PICTURE a book you covet. A forest of thorns surrounds it. You must hack a path through the forest. Get in, get out.
Read the book with—it is hoped—both eyes.
That is not a fairy tale. It is a story familiar to any person who lives in the country and reads books. Or hopes to do so, despite the rapacious thorns that covet human eyes.
One evening in school, I took a break from checking students’ manuscripts to borrow books from our library. The books were recent donations by the author, a visiting professor.
When a fellow teacher saw the immaculate edges of the books, with the purple stamp of ownership, he choked before whispering in awe: “Are those new books from the library?”
Public funds for library acquisitions have nudged up a bit since I was an undergraduate rallying with other students for more government subsidy for education. A poster we painted showed a plane dropping books on the populace. Blind to the visual irony, I did not wonder which was more merciful: to be hit by a falling book or die ignorant.
Three decades after those agitprop years, I think public school libraries need more than airdropped books. According to an online reference, the library of the future may already abandon the old-fashioned moniker of “library” for the “Loop,” a title in keeping with its digital resources, multimedia stations, and robots to retrieve rare or less read references from some underground labyrinth.
For now, public school teachers and students will have to get by “with a little help from (our) friends,” as The Beatles song goes. Alumni and institutions donate. Are librarians disseminating information about new acquisitions to a generation that may no longer be into traditional reading? Can teachers revive index cards to require the “cut-and-paste” generation to read, reread, synthesize, write, and rewrite? Robots tracking books seem less surreal, in comparison.
Donations, though, are not roses without thorns. One book can hardly suffice for a class. Libraries have traditionally solved the problem by putting the book on reserve.
The other traditional solution is to photocopy books. In a state university, the photocopiers operated by every department serve as satellite libraries, where student traffic to order photocopies of the weekly readings assigned by professors shifts from moderate to heavy, specially with the approach of final exams.
The thorns that came with the rose was underscored last Apr. 23. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) commemorates World Book and Copyright Day on Apr. 23, which traditionally involves a gift of a rose for every book sold.
The Unesco campaign to promote literacy is not just about empowering people. It also counters intolerance and hatred.
Yet, the Xerox culture of our campuses disrespects the rights of authors and publishers. My fellow teachers who invest in their personal library and purchase online defy a fate worse than death when they claim their package from the Cebu City central postal office.
Surly workers, fees without official receipts, and hours of wading through dust, malarial mosquitoes, and perhaps a vintage bomb or two to find a packet of books—to read in this country is to defy the thorns.
* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 1, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column