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Libraries Need Librarians

The video below from "State of the Nation" is the latest feature on Hernando Guanlao, whose "Reading Club 2000" has been the subject of local and foreign news articles since mid-2012.

Whereas previous features have focused almost entirely on Guanlao and his "library," Jessica Soho introduces the video by alluding to 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." In addition, Marisol Abdurahman interviews Martin Julius Perez, a licensed librarian, and solicits his views regarding the significance of Guanlao's library.

There are many things that can be (and have been) written about Guanlao's laudable efforts and the good will he has gained, but I will focus on just one aspect that I have previously written about in "Amending the Law on Public Libraries." In her "Postscript," Soho ends by saying that more Filipinos would probably be reading books "kung wala lang tayong kakulangan sa mga pampublikong aklatan" (if only there were no shortage of public libraries).

There is, in fact, a shortage of public libraries, but an even bigger problem, to which Perez alludes in the video, is that the importance of librarians is taken for granted. While it is true that Guanlao's "Reading Club 2000" is not run by a licensed librarian, Guanlao himself may be considered a librarian. Although there are no rules in his "library," and there is no need to catalog books, he is still the one who receives books, classifies them, and puts them on the shelves. A building full of books and computers with no librarian, as I have said before, is a warehouse, not a library.

I have been critical of previous attempts to amend R.A. 7743, and even of efforts to build libraries for poor communities, because they do not include the need for librarians in their plans. I applaud the vision and generosity of those who want to improve Filipino lives through the establishment of libraries, but well-intended legislation or philanthropy that does not acknowledge the need for licensed librarians or committed volunteers (like Guanlao) will result in what many public school libraries are today: dusty and rarely opened, with new books locked away, because there are no librarians to manage them.

As Guanlao has shown, a passionate volunteer does not really need money to get Filipinos reading. And as licensed librarians I know have demonstrated, it is not necessarily the libraries with the largest budgets that make the biggest impact on readers.


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