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Jose Escarilla — Filipino Librarian

A Filipino librarian has been featured in the November 2006 issue of SLA's Information Outlook. The full text of the article and the accompanying sidebars are reprinted in full below with permission. (Note: It's actually four pages long, with three photos, so this is not a short write-up.)

I first met Jose Escarilla at SLA's annual conference in Toronto last year (see SLA 2005). Actually, to be more precise, he found me.

I am quoted in the article as saying that, "Jose is very accommodating... When he found out that I was attending this year’s conference in Baltimore, he told me that I could join him in his hotel room if I didn’t have any place to stay." Due perhaps to space limitations, the whole story was not told. Here's the rest of the email and photo I sent to the article's author:
but i already had a place to stay, so i had to decline.

and then i had difficulty finding a place to stay in arlington, where i was attending another conference. this time i asked jose, and he referred me to jim arshem, who very willingly took me in.

finally widharto, an indonesian whom i also met on the same day i met jose last year, asked me if i knew anyone with whom he could stay in baltimore, so i forwarded his email to jose.

attached is a photo i took in baltimore. jose hosted jim and widharto in his hotel room. from left: widharto, jim, jose.
Widharto, Jim Arshem, Jose Escarilla

Jose G. Escarilla Jr.

Joined SLA: 1976
Job Title: Corporate Librarian
Employer: General Electric Company
Experience: 38 years
Education: University of the East, Philippines, major, library science; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N.Y., MLS
First Job: Student assistant at the University of the East Library, Philippines

Biggest challenge: “In the late 1990’s, GE required every exempt employee to complete two projects to be ‘greenbelt’ certified. It was a nightmare to come up with 2 projects but I survived and got my greenbelt certificate.”
Other activities: GE volunteer (Habitat for Humanity, literacy program, etc.); marathon runner (about 60 as of press time); ballroom dancer; tennis player; world traveler

A Retiring Info Pro Looks Back on His Career—and Ahead to…
More Marathons to Come

By Forrest Glenn Spencer

Jose G. Escarilla Jr. has been called a brat, Good Samaritan, troublemaker, spoiled, a global freeloader, Jose Loco, and a survivor.

And that’s just from his friends and associates.

On December 22, SLA member Escarilla will be called something else: retired. After nearly 40 years as a corporate librarian (the last 21 years with the General Electric Company) and a day before his 60th birthday, Escarilla will depart the GE corporate offices in Fairfield, Connecticut, and see what new challenges he can tackle. He has many accomplishments: marathon running, singing, ballroom dancing, tennis, and extensive volunteering. Upon retirement, his new endeavor will be that of a full-time world traveler.

“Most of my friends are surprised that I am retiring early,” Escarilla said. “Life is too short and I actually was given a projection of 25 years to live. I am in perfect health. I might have aches and pains, but that is part of aging. My passion in life is to see the world. With my resources and resourcefulness, I think I can do it as long as I have a fairly good and healthy life.”

Some wanted Escarilla to stay, but he felt it was time to move on. There were changes occurring at GE with new management, and he believed the timing was best.

“One of my dreams in life was to be a millionaire when I retire,” Escarilla added. “But my health is important to me, so it’s okay that I didn’t become a millionaire. I have had several operations. I am a survivor in all that I do. When I run in marathons, it’s not about the time but that I finish the race.”

He was born in Sipocot, Camarines Sur, Bicol Province, Philippines, in 1946 and raised and educated in a middle-class family where he helped his parents with their variety store and restaurant. But he has always been independent minded and free spirited. His drive has been his interest and ambitions.

To Escarilla, nothing seemed impossible. Upon completion of college at the University of the East, Philippines, with a major in library science, his first job was working as a student assistant in the university library. His first job as a corporate librarian was in the technical library at Philippines Airlines (PAL). He felt lucky to secure this job because he was told that people were not hired at PAL without knowing anyone on “the inside,” and he knew no one. He applied blindly.

“Basically my job was answering questions about the airlines for the mechanics and engineers,” he said. “We were also responsible for laminating the manuals because the mechanics’ hands are very dirty and the materials are used and read constantly. The manuals had to be protected so we laminated everything.” There were five people on the library staff. Escarilla learned that one of the benefits at PAL after two years of service was a free international ticket. So he decided to move to the US. “To work in the Philippines, you make no money, the income is minimal. Without working at PAL, I wouldn’t have been able to come to here. I have always had opportunities in my life, all the time. I was thankful to that job so I could come to the U.S.A.”

