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Buklat Filipinas is born

If you have any doubts about the reading habits of Filipinos, the long queues and the overflow crowd at the September Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), organized by the Book Development Association of the Philippines and Primetrade Asia Inc., will quickly banish those. Ongoing till tomorrow, the fair is marking its 40th year and has certainly gained a tremendous following. Even before the doors opened on opening day last Wednesday, a long queue had formed around the corner.

The most memorable images from the past are of gates needing to be closed as a crowd management measure, booklovers awaiting book signings by their favorite authors, and student groups sitting in line on hallways awaiting their turn for a special storytelling session or a show of cosplay. Happy problems that I hope will be replicated this year.

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Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones could not be at the opening, but there were Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio and District School Supervisor Jenny Corpuz. Secretary Briones came for leisurely book shopping in the early evening. Always a good sign.

Librarians, school administrators, parents and the general public look forward to the MIBF’s five days, because one is certain about bargains to be had. And what a luxury to have two floors of booths for book-buying.

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Does all these mean there is a reading culture to speak of? Reading culture is loosely defined as the “habitual and regular reading of books and information materials.” It does not seem so when such frenzied book-buying is not sustained all year. Not when books are not accessible in all our islands. Not when we need to buy every book we want to read because there are no public libraries one can borrow from. Not when books are still luxury items for the average Filipino.

August, Buwan ng Wika, was as good a time as any to discuss these matters. At an interagency meeting convened by National Artist for Literature and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) director Virgilio Almario, the Department of Education, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Library of the Philippines, and the National Book Development Board were present and in agreement that the reading habit has to be nurtured, especially among high school students in the public school system.

The familiar reasons for the lack of a reading culture were once again raised. Books are sold at a high price because the print run is limited, because publishers fear the market is limited. It is challenging to distribute books to areas in the country where there are no bookstores. There is not enough excitement or regular publicity and announcements about new titles by Filipino authors.

Thus was Buklat Filipinas born (“Buklat” a combination of “buklod” or bond, and “aklat” or book), an organization of book club members among high school students. Book clubs being one of the popular steps toward promoting the reading habit, it was decided that book clubs for high school students should be formally encouraged and supported, to enrich their lives and also to empower librarians to reinvigorate the library systems they work with.

High school students are the target clientele, because their curriculum introduces them to literature in Filipino. The book clubs will feature literary works that will widen their reading. Book club members will be enrolled in a Book of the Month Club set-up that will give them a new book each month. The P1,000 book subscription fee, or P100 a month, will be subsidized by the local government unit or civic organizations or private sponsors.

The nuts and bolts of Buklat Filipinas (housekeeping details such as the frequency of book discussion sessions, the reading promotion activities to be introduced, how to moderate a book club discussion, etc.) are being drafted and refined. November looms—National Reading Month, which would make it an appropriate time for the launch of the project. KWF is working on the production of age-appropriate, engaging books, and on a scale that makes them economical to purchase.

Yes, do nurture first and foremost a positive relationship with books and the act of reading. And reading books in Filipino is a great beginning.

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

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