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Where can book-lovers go?

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No, I do not have any hard-nosed statistics to measure in any logical or scientific manner how the reading month of November went. But there were heartwarming stories that somehow reassured us that yes, the Filipino continues to read and love books, if only these were made more accessible and within the ordinary citizen’s purchasing power.

A teachers’ conference toward the end of October was the Paideia Conference jointly organized by the Bannister Academy headed by Manny Sator and the University of Asia and the Pacific, which was also the conference venue. Meant for K-12 private school teachers in Metro Manila, the sessions highlighted the twin challenges of today’s education: remaining relevant to the changing needs and times of modern society and being faithful to the fundamental mission of education.

“Paideia” is the Greek word for education and encapsulates the knowledge that all educated persons should have—the arts, literature, and politics. The Paideia Program adopted in many schools in the United States takes from the spirit of Mortimer J. Adler’s writings and his emphasis on the humanities. Remember Adler’s Great Books of the Western World program and his “How to Read a Book” classic? The Program centers around guided reading and in-depth discussion of difficult books.

That description was enough to lure me into agreeing to facilitate a session on fostering a love for reading. What teacher today continues to be unaware of the crucial role of the skill of reading in one’s personal and professional life? The challenge lies in how to effectively promote the culture of reading in the classroom.

The teachers happily and proudly shared strategies to draw attention to reading—but all agreed that nothing works better than having a reading model at home and in school who will demonstrate that the act of reading is pleasurable and important enough for adults to make time for. And that more critical is to ensure that books were available, that classrooms and school libraries were truly print-rich places.

Watching them heartily respond to books by Filipino authors, especially recent award-winning titles, convinced me even more that we all have to do a better job of marketing our Philippine authors and titles. If we ourselves do not patronize the books that embody what we are and what we value, and which best speak to us, who will?

At an NBDB (National Book Development Board)-sponsored Booklatan sa Bayan for Taguig-Pateros public school teachers that Mayor Lani Cayetano found time for, lending evidence to the priority that she places on education, one teacher practically pleaded to be allowed to take home two picture books from a portable collection of 80 books borrowed from the Teach for the Philippines (formerly Sa Aklat Sisikat) for the workshop. Who could deny such a request to read these books to her grandchildren at home? How long will books be such luxury items for teachers and students?

On a Saturday in November, writer Marites Dañguilan Vitug expressed regrets for a lunch with longtime women writer-friends. She was not deep in research for a next book but was honoring an annual tradition that she and her sister Marilen would be holding for a nine-year-old grandniece, Vida. This was a day everyone looks forward to, a book treat day. Vida, accompanied by her mother, is allowed to browse and choose books worth P2,000 in a large bookstore. She loves the browsing and, of course, finally deciding which of the books she can own. If only we had a public library that invites browsing hours.

On that same Saturday, the Pandacan Open Library (POL) was inaugurated. A community project of the Samahang Sining at Kultura ng Pilipinas and committed Pandacan residents Sixto Carlos Jr. (who heads the Friends of the Library Committee) and SSKP vice president Tony Santos, it was conceptualized to complement the services of the Kapitan Isidro Mendoza Public Library, which is closed just when students are out of school and need a reading corner to lounge in.

The POL is more than just a corner as it is within the premises of the 300-year-old historic Santo Niño de Pandacan that the parish priest, Fr. Lazaro Abaco, has made available. Even more noteworthy is the “All About Pandacan” corner, which takes pride in the history of the district. Visitors will discover that the black image of the Santo Niño was found in the field where carabaos wallowed and where pandan plants thrived. A major contributor to the Pandacan corner is La Salle history professor Fernando Santiago, who wrote the biography of Ladislao Bonus, the father of Philippine opera and a Pandacan resident. Pandacan also claims other historical figures—Apolinario Mabini and Padre Jacinto Zamora (of Gomburza).

And so the case for public libraries and community libraries stands. The campaign season will soon descend on us; how I long to hear campaign promises that will promote literacy and the love of reading. Where do our priorities as a nation really lie?

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.


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