Tag Archives: national library board singapore

Libraries are our Friend

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.

Drop your borrowed books, anytime!

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!).

 

They update you regularly by mail, SMS and email. Very efficient service, unlike no other in the region for sure.

 

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.

Advertisements

Books and Toponymics…

My favorite place to visit here in Singapore is their National Library. I envy Singaporeans for having such an impressive public library system. Every time I drop by, all the library tables are crowded. This goes to show that they succeeded in cultivating a reading culture. The National Library of Singapore have branches island wide. You could borrow books from any of its branch and drop them to any of the branches!

The NLB’s main building in Victoria Street appears more like a corporate building than a public library. Their reading drives are remarkably creative too. There was a reading program for taxi drivers a few years ago. There are cool initiatives all year round to make reading enjoyable.

(1) The ultra modern NLB building (2) The lofty insides of NLB (3) The 2nd hand book shops have walls like this (4) The building that houses the 2nd hand book shops

And the library’s exhibits could rival any museum in town.

Earlier I was viewing the on going exhibit entitled “The Battle for Merger,” which features Lee Kuan Yew’s historic radio broadcasts calling on people to support the merger with Malaysia. His party was up against formidable communists who was blocking the merger after the British left. This brought to mind the communist insurgency in our country. Perhaps, one of the longest in Asian history. How come our leaders have failed to end it to this day?

Not far from NLB’s are book shops in Bras Basah known for its quality second hand books. I visit these shops from time to time but have yet to score a great find. Most books are in Chinese. The ones  I managed to find in English are enticing to add to my collection but are way too expensive for my wallet.

The area around the NLB was where José Rizal wandered around more than a hundred years ago. I wrote about the stops he made a few years ago thinking that there’s someone out there that might want to retrace his steps here in Singapore. Rizal inadvertently made a lonely planet handbook for Filipinos with his detailed travel logs. Most of the buildings he wrote about are still standing today.

NLB have an impressive stock of Filipiniana. It’s easy to get lost in their vast collection of books written by both local and foreign historians about our country. Earlier, I was reading “Daluyan”, the dictionary of the meanings behind the street name of Manila. It was released during Ambeth Ocampo’s chairmanship of NHI. Isagani Medina’s Streets of Manila’s better because of its amusing historical narrations compared to Daluyan’s straightforward definitions. But the latter is so convenient to use.

A few years ago I saw the exhibit “Toponymics: A Study of Singapore’s Street Names.” Upon entering the area where the exhibit was on going, free books were given away. It contains the fascinating history of the island’s street name. Since most streets in Singapore has been left unchanged I went around the old districts looking for the old street names listed in the book and found them. Filipino leaders on the other hand sees the need to alter street names which I take as a sign of insecurity. Or they have no better things to do.

I also checked some books written about the abhorred Friar estates which I’m currently doing research on. Ever wondered what happened to these lands? You would be surprised how it landed to some familiar historical names. Sometimes I wonder if our revolutions were conceived by opportunists businessmen and politicians. Well, we allow them to rule us so I guess we deserve them.


%d bloggers like this: