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A library-museum in Sual, Pangasinan

The Galing Pook Foundation and the Department of the Interior and Local Government announced last month the 10 local government units whose innovative practices in governance were judged to be exceptional and worthy of emulation. The yearly GP awards have always been of special interest to two organizations with which I am associated, the National Book Development Board and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, because we continue to advocate the inclusion of literacy programs in the GP awards. This year, the cited programs ranged from Disiplina Village (Valenzuela City) to Integrated Community-Based Eco-Tourism and Coastal Resource Management (Palompon, Leyte) to Rising Up from the Mud (Cagayan de Oro City). While all are commendable and essential to community lives, there were only two education programs among the 18 qualifying entries: Panglao’s Reforms in Education Achieved through Community Help (or REACH) Program and Vigan’s Eskwela De Los Mataderos, which trains butchers.

It is hoped that in future GP awards, literacy programs such as one I saw recently in Sual, Pangasinan, will be replicated and refined in other communities to produce, according to the GP criteria, “positive results and impact, promotion of people’s participation and empowerment, innovation, transferability and sustainability, and efficiency of program service delivery.”

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Arabella V. Arcinue has always dreamt of a library for the municipality of Sual, so as early as 10 years ago, when her son John was mayor, she was nagging him to start a library. There was no space to be found in the municipal hall. After John served for three terms, it was Arabella’s husband and current mayor, Roberto “Bing” Arcinue, who reorganized office space and found a spot for the library in the municipio. Funds from the Office of the Mayor covered the necessary fixtures and furnishings and two sets of computers.

The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were intimidating, but books came from friends here and abroad as well as institutions like the National Library, National Historical Commission, Book Sale, Asia Foundation, and Pangasinan Provincial Library. Thus was a library born, with an inviting children’s corner where kids can read on a rubber mat, and study nooks for students and adults who can work on computers (a third computer was recently donated by the National Library) or even check out fiction books for a week. The chance to check out books is remarkable because very few public libraries allow it, presumably because monitoring borrowers is not easy. And what a luxury to have a full-time librarian, Adora Ramos, manage the operations—a boon absent in many libraries. Ramos does not have a librarian’s credentials, but the National Library realizes this problem, too, and recommended someone with a college degree.

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And because Arabella Arcinue knows and loves her local history, part of the library is a museum corner that proudly highlights Sual’s history starting from its 1805 origins. It is the only library in Pangasinan with artifacts on display. Neolithic stone adzes discovered in the caves of a barangay tell the story that aside from the Near East and Europe, Sual was also inhabited by primitive peoples of the New Stone Age. There are also jars and plates of the famous Chinese dynasties, evidence of precolonial trade with China.

Sual (from the Arabic word for “port”) was made an official international seaport in 1855, and the Arabs were trading in the towns before the Chinese did. The oversized poster telling this story is on one of the walls of the library, together with another poster with a photo of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and party embarking from the seaport for Hong Kong, for his exile, to comply with the stipulations of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato.

The library-museum was opened during the April 2016 fiesta and is now a busy hub all day Mondays to Fridays for readers of all ages, with an average head count of 300 a month. It is gratifying to see an LGU like Sual concern itself with literacy in a learning place that aspires to nurture readers.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: DILG, Galing Pook Foundation, Inquirer Opinion, library-museum, Pangasinan, Sual, The Learning Curve
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