On the Value of Books, Magazines, Etc.
By Apolinario Villalobos
I just cannot understand how some people can fail to appreciate the value of books, magazines, etc. just because they are two, three or more years old. For them such materials are already outdated, so they do not deserve appreciation. The fact is, these materials, especially books can be updated but they retain their historical usefulness, hence, never outdated. Books are updated based on the old editions, and this is necessary, as some authors are found to bungle or distort facts, especially, on political issues. One example here is about the first Mass held in the Philippines, whether it was at Massao in Butuan or Limasawa Island in Leyte. The author of the old Philippine history book contended that it was held in Limasawa when his book was published during the administration of Marcos. There was a popular notion that it was done to please the First Lady who is from Leyte. When Marcos was ousted, those who were protesting in silence, took courage and became more vocal about the issue.
Even for scientific and technical books that are supposed to be updated regularly due to the fast turnover of new ideas and discoveries, there is still a need to maintain old editions so that basic information will always be on hand, in case of verification.
The notion that hard copies of books are no longer necessary with the onset of advance technology, is wrong. What the cyberspace keeps in its archives are actually digitized old books and their new editions if there are, for easy reference. Important issues here are the convenience and affordability of access, as not everybody can afford the installation of computers at home or afford the expense for browsing in internet cafes. On the other hand, there are so-called e-books, but such are just “versions” of printed ones. In fact, some authors venture into e-book publication to sell their books on-line which is easier, but still print them later, using earnings money from the viewers of their e-books.
While before, the book was considered as a precious commodity for the acquisition of knowledge, today, book publication is viewed as a very profitable business venture. This is the reason why the questionable Philippine educational system has allowed the “conversion” of text books into workbooks with the insertion of questions and portions for answers at the end of each chapter. This wicked practice of the educational institutions, including government agencies, in connivance with the unscrupulous publishers and agents has made many people shamefully rich on one end, while on the other end, parents and students suffer. In their haste for printing, some books even come off the press with so many errors. The practice no longer made possible the passing on of old books to younger members of the family, as buying new sets with unanswered questions at the end of chapters, has become necessary.
People love trivia. But where do all the information come from? – old books and magazines! Those found in the internet are the upload, patiently done by website owners that earn through ads squeezed in available spaces of their site’s pages, or number of viewers they generate. This is how servers and website owners in the cyberspace earn. Netizens thought that they owe a lot to them, thinking that they are the originators of the information, when all these website owners do is upload information. On the other hand, the servers only provide space for these websites from which they earn enormous income.
I have no quarrel with the servers and website owners, but my effort here is directed at how people have been misled by thinking that because of the computers, hard copies of reading materials have become obsolete or on a kindlier view, unreliable.
Before the onset of the internet, students had no choice but to diligently turn the pages of books to cull the needed information for their theses. They were forced to make summaries or condense sourced materials. But because of the advance technology, some of them just “copy” and “paste” pages from sources in the internet, make minimal revisions, by deleting sentences and paragraphs, then, collate them into a “thesis”. That is the ongoing sad reality.
When I did a job on the side, editing theses of students from a reputable university, I discovered one time, that four drafts were identical word for word – with the same source in the internet. Two other students tried their best to be authentic by jumbling the sequence of paragraphs that they copied and collated. And there’s the story shared by a librarian about two similar theses, but with submission dates of more than ten years apart! They were discovered later when a researcher took note of the similarity and called the librarian’s attention about it. And, there’s a classic story of how the whole content of a thesis reference was peeled off from its cover by a student researcher, and who inserted folded newspapers, afterwards, as replacement to make the reference material look intact when it was returned to the librarian who did not bother to check.
I am not saying that we fill whatever space we have at home and offices with books and magazines and hold on to them till time eternal. What I am trying to share is the restraint that we should observe in disposing books and other reading materials that have outlived their immediate usefulness. What we do not need can be shared, instead of dumping them in garbage bins. What shocked me was when I found two copies of pocket edition of Bible in a box of junk, and worse, a copy of Koran in another junk shop! I found my rare copies of biography of Queen Victoria, “Pepe En Pilar”, and “Codigo Penal” printed in 1870, in a pile of junks sold on a sidewalk.
As a high school and college student in Notre Dame of Tacurong, a parochial school in the far southern province of Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao, I had a grand time poring over the pages of National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, and Encyclopedias in our library, all old editions, solicited by Oblate priests in the United States. Some of them were even dated as early as 1950’s, especially, the Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, but I still enjoyed reading them. We were lucky, as our bespectacled librarian, Leonardo Ninte and his student assistants, carefully, rebound the reading materials, to make them endure regular handling. A good number of shelves in the library were filled with donated books, with only very few important current editions purchased due to the scant fund of the school. Those “outdated” materials helped me a lot in developing my love for reading. Accordingly, if some people who are in charge of libraries today will nurture an attitude of abhorrence to old books, they will eventually deny others the opportunity to earn knowledge from books, be they old or new.
The fast advancing technology on information is proving its great help to mankind. But we should understand that technology in whatever form has limitations. The gadgets we see now as “repository” of information, still need to be fed with basic information by man as basis for their mechanical “intelligent” subsequent actions. Most importantly, what are fed to these machines come from the human brain. These invented and fabricated machines come about as forms of convenience that man seeks tirelessly for his comfort. Man started with barks, leaves, rocks and even pot shards in recording events long time ago. What resulted into modern day codices – books, should therefore be given due respect and importance for all their worth which is fathomless. To tip the balance in favor of these machines as regards the perception on the value of books, therefore, is not fair.