Wanted: More public libraries
Something extraordinary is going on in Cebu: a 24-hour public library that’s drawing in the crowds. Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña recently posted photos on Facebook, and they’re a heartening sight — ordinary people, but especially young people, deep into reading, filling the library to capacity, at the late hour of 11 p.m.
“When Cebu City became the first in the Philippines to have a 24/7 library last March, more than one media columnist wrote that it was a ‘gimmick’ and a waste of funds that nobody would use,” Osmeña wrote. “Maybe they would know better if they did a little research? In the LIBRARY, perhaps?”
It was a student — Mitch Roldan — who broached the idea to Osmeña last year, voicing out a common plaint among students like herself about the “need to study in a library setting.”
She was even willing to pay a small fee for library services rather than spend money trying to conduct her study sessions in a fast-food chain with all its distractions, she added.
Osmeña saw merit in the suggestion and opened the library in March this year, furnishing it with, aside from air-conditioning, good lighting, closed-circuit television cameras and free Wi-Fi.
The Rizal Public Library made history as the first-ever 24/7 library in the country. It is open to all, with students given priority.
The library has proven to be a success, providing students a safe and conducive place to study or read for pleasure after school hours.
The facility’s free resources, including Wi-Fi, books and periodicals, have become great equalizers, giving people the same opportunities and access to learning no matter their economic bracket.
Surrounded by periodicals and books, visitors are encouraged as well to go beyond social media for their source of facts and information, a crucial alternative in the age of falsehoods and fake news.
Among the best and free resources offered by the library are books, definitely a luxury to students living on their meager allowance.
A 2017 Readership Survey by the National Book Development Board (NBDB) shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, an overwhelming majority of Filipinos — 80 percent of adults, 93 percent of children — continue to read nonschool books.
However, cost is a major factor: About 72 percent are willing to spend only up to P199 for a new book.
“What seems to be the problem is the affordability of books, their accessibility,” said NBDB chair and Inquirer columnist Neni Sta. Romana Cruz in a TV interview.
Otherwise, Filipinos are prodigious book readers; according to the NBDB survey, a majority of the 1,200 survey respondents aged 18 and above, or 76.5 percent, still read books.
Meanwhile, 84.99 percent of young respondents aged 6 to 17 years said they have read printed books for the last 12 months.
Filipinos, in general, still prefer reading printed books, although e-books and audiobooks are gaining more adherents.
The No. 1 method of acquiring books among Filipinos is borrowing them from friends and family (37.74 percent), followed by receiving them as gifts (33.98 percent), buying them from a bookstore (25 percent), purchasing second-hand books (12.37 percent), and borrowing them from the library (11.19 percent).
Other methods include buying from independent bookstores, online shops, book fairs, book sales, etc.
These findings are a resounding validation of the need for more state-subsidized libraries across the country, where ordinary citizens, especially young people, can access books and publications at no cost to them.
Building such centers of learning — and sustaining them as adequately supported, well-furnished and easily accessible community hubs — seems the obvious way to make books more easily and widely available.
As the NBDB survey further attests, some 40.98 percent of youth respondents say that they read to learn new things or gain more knowledge, while 27.37 percent say their reason for reading is to improve their reading skills.
Reading, after all, is fundamental to functioning well in society. From reading instructions on a medicine bottle to figuring out road signs, following a map, and filling out forms, the ability to read is a survival skill.
Cebu’s 24/7 public library is a welcome civic innovation that other local government units would do well to emulate and build upon. Filipinos are hungry for books, and the more they are able to read (beyond social media), the better for the country.
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