On the Job

Escarilla’s attraction to the information profession was out of necessity rather than love-at-first-library. “When I was in the Philippines I liked working,” he said in his still-accented English. “It was very easy to find work in libraries. In my first year in college, I was living with this professor and he told me I could always find work in the library as a student assistant. This was my introduction to librarianship and why I have a B.S. in library science.”

His talents for the profession emerged, and he began to develop his skills. “Librarianship is like detective work to me,” he added. “I found it interesting to find information. I still do, even today. It’s an intriguing part of my life, finding information all the time. That’s how I see librarianship.”

In 1970, after two years at PAL, he requested a free ticket to America. He had three plans: find permanent shelter, find work, and find an immigration lawyer to begin the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. He received his green card in 1975 and became a naturalized citizen in 1980.

“When I came to the U.S., I had two friends; and I stayed with them for a few months,” Escarilla said. “I am resourceful in making friends and networking. I’m very open to people. I always like to expand my horizons, even now. I say hello to everyone. I remember my son, when he was very small would ask, ‘Daddy – do you know them?’ And I say no, and he asked, ‘Why did you say hello to them?’ and I said, ‘I just say hello – what’s wrong with that?’

“That’s what I do, whether I’m in Poland or in Istanbul. I say hello, and people just look at me. They’re not used to it, and that’s why I make friends and meet people; I just talk.”

Escarilla joined a Philippine folk dance group and a singing group soon after arriving in the U.S. That’s where he met his wife—and had his fifteen-minutes of fame in performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Once, the dance group and the singing group both were performing at the same time. “I was the only member who belonged to both groups. I got satisfaction performing in front of the elderly people in the hospitals and promoting the Philippine culture.”

Finding his first job in the United States was difficult. Through a job posting at the Columbia University Library School, he was hired as a bindery assistant at the New York Academy of Medicine Library. During his two years there, he studied for his master’s at night and graduated with an MLS in 1973 from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Escarilla found several more jobs during the next 12 years, and his network of friends and associates expanded. One networking opportunity led him to a lunch with then-GE librarian Rose Mancini in 1985. “When she told me that she was going to retire, I told her that I would like to apply for the job,” Escarilla recalled. “Through extensive interviews, including with a vice president, I was hired as a corporate librarian [in the] business development department. I liked my job because I was asked to get information on companies that we would like to merge with or buy. If we bought the company, we always had a big celebration.”

It wasn’t long before Escarilla became the administrator of the Library Research Center, which had access to information on more than 6 million American businesses, continuous investment analyses on more than 1,700 businesses, the annual reports of 900 companies, and access to over 100 publications. Then, as now, employees were encouraged to visit the center and use the information.

A Keeper

Escarilla’s access to the data grew over the years, but the corporate environment began change. The recession of the early 1990s took its toll. Businesses cut jobs, streamlined operations, and introduced multi-tasking into the employees’ standard of performance. In 1992, GE merged its six libraries to form the Corporate Information Research Center (CIRC) as part of the Real Estate Service Operation with a staff of nine. Two years later, GE decided to outsource CIRC to then Teltech (now Guideline).

“If they outsourced the library, then I would have no control with that,” Escarilla said. “But then one day the vice president called me to his office. I was very nervous at that moment. I was not sure of what was going to happen to me. As soon as I arrived at the door, I greeted him with, ‘Hi Ed, are you going to give me a pink slip?’

“I knew that it was a very bold statement, but I wanted to be direct. He smiled and told me to sit down... I was relieved when he told me that two of the nine people would remain as GE employees and I was one of them.”

Escarilla never knew why he was chosen to stay over the other librarians—and he never asked, he said with a laugh. “My thinking is because maybe Jack was involved in the decision, and I know Jack.” Jack, being Jack Welch, then the GE chairman and chief executive officer. Escarilla’s office was in the same building as Welch’s, two floors directly below the chairman’s. Escarilla had been featured extensively in the corporate newsletter, and he believes Welch read those newsletters. “I think Jack liked to see those kind of outstanding employees, and probably that’s why I stayed.” When Welch left GE, he held a farewell party with only 150 people in attendance. Escarilla was one of the invited guests.

Today, Escarilla is the only librarian at GE’s corporate office in Fairfield, serving 500 individuals. There are other librarians in other divisions, but most of the extensive research work is outsourced. People come to Escarilla for information. “Of course people are in and out of this corporate office; but when they leave, they’re still calling me for information,” he added. “My name is out in the field. My response to a request for information is ‘be quick.’”

Most of the questions asked of Escarilla today are related to marketing. Some of the executives request articles about them from various magazines or newspapers. One of his more popular tasks is setting out articles about GE and its upper management for employees and visitors.

