What else would I find in a library that isn’t already on the cloud? The internet has made information within arm’s reach, and you might have heard years ago that libraries would inevitably become obsolete.

But the same virtual space has seen a buzz about libraries lately: the Valenzuela City Library trended on Twitter for its modern appeal; the Sorsogon State College Library made rounds on Facebook for its “K-drama” aesthetic; even the obscure Ortigas Foundation Library broke the internet for being a free library you can enter from Greenhills Mall.

Before the pandemic, the National Library of the Philippines (NLP), on the other hand, found an increasing trend of persons visiting public libraries in the Philippines—a testament that libraries remain relevant through the years. 

Celebrating the 64th Public Library Day

On March 9, 1900, the first public library opened to Filipinos. Over a decade later, more than a thousand libraries have been installed, and Filipinos continue to benefit from these educational establishments.

The Philippines celebrated its 64th Public Library Day this year, evoking hope with a theme, Investing In Public Libraries Is Investing In People’s Lives. Public libraries from all over the Philippines peppered social media with the hashtag #64thPubLibDay, allowing netizens to sift through posts of their initiatives online.

Proclamation No. 563, s. 1959 mandates the annual celebration of Public Library Day in the Philippines through activities such as book drives, educational workshops, storytelling sessions, and fairs, among others, to promote literacy and education. This celebration, first implemented in 1996, reflects the country’s appreciation for libraries, librarians, and library staff.

The country has laws and policies supporting libraries, including Republic Act 7743. This law promotes the building of public libraries in the Philippines and recognizes their importance in promoting the intellectual and moral well-being of people and in nation-building.

Lack of public libraries

Overseeing the promotion of library development and provision of library services in the country, the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) is mandated to establish and maintain libraries nationwide.

In early 2023, the NLP Public Libraries Division (PLD) received an allocation of ₱26.2 million, which “is more than adequate for our needs,”  PLD Chief Blesila Velasco says in an email to NewsNarratives. “Most of this budget has been allocated to establishing new public libraries and “training, monitoring, and research” for more barangay reading centers.

However, the actual number of public libraries in the Philippines as of February 2023 is incommensurate with the idyll. 

RA 7743 mandates every district, city, municipality, and barangay to have a public library or reading center.

Currently, there are about 1,630 affiliated public libraries in the country. Of those, there is one regional library out of 17 regions, six congressional district libraries out of 253 congressional districts, 56 provincial libraries out of 81 provinces, 115 city libraries out of 146 cities, 605 municipal libraries out of 1,488 municipalities, and 850 barangay reading centers out of 42,046 barangays.

So, why the deficiency?

YEAR Total Number of Affiliated Public Libraries
Data extracted from an email from NLP Staff Karl William Panisan.

Velasco reveals that local government units (LGUs) are always encouraged to establish public libraries, but not each LGU complies.

“Libraries are not income-generating. Thus, not all local chief executives (LCEs) buy into such an idea,” Velasco explains. “The return on investment takes time for a constituent using a library service. Moreover, most of the LCEs are not aware of RA 7743.”

She also mentions that the national election, which is held every six years, may discourage LCEs from investing in public libraries. 

NLP Staff Karl William Panisan shared to NewsNarratives via email that 350 affiliated public libraries have closed since 2014.

List of public libraries that have closed down since 2014
*Data extracted from an email from NLP Staff Karl William Panisan.

“Unless the love for books, reading, and libraries becomes an innate want of the LCEs, then [the lack of public libraries] will not become an issue. Because, under the law or as practice, the intent of putting up a public library will come from the LGU. Then, the NLP will provide technical support for its sustainability,” says Velasco.

Shortage of librarians

It seems easy to ask for more libraries, but national legislation also limits library development. For example, RA 9246, also known as The Philippine Librarianship Act of 2003, requires every government library to have a licensed librarian. Unfortunately, the Philippines has a dearth of practicing librarians.

As of 2023, the Philippines has only 10,315 registered librarians, according to the email Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) Professional Registry Division Chief Evelyn Bayaua sent to NewsNarratives.

Notably, not every licensed librarian is practicing their profession, and many of them also choose to work abroad. In other words, this number of registered librarians is an overestimate of what the country actually has.

