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Typhoon Ondoy and Libraries

Despite the high literacy rate in the Philippines, the number of Filipinos who read books that aren't assigned reading in school isn't very high. One of the reasons is that many Filipinos are more concerned about when they're going to eat again, and don't really have the time or the money to spend on books. What about libraries? Well, what about them? The provision of library service to Filipinos hasn't been a priority in a very long time. (See "Reading and Barangay Libraries" and "Amending the Law on Public Libraries.")

And that's why I'm not all that surprised that not much has been posted online regarding the damage wrought by Typhoon Ondoy on libraries. It makes perfect sense, after all, that food and shelter for those affected by the flooding should be the first priority. But I do wonder, however, why librarians haven't been more active in spreading the word about what happened to their libraries. The only library-related photo I've found, for instance, is the one above—and it was posted by a non-librarian. There are probably many reasons for their silence, including the possibility that they are actually too busy dealing with the fall-out of this disaster in their personal and professional lives. But I would urge those who are in a position to spread the word about the state of libraries—whether their own or those of others—to speak up, and to do it online.

There are many people who are willing to help, but unless they are aware that their help is needed, it is unlikely that they will volunteer their assistance. Igor Cabbab has created a Google Docs spreadsheet that provides information on the extent of damage to specific libraries, contact persons, assistance needed, photos AND can be updated by just about anyone with access to the Internet. One important reason for documenting the damage is that after the basic needs of typhoon victims have been taken care of, it is very possible that donors will assume that nothing else has to be done. Once the urgency passes, I am afraid that library collections and facilities built up over several years or even decades will be neglected, and the minimal access that Filipinos have to libraries will be reduced even further. So librarians must speak up about the damage to their libraries. This is a good time to ask for books, computers, furniture, etc.

On the personal side, it would be good to see the different library associations organize ways to assist librarians who were severely affected by Typhoon Ondoy. Zarah Gagatiga has already stated the ways in which her family has suffered because of this disaster, and I sincerely doubt whether she is the only one.


Librarian as Cover Boy

No, this is not one of those fake magazine covers where your photo gets added to a template, along with an outrageous headline. The individual and group photos taken at the Library of Congress, we were told, were to be kept as stock photos and used in the pages of Information Outlook when appropriate. This particular photo was supposed to be just a remembrance for all those who participated. No mention was made of putting it on the cover! But I'm not complaining =)

Thanks to my friend David McBee for scanning the cover and posting it online.


Amending the Law on Public Libraries

House Bill No. 6770, filed by blogger-turned-legislator Mong Palatino on 2 September 2009, seeks to amend Republic Act No. 7743, which provides for the establishment of "public libraries in every congressional district, city and municipality, and reading centers in every barangay throughout the Philippines." Senate Bill No. 1387, filed by Loren Legarda on 26 July 2007, is much older and shorter than HB 6770, but is not really all that different.

I am, of course, grateful that such bills have been filed and applaud their proponents, but as I wrote four years ago in "Reading and Barangay Libraries," I will wait until I see more concrete plans before I start jumping up and down. I am concerned about the fact that the word "librarian" is never mentioned in the draft bills. A building full of books and computers with no librarian is a warehouse, not a library. Someone has to manage these resources and promote their use to the community. But is there any provision for the hiring of librarians in the bills? Nope. Here are the relevant passages:


There are some differences in phrasing and the amount, but it is clear that the increase in budget is intended for the implementation of the electronic library system. I'm not quite sure how the system works, but I hope it is still possible to revise these drafts with input from librarians.

Finally, while the draft bills seem to be an improvement on RA 7743 because the National Library's budget is to be increased by specific amounts, I am not optimistic that the amended republic act, if it is ever signed into law, will ever be implemented. Why? It is not clear where the money is supposed to come from. In contrast, Republic Act No. 9521 or the "National Book Development Trust Fund Act" states that the funds required will be taken from a specific source and how it will be managed. Without such provisions, those drafting the annual appropriations bill can choose to ignore it. Just as RA 7743 has been ignored since 1994.


