One day I got lost in Metro Manila jungle and found myself walking towards Pasay City Municipal Hall, asking where the public library is–instead of how to get to Buendia terminals.
Mr. guard said “third floor” so obedient little me went up, up, up and round, round, round the third floor, which deserves to be hidden indeed from the public eye. Dark, unwelcoming corridors greeted me. I almost expected gangsta boys smoking pot or vampires sucking prey at every corner, but thank god there were only petiks roundabout 1pm.
When at last I found the room, I was shocked. Or perhaps insulted, for being led to such a debased room of knowledge they call “library”.
Books are in a sorry state. No system of classification is visible. Card catalogue looks locked. Library employees chat out loud. Guests talk as if they’re in the canteen. Food sellers peddle their goods every now and then. Labels are written thru pentel pen on scratch papers taped on shelves.
I went around taking pictures and surverying materials. Their books seem to be hand-me-down tattered properties from middleclass families, and much of them are either obsolete or pilfered. Of course I was glad to find a collection of Palanca anthologies, but above them are good for nothing western encyclopedias no longer cited, no longer collected–the type that would describe the Philippines as a tropical paradise full of monkeys.
I was trying to justify this cruelty and assault on the Filipinos’ hope for an educated future, till I found a devirginized book; its sanctity was robbed: effaced cover, torn title page and publication page, baked fragile pages, handwritten title (or was that the topic of the book?). I opened it and found gems inside, oh yes, this could could be in the reading list of our Folk Literature class.
When I was about to leave (enough! enough!), I decided to pass by the librarian’s tiny room.
“May I ask a few questions about this library, ma’am?” I said after introducing myself as a scholar from UP.
The librarian didn’t seem pleased at all since her conversation with a woman was interrupted, so she asked a dozen questions before she realized I am one heck of a serious scholar concerned about libraries. The woman she’s talking to stood and left. I stood still for the rest of my interview which lasted for an hour.
She had the following confession:
1. All her 20 plus staff don’t give a damn about the library . They seem less concerned about organizing and doing inventory than when the next pay is going to be.
2. They do get book donations such as old textbooks but she doesn’t know where to start in putting order to that messy pile.
3. She cannot give orders to the employees since they stop doing assigned tasks anyway.
4. The library has become a marketplace, not of ideas, but of ulam and turon.
5. They have budget for books, internet connection, and other expenses, but somewhere along the bureaucratic way, papers for purchasing are halted, if not lost.
6. She’s ashamed of this public library that she doesn’t want librarians from other public libraries visiting nor conducting meetings there.
7. She has submitted to the fact that the best libraries in Metro Manila are those in QC, Pasig, Manila, and Mandaluyong, and that Pasig has no chance at all in winning the best-public-library title, despite another fact that the National Library assists all municipal and city libraries especially in Manila.
8. Some books are kept in her room to avoid further damage–unfortunately, away from careful and sincere researchers as well.
9. People do not know how to use the card catalogue so they do not recommend using it (so to do away with the arduous task of organizing cards in disarray).
10. Students can easily research through the Internet nowadays anyway. Or, there’s Philippine e-lib anyway. Or, other institutions have better libraries anyway.
So I left the room and the building and the city asking, “so why put up that public library anyway?”