For instance, Library and Information Science (LIS) graduate and licensed librarian Amber Elaine Enage now works as a Business Process Analyst. Enage started as a staff in Records Management (RS), a discipline under librarianship. But after six years, she found her footing in Business Process Management. “I chose to use what I know of [librarianship] in the different fields that I find myself in,” she tells NewsNarratives via Messenger.

Moreover, Velasco confirms that there is currently a greater demand than supply of practicing librarians. “Public libraries alone need a sufficient number of librarians. At present, there are 180 librarians working in public libraries, and this is not a one-to-one ratio. Some public libraries have more than one licensed librarian. Other types of libraries, like schools, academic, and special libraries (those that offer specialized resources for a niche audience) need licensed librarians as well,” she says.

In 2018, the National Library released a study entitled Status Report of Philippine Public Libraries and Librarianship.” They surveyed 433 public libraries across the country, revealing that 43.88% of public libraries have no professional librarians, while 45.27% have only one.

public libraries in the philippines
*From Table 14 of Status Report of Philippine Public Libraries and Librarianship

According to the PRC Board for Librarians Member Lourdes T. David, only 6,244 librarians renewed their professional identification cards (PIC) in 2021. In September 2022, only 250 out of 634 passed the Librarian Licensure Examination (LLE). 

Beyond the number of passers, the decline in the number of takers may also seem alarming. Compared to 2018 and 2019, which saw 951 and 1,024 takers respectively, the latest batch of takers declined by at least 33%.

This begs the question: Is librarianship in the Philippines no longer attractive?

Building future librarians

“From our point of view, the decline [of librarians] cannot immediately be linked to the premise that the Philippine librarianship is no longer attractive, especially since there is no formal report of either its attractiveness or non-attractiveness,” Philippine Librarians Association Inc. (PLAI) President Rene Manlangit tells NewsNarratives via email.

Still, Manlangit admits that there is a struggle to entice younger Filipinos to pursue librarianship. According to him, librarians would benefit from better compensation and more conducive working environments.

“PLAI is looking to work with Library and Information Science (LIS) schools offering courses that, when achieved, are allowed to take the LLE in order to promote and encourage students to take a bachelor’s or master’s degree in LIS,” he says.

In another light, one can also look at the standard of the industry’s salary and compensation. Special library librarian Genesis Montero tells NewsNarratives, “Librarianship is always being threatened to become obsolete. Also, the pay isn’t top-notch.”

According to PayScale, the average librarian earns around ₱230,000 per year. Entry-level librarians earn as little as ₱149,760—a far cry from the average cost of living in Manila, which is, reportedly, ₱329,052 per annum.

Reading the budget

Under the National Expenditure Program FY 2023, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reported that the National Library saw a 22.64% budget cut—from ₱208 million in 2022 to ₱161 million in 2023.

While Velasco contends that the budget is sufficient, she discloses that most affiliated libraries are yet to overcome a handful of issues: the lack of licensed librarians, outdated collections of books and electronic resources, shortages in ICT equipment (e.g., computers, tablets, servers, printers), unreliable Internet connection, among others.

When asked if public libraries are receiving enough support from the government, Velasco confesses: “Honestly speaking, no.” Nevertheless, she stresses the crucial role of the local government in library development.

While the national government tries to encourage library development in the Philippines, the National Library can only provide technical assistance, including establishing and affiliating public libraries, providing initial library resources, monitoring public libraries, and training public librarians and staff.

Meanwhile, the LGUs are the ones in charge of the administrative matters, including hiring staff, building and furnishing the libraries with equipment, updating collections and educational resources, and managing operational expenses.

“LGUs must support public libraries; otherwise, the efforts of the NLP will be wasted,” Velasco says. “LCEs must be users of public libraries, too, so that it will be easy to promote public libraries.”

Velasco also suggests that it may be time for a new legislation. For example, RA 7743, which was drafted in 1994, lacks consideration for ICTs. Additionally, Manlangit suggests that strict implementation of librarianship-related laws is essential, especially at the LGU level.

“There are standards for different kinds of libraries in the Philippines. By ensuring that the basic requirements are met to operate these libraries on a regular and continuous basis, they also guarantee the existence of the libraries, regardless of political affiliation and parties, for many years to come,” he says.

