The Library, Books, and Museum in the Philippines

The Library, Books, and Museum

In the Philippines

By Apolinario Villalobos

The library and museum are the brain and heart of a community, be it a village, town, city, province or a nation. While the library is the repository of books for the acquisition of knowledge, the museum is for the culture and history of the people.

History can attest that even pre-Biblical peoples took pains in recording snatches of stories, songs, legal transactions, medical instructions, etc. on slabs of stones, papyrus, shards of potteries and animal skins to be “archived”. Alexander the Great was known for his propensity of carting back home books and records as part of his war booties. That is how the famous library of Alexandria has amassed various collections that represented different cultures. Everything was saved and even copied for perpetuity by scribes.

On the other hand, other materials, aside from records and books were hoarded in repositories, the equivalent of which today are the cultural and arts galleries – the museums. One of the measures of the greatness of the early kingdoms was the quantity of hoarded war booties in these repositories.

Today in the Philippines, school libraries maintain only books that are not beyond five years from their date of publication according to the guidelines of the Commission on Higher Education (CHeD). The books beyond such prescribed period are thrown away as they have outlived their usefulness as references. On the other hand, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) has condoned the conversion of textbooks into workbooks with the inclusion of test questions at the end of each chapter, practically making such references non-reusable at the end of each school year, so that tons of them find their way to junk shops. This practice is a glaring commercialization of the educational system in the Philippines – a shameless manifestation of greed. And, schools have “museums” that contain nothing but native handcrafted products. Schools that maintain these “museums” are not aware that old books from their libraries can be archived in such facilities. Obviously, their knowledge of the museum is limited to antique vases, jars, bowls, etc. – any item, except books!

If only the role of school libraries is seriously observed, old books in their custody, can then be properly catalogued for systematic archiving. It should be noted that there are some books that contain perpetual information. Lack of space for this purpose is not an acceptable excuse, as archiving is part of the library’s function in tandem with the school’s gallery or museum. Also, having an electronic section for references is not another acceptable excuse for discarding old books. Computer units could easily break down due to poor maintenance and intermittent power outage, leaving researchers helpless, especially during blackouts. In a third- world country like the Philippines, where the power supply is very irregular, especially in provinces, e-libraries have been proved inutile! That is why, for most schools, e-libraries are just for status symbol!…just for show!

When I had an opportunity to visit Germany for a backpacking tour with some of my mountaineering buddies, we explored its villages which are miles from cities. We were delighted to find libraries and galleries that contain books printed during the 1500s, some in early European languages. We do not find such in the Philippines as even the National Library is wanting of Filipino- authored books, how much more for historical ones. It is for this reason that Filipino scholars who do extensive research for a cultural and historical dissertation, would go to libraries in Spain and the United States where libraries that archive books about the Philippines can be found. On the other hand, in the Philippines, books printed during the 1800s are discarded by school librarians to be carted to the junk shops by junk collectors!

So now, do we ever wonder why, the intellect of the young generation of Filipinos, are so IT-dependent to the point of deterioration culturally? They see photos of sparkling white beaches of Boracay in the internet but they do not know to which province it belongs. One student when asked such question over the radio during a phoned-in quiz, answered that Boracay is in the province of Caticlan! Students see the image of the Philippine Eagle in the internet, but they do not know that it is the national bird. Some of them do not know where Camiguin is, etc., etc., etc.

Such is the unfortunate general state of the country’s repositories of the cultural and intellectual resources, as well as, the demeaning of textbooks due to greed, resulting to the deterioration of the country’s culture and educational system. Some teachers affirm my insistence that something must be done to “remedy” the situation.

But how can it be done when the agencies that are charged with responsibilities for the literary uplift of the people, are themselves replete with corruption? How can it be done when even most schools do not know what to make of their libraries to function sanely? How can the schools be effective in their role when they do not even know what archiving means? How can the country be saved from intellectual devastation with the tons of un-reusable textbooks finding their way to the junk shops at the end of each school year, leaving parents in a quandary where to find money at the start of each school year for the purchase of new set of text books?…resulting to most of them, losing heart in sending their children back to school!

Yes…to where is the insanity of our grossly corrupt educational system leading the country?