Editorial: Resurrecting public libraries

AS with love that is meant to be, all the elements conspired to make possible the 24/7 operations of the Don Jose Rizal Public Library, also known as the Cebu City Public Library.

Student Mitch Roldan messaged Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña if the library could keep its doors always open for students, and a week later, the mayor made possible the library’s new 24/7 schedule, starting March 9.

Reported SunStar Cebu’s Rona Joyce T. Fernandez on March 10, light fixtures were repaired to make the vicinity safe for the increased traffic of library users. The barangay intelligence network will also be tapped by the Cebu City Government to preserve peace and order.

Netizens commenting online to the SunStar Cebu report, “One for the country’s books: Cebu City’s 24/7 public library,” speculated on the political motivations behind the mayor’s move.

Second-guessing political designs hardly contributes now to sustaining the operations of the public library, which, going by the increased number of visitors, is trying to plug an immense gap in the public life.

Interviewed by Fernandez, City Librarian Rosario Chua said that on March 9, the first day of the 24/7 schedule, around 200 visitors walked through the library’s portals. The public library seats 150.

Chua observed that the public library drew the heaviest usage in November, December, and January—the period when students work on their term papers.

The photograph taken by Arni Aclao to accompany SunStar Cebu’s March 10 article captured the renewed life animating the Don Jose Rizal Public Library. The photo showed the tables fully occupied by citizens bent over opened books and writing on notebooks.

The scene was reminiscent of the days when the United States Information Service (USIS) library located along Jones Ave. was still open and drew five days a week a devoted following among Cebu residents.

Aclao’s photograph sheds insight on a speculation, widely held in these Internet-driven days, that paper books are no longer read by Millennials. While ebooks and online content have their uses and attractions, traditional books keep their relevance for those reading for utility, pleasure, or both.

Last year, the nongovernment organization Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) donated books and references on journalism to the Don Jose Rizal Public Library. Shelved in a separate section, the references contain many titles that are either out-of-print or not available locally.

The CCPC is encouraging journalists, schools, and other stakeholders to contribute other references that will boost media literacy among aspiring journalists or plain citizens desiring to know more about the press and its role in democracy.

For at the heart of a library are the books. Even when the Don Jose Rizal Public Library had a collection that was more suited for museums than a knowledge portal, it still drew diehard followers.

One of them was SunStar Cebu opinion editor Bong O. Wenceslao. According to his March 9 “Candid Thoughts” column, he was a regular visitor of the library from the late 1970s to the early ‘90s, spanning the decades when he was a student, then a student organizer, and later, a reporter covering the Capitol beat. Wenceslao pointed out that with the 24/7 operations and other planned improvements, the public library can be a place for study, not necessarily limited to academic research.

Many retirees are omnivorous readers. Parents and teachers can bring children to the public library to start them reading and develop a lifelong love for books and an enduring habit of reading and possibly writing.

Another nongovernment organization, the Basadours, has partnered with the public library to hold storytelling sessions. More stakeholders must step forward and volunteer for literacy activities that will, in time, raise generations of readers, writers, and thinkers.

It takes a community to raise a public library from the dead.
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