“The corporate librarian must understand the company’s ongoing business concerns and its current initiatives,” Escarilla said about the value of corporate librarianship. “At GE, for example, there are six major businesses and many sub-businesses. And many changes have occurred during my 21 years with the company. My research skills have always had extra value, because I completely knew and understood the company’s business needs.

“Technology has changed immensely. The delivery of information is unbelievable. I remember when I had to photocopy and mail or fax. Now, I just scan and e-mail. We have e-magazines, e-newspapers, e-books; everything is available online. My role as a corporate librarian has expanded from research to coordination and marketing of information services. I encourage employees to be self-sufficient in their own research projects and direct them to databases GE has contracts with.”

Escarilla has been a member of SLA since 1976.

His schedule hasn’t permitted leadership roles in chapters or divisions: In addition to his position at GE, he also has worked two evenings a week at the Fairfield University Library for 26 -years. At one point, he was working seven days a week, but had to cut back for his extracurricular activities, such as marathon running.

His goal is run in 100 marathons in his lifetime. His personal best time was 3:47 a few years ago in a marathon in Paris. His trans-Atlantic flight had arrived the same day. “My favorite marathons are New York City and Paris. I run those marathons every year.”

But he always made time for the annual conferences of SLA, which he has been attending for more than 20 years. “I always have a great time learning new technologies or developments processes but most important is to network with my old and new colleagues.” Escarilla believes he’ll remain with the organization as a retired member. “I love going to the conferences and meeting the people, seeing old friends. I also spend more time with many first-timers at the conference. They are my targets now,” he added, with a laugh.

“If you have seen Jose at an annual conference, then you know that his conference style is casual, but that’s deceiving,” said SLA member Jill Hurst-Wahl. “Jose takes the profession very seriously. He believes in librarianship as a career and wants people to succeed in their library-related careers. The best part about Jose is that he is always encouraging, whether you’ve known him for years or just meet him in the Info-Expo.”

SLA member Widharto concurs with that assessment. The Indonesian information professional at SEAMEO BIOTROP said that Escarilla is “a kind-hearted person and a disciplined man. He cares and is helpful for those who should be assisted.” They first met in 2005 in Toronto and their friendship has grown since.

“Jose is very accommodating,” said SLA member and Filipino Librarian Von Totanes. “When he found out that I was attending this year’s conference in Baltimore, he told me that I could join him in his hotel room if I didn’t have any place to stay.” The two first met at the conference in Toronto; since then, they met again in early 2006 when Escarilla returned to Philippines to visit family. Their relationship has been built via e-mail.

So much lies ahead for Escarilla in his future. But what of his profession? He predicts corporate librarians will always remain in demand. “With so many new products and new technologies, the corporate librarian will be needed to provide information on the best sources to serve various customers within the company. I advise librarians to attend all company activities and introduce themselves to employees and managers. They should aggressively promote the library’s services to everyone in the company.”

And he continues to believe that technology will continue to make the information specialist productive. “I know where to refer people if I don’t have the answer. The key to librarianship is to find the information wherever it is.”

But come December 22, he will face a new set of challenges. Retirement and leisure won’t be downtime for Escarilla. He plans to play a game of tennis with his 30-year-old son. He’s still trying to decide if he’ll travel to Latin America first in 2007 or do a road trip across the U.S. to visit friends and family. And he hopes to keep in touch with his SLA friends and colleagues.

“I can’t wait for my retirement,” Escarilla said. “I have to release all that energy within myself for good causes, and I am blessed with good health, body, and mind.”

And if a beaming Filipino-American in his early 60s stops to say hello, it’s probably Escarilla on his world tour.

Forrest Glenn Spencer is a Virginia-based independent information professional, editor, and writer. He specializes in developing potential donor prospects for non-profit organizations and works with clients as an Independent Collector of Fine Researched Information.

Jose Escarilla’s Advice to Info Pros

1. Treat everybody the same. Of course, you have to do extra, extra steps when an executive requests information.

2. Have a sense of humor. You can be serious, but you need to inject some kind of humor into it.

3. Have a smiling face whenever you see a client. It means that you are welcoming them with an open arm and willing to help them.

4. Know what other employees do in the organization and talk to them in person. You will need this in the future for referral purposes.

5. Talk to your manager on how important it is to attend SLA meetings for networking, professional development, and information on new products.

6. Go the extra mile to complete the work: Deliver the information in person or e-mail the information in minutes. In other words, get the information quickly and efficiently.

7. Make friends with other local librarians...just not special libraries but also academic and public librarians. You will need them during crunch time.

8. Always willing to take the job no matter difficult it is but be honest if you can’t do the job. Otherwise, give them an alternative.

Category: Librarians

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