December 21, 2013

The Cebu City Public Library is alive, but… (First of Two Parts)

The last thing I want is to know that the public libraries in the Philippines are at the mercy of politics in order to survive. Ever since I was able to comprehend this unwanted detail and all the implications that stem from it, I only wish for one thing every election—vote for leaders with consistent platforms (oh, how I have been itching to say that for a long time!).

By consistency, I mean leaders who advocate for education should also be concerned with teaching pedagogies and student performance in math and reading, right? In the same way, they should also be concerned about and supportive of the very institutions that could assist in delivering their promises, and that includes the library, right? Er, how come I’m not seeing the backing, that extra life support, libraries and reading centers in Cebu need?

Let’s take the case of the Cebu City Public Library (CCPL) as an example. At present, it only has one librarian—the kind and gentle Mrs. Rosario Ruth Chua—and three to five staff (one or two of them are on contractual basis) catering to about 120 visitors a day from Monday to Friday and about 20 active card holders out of 300.

CCPL at night. (cebulive.com)

According to Mrs. Chua, for a large population like Cebu City with more than 800,000 people, the ideal library size should be able to serve 10 percent of the population, or about 800 persons. CCPL’s current area is far from the ideal. It is spacious but small; it is welcoming but small; it is very clean but small. Despite its size, CCPL was able to serve 74,282 individuals, mostly students, in 2012.

The Freeman newspaper reported that CCPL has been provided a budget of Php 1.8 million in 2012. The amount would go to salaries, books, day-to-day operations, and other administrative costs. What’s left for reading activities and other investments, such as librarian professional development, to promote literacy?

Mrs. Rosario Ruth Chua (cebucitypubliclibrary.webs.com)
Cebu City is lucky that its librarian is very resourceful and collaborative. Mrs. Chua works with Basadours for storytelling activities and with Zonta Club of Cebu II for a family literacy project and continues to call on individuals to donate their educational books to the library.

When CCPL occasionally opens on Saturdays for activities organized by private companies and civic groups, the dedicated library staff would come as volunteers. Mrs. Chua would use the technical room or clear out tables and chairs at the center of the room for the activities.

When I talked with Mrs. Chua, I was a bit surprised that her information management skills are limited to the traditional methods. She didn’t have the opportunity yet to upgrade her skills to include digital literacy. I am not a librarian, but I have blogging friends who are librarians and they keep on ranting on the importance of educational technology and digital literacy. And CCPL, really, is far behind, as many other libraries jump into the digital bandwagon.

It has old computers (a couple malfunctioned already) and outdated information management software. It also needs to update its inventory but that is quite a difficult task for only one librarian using a virtually obsolete system.

CCPL staff (cebucitypubliclibrary.webs.com)
CCPL is indeed alive, but it needs help, upgrading, promotions, and additional life support. Right now, the dedicated library staff, active civic groups, and concerned private individuals are doing what they can to bring in more visitors and educate others on the importance of reading and literacy. The purse strings, though, and the financial control are held by the Cebu City Council. So if you want to keep the library alive, vote for leaders who support it (but then again, even that is no assurance).

You might question, “What’s the use of updating the library when we can Google the information we need?” Oh, for me, the library is needed now more than ever. You see, not everything can be found on the Internet. And not everything that can be found on the Internet is reliable. The library is not just a structure and it is not just about books; it is a breathing mechanism with valuable programs for all ages—from toddlers to retirees. It has a reliable citation system with a librarian who acts as moderator, teacher, and friend in your experience of researching or reading books inside a historical and culturally important structure. Do you think libraries are still needed today?

In a futurepost, I will share with you the beginnings of CCPL, which is now 94 years old, and how many people have fought to keep it alive. Perhaps by tracing the origin of the library, we will come to appreciate how lucky the people of Cebu City are lucky to even have one public library today.


Nancy Cudis