I can’t provide you with an exact date on when we’ll be back on track; the renovations are until 2017,” she told everyone who approached her. She never raised her voice, even though people kept asking her the same questions.
Filipinos aren’t exactly known as big readers. Just go to the comments section of web articles: plenty of comments hint of miscomprehension. We read just because we have to. We read because we have to pass our classes, because our bosses might burn us badly during meetings if we don’t. We don’t read just for the sake of reading. Just like what National Book Development Board chair Neni Sta. Romana Cruz said: “If we continue to have this need to gather together to promote reading, it is because we adults are to blame. We have not marketed reading as a pleasurable and worthy activity.”
While I’m excited with the outcome of the new and improved NLP, I’m also disappointed that students and readers will have to make-do with online resources for a while. Libraries are supposed to be places of learning, leisure, and intellectual discussion. But with the current state of our National Library and other public libraries, it’s hard to see it that way.