The presidential campaigns’ ‘classical literary wars’ clamors the attention on our public libraries

The presidential campaigns’ ‘classical literary wars’ clamors the attention on our public libraries

At the midpoint of the national election campaign, former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. was interviewed on SMNI’s Deep Probe Presidential Interviews by its resident analyst Professor Clarita Carlos on March 26. At one point, he revealed that he was influenced by Italian philosopher Niccolo Macchiavelli’s book “The Prince.”

Four days later, Vice President Leni Robredo was interviewed by the online news organization Rappler where she explained why her favorite book is “To Kill a Mockingbird” by the late American novelist Harper Lee. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel inspired her to become a public servant, she said, but this did not sit well with her usual online detractors.

Whether you agree or disagree with Marcos and Robredo, I’m sure the majority of Filipino voters might not even be familiar with either literary classics. Buying books from bookstores may sound convenient, but what if you can’t afford them? The next step is to borrow them from the library.

Libraries are public spaces that serve as a window into the world and welcome people from all walks of life. Spending time in the library is preferable to visiting a shopping mall for the poorest of the poor; it doesn’t matter if they are socioeconomically impoverished, as long as they acquire the richness of knowledge and understanding.

Given funding limitations, many libraries have to make do with limited and perhaps out-of-date collections. Whatever the case may be, a library is a place where you can conduct research, study, or simply read your favorite book that can only be found there.

However, as you get older, you may find that you need to visit a city or provincial library, which would necessitate paying transportation costs to and from for habitual bibliophiles.

Congress passed Republic Act 7743 in 1994, mandating local government units from congressional districts to barangays to create such public spaces. Almost three decades after the passage of the concerned legislation, it appears that wealthy provinces and cities are benefiting from it.

Other LGUs will simply let it rot because they don’t have enough budget ranging from head librarian salaries to repainting and diverting it in favor of their funny (read: morally reprehensible) business.

Most of their libraries are open during business hours, similar to banks or government offices, but two years before COVID-19 – in 2018 – two cities made their public libraries more accessible to the public by operating 24/7 in Cebu City and Quezon City, instead of going inside fast-food restaurants or coffee chains to study.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the state of library science in the Philippines. People were forced to stay at home because the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) refused to reopen libraries until seating arrangements were fixed to comply with health protocols or when the vaccines became available. Those who could not afford a stable Internet connection or the fees associated with accessing the books were deprived of access to the written information they required.

Not to mention, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 puts the country at rock bottom in terms of reading comprehension; this will be exacerbated further due to such a careless, draconian national response and collective attitude.

While no national candidate has expressly cared about this hidden crisis behind the larger problem, this issue should be redirected to the local candidates.

And rightly so; this year with the windfall income from the Mandanas ruling, which increases the Internal Revenue Allotment for LGUs, this would be the best opportunity for them to establish it but alas, I doubt they can fund such things as they cared about more on covered courts (plastered with their names), road repairs (claiming credit for fixing it), or vaccine rollout (despite that the Department of Health is in charge) just to get votes.

Let’s be honest: physical libraries have a more distinct, immersive feel than their emerging online counterparts. They can use their fingertips to connect with the world and reframe their worldviews.

However, this materialization will never happen in reality because politicians in power are threatened by a well-read citizenry.

To conclude this essay, we commented: “open the schools” because of ill-informed yet defensive netizens in the comment boxes.  With the recent tactics, should we also urge them to “open more libraries”?

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Timothy John Paragas

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