Feeding the body, feeding the mind
It has never been easy promoting books and reading.
This is not a problem unique to us, as parents and educators universally point to modern life’s distractions as the culprit, except that other countries have infrastructure that have proven to be definitely advantageous—an effective and efficient public library system that is a welcome foil, for it makes all kinds of reading materials accessible to all.
With such a library system, one does not need to buy the books one is interested in reading for school or for leisure. All one needs is a library card to enjoy the privilege of regular book checkouts.
No wonder Western comic strips touch on the delights of owning a library card. Why, even Snoopy owns one.I cringe in shame and self-pity whenever I have conversations with foreigners and have to admit that we do not have the public libraries that are staples in their lives.
Not that these brick-and-mortar libraries have not suffered budgetary cuts of late and have led to shutdowns, but they have at the very least served their purpose of nurturing curious lifelong readers.
The issue of accessibility is further complicated by our geography. Book distribution and marketing is difficult for all of our islands. One especially appreciates this when remembering the photos and accounts of valiant teachers and students walking miles and crossing rivers to get to school.
Another critical factor to be considered is the cost of books. With budgetary constraints common in the majority of households, the purchase of books cannot be a priority expense.
Our quarantined lives have lessened the noise and the bluster that have distracted us from the quiet, pleasurable engagement with a book. For better or for worse, the times have made us turn to our habit of reading on any platform—for comfort, for solace, for relaxation.
It was a much-needed and welcome move when several organizations of the publishing industry wrote a letter to the President in early May appealing for books in print and in digital formats to be considered as essential items, especially in these critical times when they are most needed.
Led by lawyer Dominador D. Buhain of the Philippine Book Publishing Development Federation and Jose Paolo Sibal, president of the Philippine Educational Publishers Association, the group pointed out how vital it was to have books “placed on equal footing with food, medicines and health facilities… for feeding the mind is as important as feeding the body.”
They were echoing sentiments expressed by global book associations on World Book Day on April 23: “A world without new books would be a sad and impoverished place. We are working hard to come through this crisis, but we need to survive. We need governments to help us get through it together.”
This appeal was heeded by the government, for subsequently included in the industries allowed to open with a 50-percent workforce was the publishing industry, thus ensuring that the supply of books is not further curtailed.
Another organization, the Book Development Association of the Philippines headed by Ani Almario David, is the largest book industry association in the country. It was established in 1979 and has been spearheading the Manila International Book Fair every September since 1980.
It has appealed to the National Book Development Board for assistance for a stimulus program for the majority of its publishers to get back on their feet during the next months of recovery. Assistance is similarly sought as it plans to transform its 41st book fair to a digital platform, the same way that the recent Thai Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair did. It envisions a nationwide e-commerce platform not only for the duration of the fair, but also hopefully one that “can grow into an all-around, more enduring virtual store for all kinds of books for all sectors of our society.”
Making books available is a big step in promoting reading. And the government plays a critical role as well in feeding the minds of its citizens.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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