Libraries eventually will all be phased out as information becomes available in digital forms. This institution will all serve as repositories of physical books. One day, we’ll just borrow digital facsimile online (Google’s on it with GoogleBooks). There will be no need for a visit.
And so, enjoy them while they’re still around.
Arguably the best library in the region is Singapore’s NLB. For foreigners like myself it comes with a price (around 2000 pesos) but it still a great deal. I consider it paying for a premium membership. I can borrow books from the central library and drop them at any of NLB’s branches island wide. Your library card is a piece of plastic that carries all your information. You don’t have to worry keeping track of what you loaned, there’s an app that alerts you when is your due. You can request for titles and reserve them on line. Open until 9 PM, they also operate from Monday to Sunday. It’s easy to see why I enjoy the library here, makes life and reading easy.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, chairwoman of National Book Development Board, in her email to this blogger relating her NLB experience said, “how I love the National Library of Singapore! I spent my whole day there on my last visit last year. I was so envious!”
The titles I like the most of course are Filipinianas and old history books about us Filipinos. Unfortunately I can’t bring most of these home. Most are tagged under “reference” use only. But it’s fine, the library provides spaces and facilities conducive to learning (and sometimes snoozing!).
Our library back home is teeming with first hand historical sources. I can’t wait for my next visit. It’s far from what Singapore has managed to establish but as long as books that I want to borrow are accessible that makes up for everything.
Our National Library has been a victim of countless pilferage, especially after WWII. Constant issues with funding has also placed rare manuscripts in danger. I wonder if there’s a plan to ensure everything is backed up in digital form before they’re lost forever. In one of my visit to the Lopez Museum and Library they were already scanning their collection.
We have to go digital, invest in making local libraries around the country portals equipped with computers and tablets. There appears to be no other viable option for us. You go the remotest barrios where even basic medicines are scarce. There’s just too many of us, scattered in so many islands, with so little money for sending books around.
I met a Filipino here a couple of years ago that works for a design firm. He related to me that those small colorful National Geographic books in their dilapidated elementary school in Cebu inspired him to dream of working abroad as some kind of a visual artist. He would look at those donated book’s pictures for hours he said. He later left his small town to study arts in Manila.
Now, that’s the power of books.
I read a couple of books the last two visits I made to NLB. They have an impressive Filipiniana collection. Some are archived available only upon request. Most are in the “reference” section. You can read it there but you can’t take it home.
The first, “An Epistle of a Friar Prisoner 1898-1900” by Lino Dizon. An expert historian of Central Luzon during the Spanish-Philippines epoch.
The book is about Padre Fernando Garcia OSA experience during the Philippine revolution. There were his letters of his “sorties from town to town and provinces” as prisoner and missionary at the turn of the century.
This Spanish Augustinian wrote in Capampangan. Started his career in the mid 1890s. Initially assigned in Tarlac in 1896, then Macabebe. In 1989 he was in Hagonoy, a prisoner of Aguinaldo’s army. His observations were critical of the treatment they received from the revolutionaries . He escaped in Bontoc went back to Manila and wrote “Ing Macuyad a Pamagsalita Diquil Qng Bie Nang Delanan at Pangatimaua Ning Metung a Mebijag”. Many missionaries were left behind when the Spanish started withdrawing from the islands at the turn of the century.
It’s a fascinating read for it shows two things that many Filipinos reading history often overlook.
First is how skilled and learned the Spanish Friars were: they were engineers, scientists and scholars. The churches and presbyteries, today’s remnants of their handiwork, represents their meticulous and masterful planning.
Second is how they mastered the local languages. They communicated using it which made conversion faster. No one understood the local communities more than these Spanish parish priests. Perhaps they did more than other Filipinos living in other regions and speaking other languages during their time.
It is not rare to encounter documents written in local languages by Spanish missionaries like Padre Garcia’s work. It can be argued that by recording ancient local languages and customs they unwittingly preserved these for us to study today. Without written records, so much would have been lost!
Another book I stumbled upon was from a Monash University (Australia) professor, John Newsome Crossley, “Hernando de los Rios Coronel and the Spanish Philippines in the Golden Age”.
The book revolves around de los Rios, his time in the colony and his accomplished resume. It’s an interesting read that deserves a separate post. Crossley suggests that de los Rios was an ordained priest. The first chapters of the books presents the early history of Spain in the islands. Well researched and written; it even breakdown the political make up of the early administrations, even the role of the missionaries in the natives lives. This book’s a lot better than some of our standard text books in grade school and secondaries.
How Crossley got the idea to pick de los Rios as subject for his book is in itself an interesting story. During his visit to UST’s Benavides library in Manila, Fr. Aparacio presented to him a first edition of Copernicus’ “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium”. The copy was signed by “Hernando de los Rios Coronel”. You can tell a lot from what a man reads. The author then went on to write about the Spanish gentleman.