Seares: City library and, surprise, Tomas

THEY don’t usually mix like old pals: public official, library and books. And Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña is not among the exception.

Mayor Tomas hasn’t been known for loving books although he reads the papers (including SunStar). The only book he reportedly likes to read is Sun Tzu’s 13-chapter “The Art of War.” He quotes writers on Facebook wall but it’s not certain how much of the words of wisdom posted there are lifted by himself or his son Miguel who runs the site.

Big ripple

It was therefore big ripple on City Hall’s placid scholastic waters when this week the mayor announced that the Cebu City Library along Osmeña Blvd. would be open 24/7.

Apparently he did it on impulse, the idea picked up from the FB message of a student who wondered if those who had no place to read and study at night could use the city library.

No known study on volume of library traffic: how many flock to it daily, 8-to-12 and 1-to-5, and the projected number of night visitors, especially after midnight. No estimate of cost on added labor force and electricity. Still the expense, to be sure, wouldn’t invite as much public contempt as the City Hall purchase of overpriced clamping devices did.

Populist move

While the move is a surprise, City Hall watchers can explain it. They say it’s lumped with Tomas’s thrust to win the affection of the young even though many of them can’t vote yet next year. His rivals think it’s a populist strategy, aimed to boost Tomas’s stock for next year’s election, even less labor-intensive than delivering seniors’ daily meds to their homes.

A surprise, yes, coming from an elected official whose priorities before didn’t include the library and its books. And given this fact: the city library had been barely noticed by budget planners in past decades.

Mayor Tomas has been mayor for more than 16 years and was congressman for three years. All that time in the past, the city’s major concerns didn’t include the library. It was only in 2010-2012 (when his predecessor Mike Rama was mayor) that the Rizal Memorial Library & Museum was renovated and the city library found itself with improved quarters and facilities.

The third place

Alleluia then. And City Hall’s newly found interest in library and books is more gladdening because in many places of the world brick-and-mortar sites of “precious treasure of knowledge” are closing or downsizing. Funds are diverted for other “pressing needs.” And fewer people go to the library. Why thumb through dusty volumes when information can be accessed in quicker, easier digital methods.

But a library offers more than that.

What Tomas is doing, whatever his political motive, helps keep what Ray Oldenburg calls “the third place.” That place which is “neither work nor home, easily accessible, where people are free to congregate and fraternize without feeling like loiterers.” That would be good consequence, intended or not by Tomas.

‘Life raft’

I won’t call libraries, as the Chicago Tribune does, “havens on earth” or, as Caitlin Moran exults, “cathedrals of the mind, hospitals of the soul and theme parks of the imagination.”

But there’s some truth to what was said about a library in the middle of the community. It is “a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival.” Perhaps to the few who can’t study the next day’s school lesson unless they read under a streetlamp or the outward glow from a McDonald’s outlet, it’s all of the above.

A “repurposed” library under this new city initiative is not as exciting as how the feud over South Road Properties would unravel. But to many people who love a version of a “third place” or some minor “haven,” it’s pretty close.
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