A LIBRARY, under that quiet, is in ferment.

When I first climbed up to the third floor for the archives section of the University of the Philippines (UP) Main Library, the name of Armando Malay was printed and pasted on several boxes awaiting transfer down the very same stairs I was coming up.

I stopped inwardly wincing about the stairs when I saw what workers were carrying down those six flights: boxes of personal papers and records and tied-up piles of theses and dissertations for relocation while the Gonzalez Hall goes under two or three years of renovation and retrofitting.

Curiosity in the American colonial-era paper published in Cebu, the “Bag-ong Kusog,” led me to the Main Library, established in 1922.

For 14 years after the UP was founded in 1908, students and faculty made do with smaller libraries within the system and outside the campus. The first University Librarian was Mary Polk of Indiana in the U.S.

According to the official website, every University Librarian since Polk “has grappled” with major concerns. Grappling for the first time with a microfiche machine to read the microphotographs taken of a thesis indexing the “Bag-ong Kusog,” I felt sorely the Main Library’s need for funds, the enhancements of information technology, and structural renovations, specially to create access for persons with disability.

Yet, in the age of digitization, a publicly and perennially underfunded library has more than a lesson or two at hand. Wilhelmina Bono Cabellon was Librarian II at the UP Main Lib when she indexed the content published during the first 13 years of “Bag-ong Kusog’s” 26-year existence.

Cabellon’s 1978 master’s thesis is a nearly 500-page typewritten tome she wrote by reading and rereading the articles published in 152 issues. An index seems like an afterthought, found at the end of a book. For researchers, an index is the beam of light steering the swimming among text and ideas.

Even in the neutral terms of library science, Cabellon’s index makes intelligible how Sugbuanon society was split over fighting for and opposing the independence Americans dangled over Filipinos.

A journalist who covered World War II and the Hukbalahap Rebellion and then became a UP teacher and later dean of student affairs during the First Quarter Storm and the imposition of martial law, Malay had a rare ringside view to the schisms dividing Philippine society. Even rarer still, he kept a diary that ran to more than 50 volumes.

The “Bag-ong Kusog” (1915-1940) and the Armando Malay Papers are among the more than 280,000 books, non-books, and other resources kept at the UP Main Library, steward of memory and meaning.