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Do you know there is a Public Library Day?

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“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

—Jorge Luis Borges

March 9 was Public Library Day, the 113th such commemoration—but did any of us take notice?

The National Library headed by Director Antonio Santos held a panel discussion on “The Librarians in the World of Copyright.” I hope many others remembered, as it marked the birth in 1900 of the country’s first public library, the American Circulating Library. This eventually led to Public Law No. 1935 which created the Philippine Library, to the Philippine Library Museum, to today’s National Library by virtue of Public Law No. 3477 in 1928.

Public school teachers recently assembled to celebrate Public Library Day (which, of course, they were surprised to know) through a day-long Booklatan sa Bayan at the Pasig City Public Library, a collaboration between the National Book Development Board and the head librarian of the showcase Pasig Library, Teresita P. Osorio.  Booklatan is a series of workshops geared toward promoting a culture of reading and lifelong learning for teachers and librarians. The special focus in consonance with the thrust of the Department of Education on teaching and reading in the mother tongue was pointed out by a youthful hip writer in Filipino, Beverly Wico Siy, author of the popular novel “It’s a Mens World.” Siy did a survey of Philippine contemporary literature in Filipino, showing samples of books for teachers to use and, perhaps more relevant, actual anthologies put together by teachers and students. Those made classroom publishing so feasible. Typical of Bebang (billed as Beb-ang, as a foil to the mysterious Bob Ong that has even reluctant readers among Xavier School teeners in stitches), she advised that the best Linggo ng Wika essays or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” compositions be chosen.

The teachers were so receptive to the suggestions that they wanted the author to visit their schools. That meant the Booklatan was successful enough for them to begin to think of authors as living, breathing, feeling celebrities to be invited to lead the students to greater creativity and imagining, and to convince them that not all authors need to be lying six feet under the ground.

The afternoon session was on appreciating films based on literature, featuring a Cinemalaya film of recent vintage, “Ligo na U, Lapit na Me,” to illustrate how to analyze the genre and to form film and book discussion clubs. The resource speakers were literature professor Eros Atalia, the writer of the novel, and Jerry Gracio, who adapted it for film.

My session was on marketing strategies for libraries and reading. My premise was: If we continue to have this need to gather together to promote reading, it is because we adults are to blame. We have not marketed reading as a pleasurable and worthy activity. Teachers themselves have to be their best visual aids; they must be attractive and pleasing and enthused enough before the class—and they have to be readers themselves.

When asked to write down specific, simple strategies to immediately implement in the remaining days of the schoolyear and definitely in June, their responses were: Use more games to teach reading and vocabulary, like a “Word Wall” or “Pinoy Henyo” for the mandatory five words a day, or even a book trivia quiz rather than the usual drills that no one enjoys. Readaloud and Drop Everything and Read sessions are not new—but have they been part of the daily class routine? The fact that they are simple makes them manageable and easy to put into practice.

The best part of the day was my tour of the Pasig City Public Library with Ms Osorio as personal guide. Selected in 2008 as the best library in Metro Manila (where are the subsequent recent citations, pray tell me?), it is easy to see why. More than the collection that grows (of course, a respectable library never has enough of a collection) with its boast of a recent acquisition from the library of the Pasig native and statesman Jovito Salonga (definitely only a fraction of his library as these are only a few hundred titles, and a shelf of books on Pasig history and culture) is the fact that on a Tuesday morning, there were readers in the multistory facility. And believe it or not, it is a lending library. I recall the stories of writers raised and schooled in Pasig—Pete Lacaba and Rene Saguisag—who fondly remember how their public library led to their love of reading and learning.

It has a Children’s Interactive Learning Center, a High School Library, a College and Professional Library. There is the Discovery Centrum, which features science and technology interactive exhibits. Although modest in space, its admission fee is an absolute bargain that ranges from P8 to P30, depending on group size and whether one is a Pasig resident.

What a wonderful way to celebrate Public Library Day. May I stumble on more such paradises in the city.

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


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