Narratives

Internet is all the rage now, but libraries remain relevant

By Gilbert P. Felongco

(First of Two Parts)

Twenty-year-old Mechanical Engineering student Arvin Lagman visits the Manila Public Library almost every day after class.

“I find the library conducive to studying, it has air conditioning, and it’s quiet. I can concentrate more here [than in] school where there are a lot of distractions,” he says. He goes to the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP), where he is on his fifth and final year at the time of interview in November 2018.

While he finds the library accessible as well as “comfortable,” Arvin says that he brings his own books.

“There [aren’t] a lot of books or reading materials on mechanical engineering at the library. And even if there [were, they’re] not the latest. When I’m [researching,] and I can’t find certain information that I am looking for, there is always the internet,” he says, adding that what he gets from the internet may not be at all factual.

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Pauline Paderes, Architectural Technology student at the Technological University of the Philippines, prefers studying in the library. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

Across the floor in another desk, Pauline Paderes, an Architectural Technology student from the same school, says while she prefers studying in the library, she laments that some of the books she needs on architecture technology are difficult to find there.

“The libraries’ book collection needs to be updated particularly with regards to reference materials,” she says, while pointing out that not all information on her course are available through the internet.

“Architectural Technology is a field where changes are fast paced and most of the time, the references are already outdated if and when they become available at the library,” she says, noting that information available on the internet is not always “current.

Relegated

The lack of references and books is just one of the Manila Public Library’s woes. The main library, which is housed in the two-storey Manila Medical Society Building at 800 Taft Avenue in Manila, is several decades old and lacks floor space. Being so makes it nondescript. If not for the sign “Manila City Library,” one can easily dismiss it as part of the rows of establishments along that avenue.

“There are times [when] the library users [have] to stand while doing their research work,” admits the librarian of its main branch.

But the current building regarded now as the Manila Public Library was not what it was like during its heydays.

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Manila Public Library. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

The Manila Public Library takes its roots from four independently established institutions under the supervision of the National Library during the 1930s. These are the Manila Business Library in Santa Cruz, the Tondo Library, the Paco Library (now known as the Manila-Sacramento Friendship Library), and the Sampaloc Public Library.

In 1946, an ordinance placed all four libraries under the general supervision of the Manila City Mayor.

In 1965, a three-storey structure known at the Manila Public Library located at the Mehan Garden in Arroceros was put up during the time of Manila Mayor Antonio Villagas. It was one of the city’s premier landmarks and was regarded for decades as “The Manila Public Library.”

However, the Manila Public Library has been relegated to a smaller location along Taft Avenue where it has been since May 29, 2013, a mere shadow of its former glory.

“When the Universidad de Manila in the capital’s downtown Escolta district [closed,] the library was relocated to Taft Avenue [where it can be found now]. The library is so located there because that site is considered patrimonial property of the city government,” the librarian, who requested anonymity, says.

Its location, floor space, and available reading materials somehow appear to show how the city’s local officials regard public libraries. The library, although located in a two-level structure, is cramped.

“Sometimes users [have] to stand because there is no space for them to sit down and study or conduct their research,” the librarian says.

She says that while the city government allocates budget for the staff and maintenance of the facilities, local authorities have missed releasing one tranche of the scheduled pay increase, affecting the morale of the employees. “It matters a lot to staff like us who are not paid much,” says one employee, who has been working with the library for 27 years.

There are more than 50 employees in the Manila Library main office in Taft. In all the other branches across the city—there are eight other “sub-libraries”—their numbers exceed 150. But not all the library workers are regulars. Some are “detailed” staff who are transferred or borrowed from other branches of the city government.

The librarian’s request for anonymity in exchange for her liberty to talk concerning funding and employee welfare shows how much importance the local government unit places on libraries and how much employees fear the city government might take it against them if they talk ill about them.

She adds nevertheless that libraries continue to help learning institutions in the city. “Even in the age of internet and search engines like Google, students still rely on books and journals because these are sources of reliable information. While we may have computers here, its use to the students is limited to encoding the findings of whatever subject they are researching on,” she says. “The computers we have are all stand-alone units, they are not connected to a local area network or a data base.”

Donor dependent

The books at the library mostly came from donors and not purchased using local funds.

“We receive a lot of [book donations from donors]. We always accept what is given since the local government does not allot budget for [their purchase] ,” she says.

She says that among the items the library also needs is at least one unit of microfilm machine. “As you can see, we are not that high tech. It would be a great benefit to those who are conducting research. An audio-visual room is a big plus as well. If I would be given the chance to improve the library, the first thing that I would ask [for] is that we be given a bigger space,” she says.

