THE painting of a woman and her cat pained the onlooker even as it must have impressed others browsing and buying books and other publications in a multi-level bookstore in Taguig, Manila.
The indoor mural made the onlooker uneasy because of the canvas: standing from the first level, one could look up to the ceiling and see the towers of book spines used to create the artist’s canvas.
In the culture industry, books converted as decor may not shatter the psyches of those who take reading as natural and spontaneous as breathing.
But the mural of books reminded the onlooker of a road trip to the south of Cebu. Stopping to check a roadside “reading” center, which attracted a group of loiterers, the onlooker failed to see one material for reading, not even a souvenir program of the town fiesta.
On March 9, 2018, the Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library, also known as the Cebu City Public Library, marked a milestone in its 98 years of existence when it began its operations to serve the public for 24 hours seven days a week.
As reported by Rona Joyce T. Fernandez, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña responded to a Facebook request made by engineering student Mitch Roldan that the library extend its hours of operation beyond the 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekday schedule.
Journalists and Netizens visiting the library have confirmed that the library visitors are neither swiping at their gadgets or napping.
Visitors entering the Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library read. The library has a collection of 25,000 books. It benefits from collaborations with civil society groups, such as the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, which donated references on journalism, and a volunteer group of reading advocates, the Basadours, which held read-aloud and storytelling sessions.
According to the same SunStar Cebu article, City Librarian Rosario Chua said that the Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library sets “a good example for other local government units.”
The Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library contests a “perception that libraries are now obsolete”. Chua said that a “(library) is beyond books and print materials. It is also geared toward education for lifelong learners.”
A Google search for public libraries in Cebu will yield, beyond articles on the Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library, virtually nothing. While there are plans for improving the connectivity and ensuring the security of the Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library, most public libraries struggle with the one feature that defines their existence: books.
Libraries of many public schools have a limited, unchanging collection of books that are rarely opened by students. Not just the scarcity of book funds but also the circuitous bureaucracy of book acquisition perhaps fix the mindset of school authorities that books must be preserved as collections for school inspections.
Treating books as decoration or collections will not nurture a culture of lifelong learning. We cannot just blame the government but also take on the commitment of turning our public libraries into communal spaces for sharing, where those who have contribute or volunteer to transform libraries from being a collection of glass-encased books into a center of information, enjoyment, connection, and aspiration.
Local executives and development councils must allocate resources to make public libraries serve the people. Yet, if you are still holding on to a collection of childhood reading favorites, you can donate to a public library in need of books, specially fiction.
A librarian of a public university library said that while references can be easily justified for acquisition, students are in need of fiction to make book reviews.
Aside from serving functional purposes, fiction is often a child’s first introduction to reading and the root of every adult’s deep-seated devotion to continue reading.
Take a chance your beloved Nancy Drew mystery or copy of Lola Basyang’s legends will end up transforming a youngster into a lifelong reader and learner.