[OPINION] Where are the community libraries 30 years after we passed the law?

Lou Gepuela

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[OPINION] Where are the community libraries 30 years after we passed the law?

Guia Abogado/Rappler

A library is not just a storehouse of books. It is the soul of the community. It is an incubator for dreams and better lives. It is the cheapest changemaker investment that produces exponential value for the community.

This is something very close to my heart.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 reported that, “fifteen-year-old students in the Philippines scored lower in reading, mathematics and science than those in the countries and economies that participated in PISA 2018.”

It added, “Over 80% of students in the Philippines did not reach a minimum level of proficiency in reading, which is one of the largest shares of low performers amongst all PISA-participating countries and economies.”

The chart you see in this post is the status of Philippine public and community libraries as of 2018.

Note that 68% of provinces, 75% of cities, 40% of municipalities, and 2% of our barangays nationwide have libraries, in 2018.

Status of Philippine public libraries as of 2018
Laws, laws, and more laws

Let’s contextualize this.

“The National Library of the Philippines was established as the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas through the royal decree of August 12, 1887. In 1916, The Philippine Library, Division of Archives, Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks of the Executive Bureau and the Law Library of the Philippine assembly were merged into one entity, called the Philippine Library and Museum,” according to the website of the National Library of the Philippines.

The Commonwealth-era Proclamation 109, series of 1936, which considered “the task of arousing a widespread interest in the reading of good books be recognized as a highly patriotic duty as well as a privilege,” designated November 24-30 of every year as National Book Week.

Republic Act 411 “For the establishment, operation and maintenance of one thousand municipal libraries for a period of five years by the Bureau of Public Libraries” took effect on June 18, 1949 – 75 years ago!

Article 137 of Presidential Decree 603, the Child and Youth Welfare Code, provided that, “The State shall establish in every barangay reading centers and recreation centers where children may meet and play together for their healthy growth and their social and cultural development.” This was promulgated on December 10, 1974 – nearly 50 years ago!

The Constitution, in Article XIV, Section 2, provides that, “The State shall encourage non-formal, informal, and indigenous learning systems, as well as self-learning, independent, and out-of-school study programs particularly those that respond to community needs.” This took effect in 1987 – 37 years ago!

Every November is Library and Information Services Month by virtue of Proclamation 837, series of 1991.

Section 17 (b)(1)(vii) of Republic Act 7160, the Local Government Code, provides that, “Local government units shall likewise exercise such other powers and discharge such other functions and responsibilities as are necessary, appropriate, or incidental to efficient and effective provisions of the basic services and facilities enumerated herein…for barangay…information and reading center.”

“Information services, which include investments and job placement information systems, tax and marketing information systems, and maintenance of a public library” were considered basic services and facilities of all municipalities, under Section 17 (b)(2)(v), as well as all cities, under Section 17(b)(4). These all took effect in 1992 – 32 years ago.

Republic Act 7743 had the rather ambitious goal to “elevate the literacy level of every Filipino to the end that illiteracy is eradicated by the end of the century,” and, more importantly, declared national policy that “[recognizes] the vital role of knowledge and information in nation-building by establishing public libraries in every congressional district, city and municipality, and reading centers in every barangay in the Philippines.” 

This became law on June 17, 1994 – 30 years ago.

Section 4 of RA 7743 is very clear: “The establishment of the public libraries and reading centers shall be an integral part of the development plan of each local government unit, provided that barangays shall provide the site for barangay reading centers.”

The Department of the Interior and Local Government has repeatedly directed local government officials to ensure the implementation of this law via DILG Memorandum Circular 99-2008, DILG Memorandum Circular 2008-26, and most recently, DILG Memorandum Circular 2017-95.

Republic Act 10556, which became law in 2013, declared November 27 of every year as “Araw ng Pagbasa.” It also declared it state policy to recognize and support “endeavors that promote reading and literacy, motivate awareness and uphold our Filipino heritage and culture,” as well as recognized “the importance of promoting reading as a shared activity among the youth, families, educators and the private sector, thereby emphasizing personal interaction and facilitating the exchange of ideas throughout the country.”

Section 4 of RA 7743, which became law in 1994, is very clear: “The establishment of the public libraries and reading centers shall be an integral part of the development plan of each local government unit, provided that barangays shall provide the site for barangay reading centers.”

Soul of the community

Despite all these laws, why do barangays remain non-compliant (2% compliance nationwide, as of 2018)? And why is this repeated noncompliance tolerated? The law is there, the budget is there, the structure is there. Implementation is inconsistent and a perennial problem because of a lack of executive will, one that is repeatedly condoned and tolerated by the sovereign citizenry.

Some will say that public libraries are archaic and an anachronism in this age of the internet. I beg to differ and offer as evidence the crowds that always form at the annual Manila International Book Fair.

A very important point we must realize is that a library is not just a storehouse of books. 

It is a center of learning, it is a civic space, it is a place where the community congregates. A public library is the soul of the community. It is where collective experiences are encouraged and gathered, and where the institutional memory, history, knowledge, and heritage of the community is preserved.

Why do we have no sense of history, a disdain for knowledge, no respect for the effort of learning, and why is the culture of reading dying out? Why is no one deeply troubled by these developments?

A public and community library is a place that welcomes the neglected, the lonely, the inquisitive, the dispossessed. It is an incubator for dreams and better lives. It is the cheapest changemaker investment, where every peso spent easily produces exponential value for the community.

The condition of our public and community libraries (or lack thereof) is a good indicator of the condition of our democracy. They are necessary, critical, inclusive, participatory, and the most meaningful social infrastructure. Denial of a public library is effectively denying knowledge from the community, and tangibly showing its residents how learning is truly valued by the community leadership.

No penalty has been meted to local chief executives who have failed to implement this law. Nor have there been incentives given to those LGUs that have implemented it. Where do we want to go from here? –

Lou Gepuela is convenor of Friends of Philippine Libraries. He may be reached at

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