Keeping libraries alive

MANILA, Philippines – "Why do you build libraries? No one reads books anymore,” Anna Oposa is often told.

But what she is often told is far from what she sees in hospitals, prisons, and far-flung areas in the Philippines, where books can still light up the faces of both young and old.

This is why the Manila hub of the Global Shapers Community – of which Oposa is a part of – is building libraries where they are most needed: communities where books are still the lifeblood of learning. 

In 2012, the Manila hub joined the Library Renewal Partnership (LRP), a public-private partnership that aims to build 200 libraries all over the country by 2020, with at least one library per province, for 2 million beneficiaries.

"The Library Renewal Partnership was looking for on-the-ground community partners and we thought that it's a very good fit because [members of] the Manila hub, we all grew up reading. I remember my mom would always make me sleep early, and I would hide under the covers because I still wanted to read,” Oposa, the curator of the Manila hub, told Rappler.

LRP opened its 65th library (12th with the Manila hub) in the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm in Bulacan on Tuesday, May 20, during the visit of Global Shapers from hubs in East Asia. They are in the Philippines to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia.

Some of the Global Shapers also donated their own books to the GK library.

Government, other partners

“Right now the total number of libraries in the Philippines, out of 1,500 municipalities, is around 500. We think that by putting 200 municipal community libraries, what you are doing is bringing the total amount of libraries past the halfway point. With partners like the World Economic Forum and the Global Shapers of Manila, we'll get there faster. Our goal is to innovate organically,” said Quintin Pastrana, founder and managing director of LRP.

Aside from Global Shapers, LRP is also in partnership with local government units (LGUs), schools, publishing houses and non-governmental organizations. (READ: Where have our libraries gone? Part 1 | Part 2)

LGUs – which are mandated by law to establish congressional, city, and municipal libraries and barangay reading centers – donate the building and facilities, and shoulder costs for utilities, salaries, maintenance and repairs.

Other partners help provide the books and other educational resources through donations and crowdsourcing. The goal is to gather 8,000-10,000 volumes for each library, 60% of which should be Filipino publications, and the rest, international publications. 

"I think what's unique here is everybody pitches in, everybody gets the credit – we're happy that everybody gets the credit – and at the end of the day, the community is the one driving what kind of library, if they want the library, and where they want to take it,” Pastrana told Rappler. (READ: New books, new hope)

SEED Philippines

The GK library – which was put together in just a month – comes as the GK Enchanted Farm prepares for the opening of its School for Experiential & Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) Philippines in August.

"We're getting 80 of the brightest kids from the public schools in Bulacan. Academic subjects in the morning, then in the afternoon they will be mentored by social entrepreneurs, and weekends they work. It's a learn-and-earn program,” Antonio Meloto, GK founder, told Rappler.

Meloto said SEED Philippines is a way to recover the “lost treasures” of the country.

“Our society is so unjust. Half of the people who graduate from public schools cannot go to college, and the most that we can think for them is that they can become construction workers, they can learn how to be a plumber. What about those who have IQ [higher than] those going to the elite schools? So that to me is real poverty, when you lose your greatest wealth which is the human resource,” he added.

LRP and the Global Shapers Manila hub are now working on their next library in the New Bilibid Prison. Oposa listed down the characteristics of an LRP library:

“Books are not dead, contrary to what other people might think, and a lot of good learning still comes from reading books. Especially for far-flung communities, they'll never be able to go to Paris, or they're never gonna be able to go to England, but they can read Shakespeare, and understand that there's a whole world out there,” Oposa said. –

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.