Manila ranks fourth in the list of the richest cities in the Philippines but its library services lag behind its other services. Without a doubt these libraries remain useful for the city residents but appear to be gasping and badly need resuscitation from the local government unit.

Aside from the Manila Public Library, the city has nine other major libraries: Arsenio H. Lacson Public Library Santa Ana, Bacood Public Library, Kapitan Isidro Mendoza Public Library, Tondo Public Library, Valeriano E. Fugoso Library Santa Cruz, Patricia Complex Public Library in Tondo, San Nicolas Public Library Binondo, Kapitan Isidro Mendoza Public Library in Pandacan, and Dapitan Public Library in Sampaloc.

Malabon Public Library

Rita Rivera still remembers the days when, as a young girl, she would admire the seemingly endless rows of books and magazines whenever she would visit the Malabon City library during the 70s.

The then “municipal” library was located at the Lion’s Club compound in Barangay San Agustin, popularly known to locals as “Bayan,” or the town center.

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Malabon City Public Library. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

“It was an old, single story structure constructed in 1969, but it was big, and the collection is expansive. [They] got reference books as well as periodicals, magazines both local and foreign,” she recalls.

Three decades later, she is now one of the librarians of what is now the City of Malabon. The old single-storey structure had given way to a two-level, 385-square meter building in Barangay Catmon.

Compared to premier cities like Manila or Makati, the City of Malabon is the typical old-municipality-turned city, its cityhood imperceptible despite having been so for two decades.

Malabon City has only one library for its 365,525 (2015 statistics) or more residents. In comparison, the City of Manila has nine public libraries for its 1.78 million (2015 statistics) or more residents, which translates to a ratio of about 190,000 residents to a library.

Vilma Taguinod, who is OIC Librarian IV, the city’s head librarian, says the city government provides enough support to the library in terms of books, some of which are also donated mainly by publishing companies such as Adarna House, among others. “We also regularly purchase titles, especially reference books,” she says. But she says the library could use more help to widen its collection.

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Malabon City Public Library’s head librarian, Vilma Taguinod, talks to NewsNarratives. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

Computerization and Relevance

The city library has 21 computer units that were acquired during the current administration. The library also has a Starbooks Kiosk, a stand-alone science and technology information data base.

“The mayor is young, and he is very open-minded about employing technology to make it easier for the residents to use the library,” Taguinod says.

“By next year, we plan to have the whole library connected via a local area network (LAN). The encoding of our book collection is ongoing so that we can have it connected to the system of the National Library,” she adds, saying that this will greatly help library users in their research.

When asked if Internet-based search engines could one day totally make libraries irrelevant, Taguinod says she does not believe it will happen.

“We have to accept that [the] Internet is widely used. But we must emphasize that books are still the more reliable source of information. Teachers still prefer that books are used as reference when they give assignments to their students,” she says. “Libraries will never lose their relevance,” she adds.

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The Malabon City Public Library has over 20 personnel. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

The library has a staff of more than 20 personnel and not all are on regular employment status. Taguinod, who used to be a librarian at the Dominican congregation-run Saint James Academy in the city for more than 20 years, says the personnel undergo regular training and attend seminars to keep them updated professionally and to ensure that the city takes advantage of new technologies.

Lack of visitors

Apart from not having adequate library services per capita, the library also suffers from lack of visitors.

During this visit one afternoon in November 2018, only a few library users were present. The aisles were almost empty save for a few parents reading books to their children. This situation remains a challenge to the librarians in marketing their library services so more people would come and visit.

To bring books closer to the people—and encourage them to read more often—the Malabon City Public Library conducts outreach programs. Children in the inner areas of the city, including the slums, are invited to storytelling sessions and given the chance to borrow books.

“Part of our plan is [to provide] books to the inmates at the Malabon City Jail just across the compound. This is part of our outreach program. We will donate reading materials for them. That is part of our 2019 plan,” she says. Prison libraries are common in countries such as the United States, but not in the Philippines.

Taguinod also says that improvements in the city library are a priority for the local administration.

“Hopefully in the coming months, the city government would be able to put up a city museum in one part of the library. This will make us more visible to the public and hopefully, these will entice more people to read the books that we have,” she says.

Citing that Malabon used to be part of Manila, particularly Tondo, during the old days until the 1950’s, “Not a lot of people know this fact, but through the library, maybe we can encourage residents to get interested in history and draw them into using the books more often,” Taguinod says.