In My Life Screenings in Canada

In My Life Screenings in CanadaReviews of In My Life have already begun appearing in newspapers and blogs. While most mention that Vilma Santos plays a librarian, very few actually comment on it except to say that she's strict. Fortunately, there's "They’re called the net generation librarians" by Ronald Lim (Manila Bulletin, 19 September 2009), which I hope will be read by a few people who watched In My Life (and not just because my name is mentioned!).

Unfortunately, it will take a few weeks before I get to watch the film here. There will be a premiere in Toronto, but I won't be around because I'll be in Ann Arbor, MI, conducting research in connection with the fellowship grant I received. Besides, it's too expensive! Anyway, below are the schedules for the premieres and regular screenings in Canada:


October 3
Calgary, AB
Calgary Telus Convention Centre

October 4
Toronto, ON
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, CNE Grounds
Regular Screening
October 9-22: Scarborough Town Center
October 16-22: Square One, Mississauga

October 9-15: Plaza Cote des Neiges

British Columbia
October 10-11: Denman Theaters


"Losyang" Librarian?

In My Life, which stars Vilma Santos as a librarian, opens on September 16 and, predictably enough, articles about the film are beginning to appear. In "Direk Olive's 'In My Life' is bold and fresh," by Walden Sadiri (Manila Bulletin, 2009), its director Olive Lamasan is quoted as saying that she helped Santos "rehearse how a librarian walks and looks 'losyang.'" If this were an article for a scholarly journal, I suppose some questions that could be asked are: Is there such a thing as a "librarian walk"? Are all librarians losyang (Tagalog slang for unglamorous)? But it probably isn't fair to ask such questions of an article that only seeks to promote the release of a soon-to-be shown film.

I think it's important to remember that Lamasan is talking about a specific character in a particular film. And that it would be a mistake to focus only on this one phrase in the 20-paragraph article or judge the entire movie based on how the librarian is portrayed. I don't think there was any intention to characterize ALL librarians as losyang. But we also cannot deny that this stereotypical librarian exists. I look at the photo above and remember that more than a few librarians I've met dress exactly that way. Should the director perhaps have made sure that all kinds of librarians were represented in her film? It's not her responsibility to do so and that's not really how movies are made.

Librarians can probably condemn the movie and/or call for a boycott, but what will that accomplish? I think it's much better to take this opportunity to say that, yes, there is an existing stereotype, but there are so many different kinds of librarians AND promote what these librarians are doing that do not fit the stereotype. The reason the image of the losyang librarian persists is that people do not see any other kind of librarian in media. This is the reason I always identify myself as a librarian AND started putting my photo on my blog. If we do not present alternative images of librarians, there is no way the stereotype will be replaced. I've said it before and I'll say it again:

We can't just leave it to others to tell the people who we are; that's why the stereotypes about librarians continue to flourish. We have to be the ones to go out there and tell people who we are. It's not enough to complain about inaccurate images of librarians; we must be able to present alternative, positive images in movies, books and, yes, blogs =)
An article entitled "It's hip to be a librarian" appeared in the same newspaper last month. A few weeks before that, the influence of Reynaldo G. Alejandro as a librarian on a young boy was specifically mentioned by the grown journalist who benefited from his guidance. It is my hope that more journalists will consider doing more stories about non-stereotypical librarians on TV and in print. And that librarians will be more conscious about promoting their profession as well.


Dinig Sana Kita (If I Knew What You Said)

The last time I reviewed a film that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I wrote that, "Maybe next year, with more money, I'll be able to watch more movies, including non-Filipino ones." Well, that was three years ago, when I saw Kubrador and Twilight Dancers. I still don't have enough money to watch more than the two Filipino films at TIFF this year (and I'm still thinking real hard about watching Independencia), but I'm very happy that I saw If I Knew What You Said at its international premiere.

