How timely yet how ironic that just as there was an ongoing public outcry against the ban on so-called subversive books and materials in libraries, the National Library of the Philippines’ (NLP) calendar of activities for the 31st Library and Information Services Month (LIS) celebration was in full swing. Its theme, “Libraries Building ROADS,” called attention once more to the fact that libraries are shrines of learning. ROADS is the acronym for Readers, Opportunities, Advocacies, Development, Sustainability. It is an ambitious theme, but a realistic one if one takes to heart the powerful influence of books and the printed word.

The yearly commemoration started in 1991 with Presidential Proclamation No. 837. The LIS month of November was designed for “public awareness of the invaluable service that libraries and information centers render.”

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The virtual launch, which lasted all morning, was a commendable attempt to increase much-needed awareness on the importance of libraries. Many times in the past, I had lamented our lack of public libraries, which should be enticing, welcoming, and comfortable enough for young and old readers and with reading materials to suit every interest and temperament. For how does one promote a lifelong habit of reading when books are for the most part inadequate and inaccessible? Little has changed with my refrain.

I have to admit that the launch caught my attention. I did not mind the prolonged program—which began with, yes, that Doxology—but admired the efforts to go beyond the walls of the National Library on TM Kalaw to reach out to readers and book lovers among the public. The official digital poster was unveiled. The presentation of the different reading promotion activities was a welcome change and an invitation for all other libraries in the country to participate in. The activities include Share a Book, an interactive storytelling contest; a Book Spine Poetry Contest; and a photo competition with the library as setting. There are also webinars for the professional development of librarians.

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In her welcome remarks, Sen. Pia Cayetano emphasized that “A child who has access to books, has access to life, to everything that the whole world can offer.” That is what she wishes for every child, she said, because “We can have all kinds of learning, but everything goes back to books.”

NLP director Cesar Gilbert Q. Adriano spoke of the NLP’s affinity with libraries all over the world that are struggling to survive during the pandemic. I personally experienced the NLP’s free and efficient online service for ISBN requests and prompt replies to my persistent queries. Writer Ambeth Ocampo was also pleasantly surprised that NLP was open as soon as lockdown restrictions were eased. This library lover is eager to revisit and to see the structure sans the bamboo scaffolds that were put up for the prolonged retrofitting of the NLP.

Chad Aren E. Diaz, overall chair of the LIS month, underscored the goal of libraries as centers for “lifelong learning, research and leisure.” One of the regular organizers each November has been Melai Ramirez aka Kuwentistang Librarian, but the NLP recently lost her because of her new assignment at the National Museum of the Philippines, where she will continue her passion for reading and storytelling. Parents and children know her as the woman mascot of the NLP, complete with costume.

Ray Bradbury would have delighted in that launch. He was said to have remarked: “Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization.”

In that context, the banning of allegedly subversive material in libraries may be deemed criminal, recalling Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, “Fahrenheit 451.” It describes a society where books are forbidden because the government wants to control the thinking of the public. Are we living in such dystopian times today? We complain of lack of access to books and never having enough books, but now, we restrict that access with the removal of books we see as dangerous?

Dr. Clement Camposano, chancellor of the University of the Philippines-Visayas, said it best when he resisted the move: “If we are afraid of books, then we have a problem.”

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and was former chair of the National Book Development Board.

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