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The Quezon City Public Library users enjoy much better facilities than the other public libraries in the metro. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

Quezon City Public Library

The smell of brewed coffee wafts through the air as law students take a break from their studies and take their lunch at a café on the second floor of the newly opened Quezon City Public Library (QCPL). Having coffee inside a public library had been unheard off until QCPL.

A library user pays a reasonable fee for coffee and food but use of the facilities—including the internet and wi-fi connection—are free, even for non-Quezon City residents. 

The QCPL is located in Gate 7 City Hall Compound, Diliman, Quezon City. While the Manila and the Malabon libraries face varied challenges, QCPL enjoys a much better situation.

“It is just like visiting Starbucks,” says Ares Gutierrez, officer in charge of the Quezon City Public Affairs and Information Services, adding that establishing a modern library for the city residents has been the city mayor’s dream.

“You can sip your coffee ‘al fresco’ in the wind-blown ambience of the library’s café at the second floor or downstairs at the larger, fully air-conditioned main library,” Gutierrez says.

Humble beginnings

Inaugurated on August 16, 1948, the first structure to have been named Quezon City Public Library, was a single-storey structure adjacent to the Post Office at the back of the Old Quezon City Hall near what is now known as the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA). The first collection of books the library had was donated by the National Library.

It was then relocated to the Quezon City Hall Complex near the Quezon Memorial Circle.

The current Quezon City main library is a far cry from the old structure at the back of the Hall of Justice, which is also inside the City Hall complex. The new structure, which is four times bigger than the old one, is located a couple of hundred meters from its previous location.

Though the new library has been constructed three years ago, it was inaugurated only in February 17 last year, according to Julie B. Domingono, research section head of the QCPL.

The QCPL’s vision is to be a premier and world-class public library, responsive to the information and research needs of the community, Domingono says.

“It is now open seven days a week, 24 hours. This project was made possible under the administration of Mayor Herbert Bautista. It had been the advocacy of the mayor to establish libraries. He supported it with the budget necessary for its establishment,” she adds.

From January to September of 2018, records show that the QCPL was visited by some 63,000 users. A considerable number of the users were law students.

“A big number of the visitors are students studying law in the nearby universities because the library has a large archive of legal cases,” Domingono says.

Other services

More than a repository of books, it also provides other services for the residents such as free digital literacy courses. Users can avail of training services, such as free computer literacy basics, word processing, social networking, and internet basics.

The Quezon City Public Library has rows upon rows of computers, each section, such as children’s books, Filipiniana, references, and so forth, having several.

Aside from stand-alone internet access, the several dozen computers in the library’s different sections provide access to databases such as that of the National Library. Domingono says the library is improving the list of archived reading materials. The library also has its Recreational, Educational, and Social Activity Section, including a puppet theater tagging along during its outreach programs.

“The outreach service provides library services beyond conventional limits; it serves as an extension arm of the Main Library in providing services responsive to the needs of the reading public in the community,” Domingono says.

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The QCPL is far from being perfect though. Photo by Gilbert Felongco

The QCPL might be the biggest library in the country, second to the National Library, but it does not have everything.

According to Jess Castillo, a 20-year-old Communications Research Student at the UP Diliman, the collection at the Quezon City Library is acceptable, but it could be better.

“There are a lot of choices with regards to references on communications research, however, not all the books are available,” she says.

The library is yet to have a microfilm facility.

Nevertheless, the size of the Quezon City Public Library is impressive in terms of the number of people it employs. It has 24 regular employees and 23 contractual ones at the central library, and more than 400 employees in all, both holding regular and contractual positions.

It has 16 branch libraries: District 1 Bagong Pag-asa, Balingasa, Masambong, Project 7, Project 8; District 2 Payatas Landfill, Payatas Lupang Pangako; District 3 Escopa II, Greater Project 4, Escopa III District 4 Cubao, Galas, Krus na Ligas, Roxas; District 5 Lagro, Novaliches, and District 6 Pasong Tamo, Talipapa.

Domingono says the QCPL has grown in size and has been modernized significantly due to the efforts of the city mayor.

“But of course, support for such an endeavour is dependent on the sitting mayor and let’s just hope that the next one who would be elected would give priority [to] the maintenance and improvement of the libraries and has the same regard on the importance of these to the intellectual wellbeing of the city’s residents,” she says.

Like what the other librarians have expressed, Domingono says libraries remain relevant even at an age where information can be accessed with a click of a computer mouse button or a tap on the smartphone screen.

“There will always be doubt if the information you present is from Google, Yahoo, or other search engines, but if it is researched from a book, it will most of the time be backed by references,” she says. “And this is why libraries remain relevant,” she adds.

(To be continued: Second Part – Government’s stand on library development)

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