I had heard good things about the film from my friends who saw it in the Philippines, and the description on the TIFF website—"When we consider independent Filipino cinema, we tend to think of hand-held cameras rattling through the slums. That's why Mike Escareal Sandejas's If I Knew What You Said is such a breath of fresh air"—reminded me that while I liked both of the previous TIFF films (one more than the other), they were actually both rather depressing, and I'm really not the type who likes depressing films =)

Anyway, what I really liked about this film was that it's different in so many ways. There is, of course, the story. "Boy meets girl" is probably the oldest story in the world (remember Adam and Eve? LOL!), but I've never seen one where the boy, Kiko (Rome Mallari), is deaf AND breakdances. The girl, Niña (Zoe Sandejas), is a rocker and a troublemaker (or is that redundant?), which is not so unusual, but when you put that together with the boy's situation, the fact that they even meet is really extraordinary. And no, they did not first set eyes on each other across a crowded concert hall. It happened at a police station. Go figure.

But more than the story, there's the treatment. It's very restrained. Unlike most Filipino dramas, this one has none of the usual sigawan-iyakan-sampalan (shouting-crying-slapping) scenes that are to the Philippines what song-and-dance numbers in Bollywood films must be to India. For instance, just when I expected Niña's father—whose face is never shown—to start slapping her around, the door closed and... fade out.

Then again, it is appropriate that silence is much more prominent in this film... except that there's more of it on the rocker's side. Kiko's scenes, in fact, are the ones that tend to have more sound in them. And by sound, I don't mean dialogue. Kiko's biggest scene—and the most affecting—had no words, but the images and the sound of music made words unnecessary. Another big scene did have words, but the images and the sound of silence were shatteringly effective in conveying the magnitude of what had occurred. That perhaps is all I should say about that scene in case you haven't seen the film =)

Then there's the use of sign language. It's not in-your-face, where one character says, "This is the sign for..." The few important signed words in the film—friend, dad, mom, sorry—were introduced so naturally that when the payoffs arrived, it did not really occur to me to think that the writer had been setting up the audience for future scenes. I found it really ironic that I thought I had an edge over the non-Tagalog speakers in the audience because I could understand the dialogue and read the English subtitles. But when entire conversations were carried out with no dialogue (sometimes with no subtitles at all), it really brought home the meaning—in more ways than one—of "actions speak louder than words."

The film also helped me understand the world of the deaf a little bit more, without feeling as if I attended a session on political correctness. Some of it was funny, like when some deaf students noisily sneaked out of their dorm, not realizing that they were lucky no one was around to hear the racket they were making. The rest of it was not funny, like people automatically assuming that just because a person is deaf that s/he can't read, write, dance, and even "hear" music. The last one was ingeniously illustrated in several ways in the film, but the most memorable for me were the scenes in which Kiko was shown nailing pieces of wood to the walls of his room. It didn't really make much sense until he started playing the music and "listened" to the vibrations it made in his wood-covered space.

Finally, I really appreciated the not-so-common perspective on the Philippines that the film shares with non-Filipinos. As I jokingly told the director, all those scenes in Baguio might just lead Canadians to think that we have winter in the Philippines. But more importantly, without denying the reality of poverty or corruption (there was a hint of bribery), the film presents the Philippines as a place where people speak English, not everyone lives in the slums or the beach, and not everything is political, violent or sexual, which is the image usually presented by Filipino films that make it to international festivals.

If I have any complaints at all, it's about the subtitles, which were not always accurate or grammatically correct even when the dialogue was already in English. I also brought this up in connection with Kubrador and Twilight Dancers and it is understandable considering the constraints the filmmakers have to work with. But in this case, the title's translation is an added problem for me. Dinig sana kita is literally the Tagalog phrase for "I wish I could hear you," and I can understand that it isn't really catchy, but why not "If I could hear you"? "If I knew what you said" seems to imply that the film is about "knowing" and "saying," but it's really more about, at least to me, "hearing."

