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Looking Back

Eminent nonlibrarians

/ 05:28 AM February 02, 2018

Vernon Totanes, a licensed librarian, has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Cesar Gilbert Q. Adriano as director of the National Library of the Philippines (NLP). Totanes called the presidential appointee a “nonlibrarian” and, in the process, burned his bridges with the Philippine Librarians Association Inc. (PLAI) which had issued a polite “statement of concern” that stopped short of seeking a validation or revocation of the appointment.

Totanes also dragged Ateneo de Manila into the fray because he is the director of the university’s Rizal Library. Totanes and the PLAI defended their citing of the Philippine Librarianship Act of 2003 that regulates the practice of librarianship in the country. They brought up Section 26 of Illegal Practice of Librarianship that states:

“A person who does not have a valid Certificate of Registration and Professional Identification Card or a temporary/special permit from the Commission shall not practice or offer to practice librarianship in the Philippines or assume any position, which involve performing the function of a librarian as provided under Section 5 of this Act.”

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They also cited Section 31 of Employment of Librarians that states:

“Only qualified and licensed librarians shall be employed as librarians in all government libraries. Local government units shall be given a period of three (3) years from the approval of this Act to comply with this provision.”

Their fear is that the appointment of a “nonlibrarian” as NLP director will be a precedent that may allow nonprofessionals in government libraries. But it is a narrow reading of the law because the NLP director does not perform a professional librarian’s functions. He/she crafts policy and directs the administration and management of the NLP, which is not an ordinary library but a cultural agency responsible for the preservation and dissemination of the history, culture, and heritage of the nation in book form. While a professional license in librarianship is preferred, it should not be an obligatory qualification for NLP director.

The NLP traces its roots to the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas of 1887 and was first housed in the Intendencia in Intramuros whose third and most (in)famous director was the eccentric Pedro A. Paterno. A contemporary of Jose Rizal, Paterno was appointed in 1894 and caused to be published the short-lived Boletin del Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas (Bulletin of the Museum-Library of the Philippines). The Museo-Biblioteca was  abolished when the Americans took over from the Spanish as the Philippines’ colonial masters, prompting Paterno to take the Museo-Biblioteca collection to his Quiapo home and merge it with his private library.

In March 1900 an American Circulating Library was established. Its collection was donated to the Philippine Commission, which accepted it on March 15, 1901, the date on which the foundation of the present NLP is reckoned. By 1908 all government libraries had been consolidated, and the American Circulating Library became the Philippine Library in 1909 that later merged with the Division of Archives, Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks and the Law Library of the Philippine Assembly, which called it the Philippine Library and Museum.

In December 1928 the Library and Museum were separated and the National Library was placed under the Philippine Assembly and relocated to the Legislative building (now the National Museum). In 1936, supervision of the National Library was returned to the Department of Public Instruction from the National Assembly, but Manuel Roxas, in 1947, created the Bureau of Public Libraries under the Office of the President, shifting its function from a cultural agency to that of an administrative office.

Of the 23 library directors starting from James Alexander Robertson (1910-1916), only four were librarians. Aside from Robertson—who coproduced the 55-volume compilation of documents on Philippine history known to scholars today as “Blair and Robertson”—there were Filipino directors who were eminent nonlibrarians: Macario Adriatico (1917-1919), Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera (1923-1925), Jaime C. de Veyra, Fernando Canon (in acting capacity, 1925), Epifanio de los Santos (1925-1928), Teodoro M. Kalaw (1929-1939), Carlos Quirino (1962-1966), and Serafin D. Quiason (1966-1986)—men who distinguished themselves in the realm of history, scholarship, learning and culture.

We need more than a professional librarian as NLP director. We need a distinguished librarian, an administrator, or a scholar to head this cultural agency.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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