Digitizing public libraries

As the world continues to push further into the information age, public libraries have a lot of catching up to do. Where hardbounds used to fill library shelves are now computers, tablets, and laptop desks. Libraries are no longer limited to traditional educational resources as digital learning is becoming more relevant in the Philippines.

In 2003, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) conceptualized the Philippine eLib project, the first digitization program initiative in the country. With a budget of ₱166.77 million, the project was officially launched in February 2004. 

In 2016, the NLP Public Libraries Division officially added an allocation of “hybrid library resources to newly affiliated libraries: ebooks with a set of a desktop computer and print and non-print collections.”

Smaller public libraries, on the other hand, are at the mercy of their LCEs. Some local libraries, including the Quezon Provincial Library and Cavite Provincial Library, have asked the National Library to assist with their digitization initiatives.

Digitization in the Philippines is not as easy as it seems, however. Copyright and privacy issues, budget constraints, and lack of IT skills are only some challenges that libraries face today.

Still, libraries in the Philippines push to overcome digitization challenges. Through the process, library collections can grow exponentially, with few limitations. As long as digital resources do not eradicate physical supplies, digitization can provide wider access to every library user.

Reaching the community

In the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Philippines ranked lowest in reading comprehension out of 79 countries. As of June 2022, the World Bank estimated that 90.9% of 10-year-old Filipino children cannot understand simple stories.

These numbers highlight the urgency of investing in educational resources. After all, investing in public libraries is investing in Filipinos: their critical thinking, reading comprehension, academic success, cultural awareness, et cetera.

Libraries continue to play a vital role in society in the information age. But while digital resources definitely improve library services, the PLAI believes that public libraries in the Philippines stay relevant with or without technology.

“Not all areas of the country do have electricity and internet. Printed books and materials will still be important and relevant,” Manlangit says. “Should libraries [that] can afford to be all digital and electronic assist other libraries by providing some printed books and materials to far-flung areas with libraries, that enables leaving no-one behind in the development and improvement of learning and literacy in the Philippines.”

Public libraries assist both rural natives and city folks, especially with media literacy. “The public libraries themselves are ways to combat the proliferation of fake news online,” says Velasco. “Books, regardless of formats, and libraries are reliable and reputable sources of information. Through training, promotion, and publicity of public libraries, [library users] are reminded to always check the source or ‘author’ of the content the reader is referring to or viewing.”

Velasco shares that libraries assist readers in accessing reliable sources as they offer printed and digital news, magazines, peer-reviewed articles, scholarly journals, government or publicly funded organization reports, fact sheets, academic research papers, and databases, among others.

Aside from offering printed sources, public libraries in the Philippines now also provide digital resources, educational programs, employment opportunities, and other extracurricular sessions. Different government departments have initiated various services, such as the Tekno-aklatan program that offers ebooks, Tech4ED Center program that provides informal education and employment opportunities, STARBOOKs that functions as the first Philippine Science Digital Library, and other services. 

Most public libraries also function as meeting venues for non-government organizations, serving the community in various ways.

Servicing together

Considering its different laws, agencies, and programs, the Philippines shows how it values library development. Several LGUs have great visibility in nurturing librarianship. Some remarkable government libraries are the following: Valenzuela City Library, Quezon City Public Library, Batangas City Public Library and Information Center, Cagayan Provincial Learning and Resource Center, Urdaneta City Library, Cebu City Public Library, Bohol Provincial Library, Davao City Library and Information Center, and Tagum City Library and Learning Commons.

Indeed, government efforts are evident in promoting library development and literacy nationwide. “Libraries stay relevant as long as one soul remains to be touched by what the library can offer in ways imaginable and unimaginable,” says Manlangit.

But more things can be done. For example, as per Velasco, public libraries would benefit from gaining accreditation, having more plantilla positions, and becoming indicators of the Seal of Good Local Governance.

Hesitations to develop libraries are understandable, however. Subsidizing such non-profit establishments can be dubious in a developing country. Thus, funding public libraries must be done in faith—that the investment goes beyond monetary value. It is an investment in the future of the community, its people, and its progress. Libraries, after all, serve as a cornerstone for learning, growth, and development, making them an indispensable asset to the Philippines.

First part of the story: https://newsnarratives.com/2019/05/02/internet-is-all-the-rage-now-but-libraries-remain-relevant/

By Danielle Uy

She is a freelance writer and editor in the Philippines.

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