For more information, as well as Twitter updates, see the official website and an interview with the director.


Dean Vyva Aguirre on CPE and Board Exam Issues

I know that I just said that I'm "too busy to blog," but this is too important not to blog. The letter below is self-explanatory. Its author is Atty. Vyva Aguirre, Dean, School of Library and Information Studies, University of the Philippines.

Dear Von,

This is in response to the many queries that I personally get concerning two issues which have been the subject of your own postings in filipinolibrarian.blogspot: (1) the CPE, and (2) who are qualified to take the licensure examinations for librarians. I thought that I might as well give my two-cents worth.

RE the CPE

There is much confusion regarding its nature as an obligation. My opinion is that it is only a "moral obligation" but not yet a "legal obligation". The mandatory character of the CPE was deleted by Congress from the new PRC law. It was not merely forgotten but was subjected to discussions on the floor. The fact that it no longer appears in the PRC law is an indication of legislative intent. The PRC as an agency of the Executive Branch cannot substitute its own judgment by a Resolution that effectively amends the law. That is why, the PRC resolution emphasized that CPE is (only) a "moral obligation".

What, then, is the value of PRC's having constituted CPE Councils that accredit CPE providers and assign credit units to seminars, congresses and fora? There could be two benefits: The first is merely prospective – in the event that the PRC law is amended (which may or may not happen, sooner or later), the units earned could be considered "banked". For how long will these be considered "banked", we don't know. The second reason (which is only my opinion), is that it serves as BFL's way of monitoring the CPE activities of the professional associations, in compliance with our Code of Ethics.

Personally, I am disheartened by the attitude of some librarians who run after "credit points" instead of considering the value of topics offered by the seminars and workshops that they want to attend. This, to me, is an unprofessional attitude, and my main objection to mandatory CPE.

RE Issue of Who May Take the Licensure Examination for Librarians

Section 15 of RA 9246 states quite clearly:

SECTION 15. Qualifications of Applicants. - Applicants for licensure examination must meet the following qualifications at the time of filing of applications:
a) Citizen of the Philippines or a foreign citizen whose country has reciprocity with the Philippines as regards the practice of librarianship;

b) Good health and good moral character, and

c) Graduate of Bachelor's degree in Library Science and Information Science: Provided, That a holder of a master's degree in Library and Information Science Shall be allowed to qualify for application to the licensure examinations: Provided, further, That within five (5) years from the effectivity of this Act, holders of the following degrees shall also be allowed to qualify for application to the licensure examination:
1) Bachelor of Science in Education or Elementary Education; or Bachelor of Arts with a major or specialization in Library Science;

2) Master of Arts in Library Science or Library and Information Science; or

3) Any masteral degree with concentration in Library Science.
From the abovequoted provision, it is beyond question that graduates of BLIS and MLIS are qualified to take the Board Exams. As for the enumerations under Sec.15 (c), holders of these degrees may be allowed to qualify "within five (5) years from the effectivity of this Act". The "five years" ended in February of 2009. The PRC Legal Department has issued an opinion saying that this 5-year period can no longer be extended to allow holders of degrees enumerated in said Sec.15 (c) to take the exam in November of this year. Henceforth, based on my reading of the law, backed by the opinion of the PRC's Legal Department, only the following may take the licensure examinations: BLIS graduates, MLIS graduates, and repeaters or those who fall under the enumeration of the proviso (BSE LS, MALS, MALIS, etc) who had taken the examinations within the five-year period but did not pass.

Thank you, Von, for your interest in issues that affect librarians and the profession.

Vyva Aguirre


Too Busy to Blog 2009

No need to worry. This has happened before. See "Too Busy to Blog" and "Too Busy to Blog... Again."


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