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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.

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