Editorial: Democratize reading

·3 min read

When will the Cebu City Public Library (CCPL) open again to the public for 24 hours, seven days a week?

The CCPL was an outstanding anachronism in a country where an edifice complex in public spending rarely extended to public libraries and a citizenry parched for free reading spaces and unlimited reading resources.

First opened on Apr. 13, 1919 as the Cebu City Branch Library of the National Library of the Philippines, the CCPL, formerly known as the Rizal Memorial Library, became the first public library in the country to operate on 24/7 basis in 2018.

Then Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña gave in to a clamor from citizens, particularly students who needed a place to study and conduct their research in a place that was safe and did not require spending for coffee and snacks.

The CCPL closed its doors during the pandemic, reopening on Sept. 8, 2020, after Cebu City’s community quarantine status was downgraded with the reduction of local cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infection.

As the CCPL is currently closed on Sundays and holidays, its Facebook page continues to draw netizens inquiring about and requesting for a return of the 24/7 mode of operations.

Public libraries perform many essential services to citizens. Before the pandemic, the CCPL drew non-government organizations, civic groups, and companies sponsoring and conducting events boosting different forms of literacies, from storytelling and read-along sessions in Cebuano and English for children to language classes, including sign language, for adults.

Before pandemic protocols led the library into suspending the acceptance of book donations, the CCPL was a beneficiary of private donors. It remains an important repository of book donations that cover local history, journalism, and other subjects that are not just required in academic curricula but remain a lifelong interest for many citizens, especially researchers and retirees.

The May 9, 2022 electoral outcome of what netizens refer to as “Marcos presidency 2.0” has dramatically boosted citizens’ interest in reading local history, particularly the period when the country was under the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

The ongoing “panic buying” of books on the Marcos dictatorship is also fueled by many citizens fearing a repression of literature documenting human rights abuses and corruption during the administration of Marcos Sr.

Far from being a straightforward recording of facts and neutral interpretation of the past, history is a heavily contested arena. Revisionism remains a key issue even after the recent elections, with netizens of differing affiliations claiming that Philippine history is being sanitized and purged of realities for political expedience.

Recently, 1,700 academics signed a manifesto, vowing to resist censorship, book-banning, state interference in public libraries, and the revision of history to sanitize Marcos Sr.’s authoritarian rule.

The academics’ manifesto was a response to social media posts by officials of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which accused children’s books publisher, Adarna House, of corrupting children’s minds and recruiting for the Communists.

Adarna House had promoted its #NeverAgain book bundle of five books explaining the Marcos martial law era to children. “Never Again” is popularized by citizens opposing the country’s return to a dictatorship.

While a Marcos presidency 2.0 may be boosting Filipiniana sales, wide access to literature that explains and interprets history faces serious obstructions in reaching many citizens due to the economic crisis that removes book purchases from limited family budgets.

Public libraries, accessible to every citizen, should be opened, operating hours expended, and resources protected, replenished, and sustained as the essential foundation for an informed and critical citizenry.

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