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Discovering Libraries

Library Books by timetrax23
When I was a kid growing up in a small town in the Philippines, I didn't have access to a public library. Nor did I get much from the libraries in the schools I went to except for oddly enough friendships that have lasted a good while. It wasn't until I was doing research for my thesis subject when I was in college that I finally appreciated (and wished I leveraged more) the utility of libraries. In search of better more relevant and up-to-date materials before the proliferation of Internet connectivity in the Philippines I found myself going to UP Diliman (three hours commute from UP Los Banos) to find related literature. I found the three hour commute very pleasant and I was looking forward to being able to read more about the subject I was trying to get my head around. Fast forward ten years later and I find myself seeing how transformative and important public libraries are and how they're something that I definitely wish my people in the Philippines could get more access to.

Recently I was reading about how Google started and what the company was like in the inside before I joined it. I thought I knew a lot about Google before joining the company but not until I got to read the book "In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives"for free by checking it out of the Ashfield Public Library. Of course I would have forked over the money to buy my own copy but I found how totally fulfilling it is to be able to pick up a book, read it, and let others have the experience of holding the same book and reading the same words. Will I buy the book? Definitely -- hard bound and I'll even try to get Steven Levy to autograph it for me when I go back to the US.

The point of this post is not that the book is awesome. The point is that the fact that I, and anybody else, can pick up that same book and read it for free is a very powerful service to society at large. Consider how if everybody in the world had access to the same books no matter where you lived, where you were born, or what generation you were born in -- that if people had the means of reading the same thoughts and getting on the same page (literally) -- what the effect of that to those in rural areas or under-developed countries would be. If you can for example get inspired by the same books that inspired the founders of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, or the same books that inspire the writers of the novels we read now. What if you got access to the same textbooks that the students from Stanford, Princeton, MIT, or Harvard had? What if you got the same journals that the scientists from the top universities around the world have access to? Now think about it if you're in the Philippines?

I have a deep-seeded love for my country and seeing how libraries are open and used by first-world citizens here in Australia brings a sinking feeling. It's me feeling "this is one of the many reasons why they are a first-world country" and that the Philippines has a long way to go to get from the state it is right now to a country where you can with a straight face say is developed. Even though I pay through my nose in taxes here it doesn't feel like I'm being ripped off when I see all the available amenities to absolutely everyone in the country.

I blurted out on Google+ that "I wish there were more libraries in the Philippines and that more kids took advantage of them" while checking in from my mobile at the same Ashfield Public Library. I didn't know how many of my friends were actually agreeing and that it was one of those really lacking things in the Philippines. I think these are one of those things that Filipinos start looking for in the Philippines when they get to live in a first world country -- along with good public transport, sane healthcare, and just discipline from most of the people. The next thing is the lack of corruption or at least the apparent lack of it, then how the government is basically negligent in our country.

I always thought that the Philippines was at a disadvantage compared to other Asian countries because we didn't invest enough in infrastructure or in developing the local economy. Now I see that the reason the other Asian countries are more progressive compared to the Philippines is not because they're richer but because they have the drive and discipline to make something of themselves. They invest in their people with the hopes of making it good for everyone. This is evident in the way they look at learning and development: it's not to get themselves ahead, but to be better for the good of the country.

So where does the library fit in here? Especially in education -- it shouldn't matter whether your teacher is incapable, it should matter that you yourself have the initiative and discipline to keep learning and pushing the boundaries of what you're capable of. Instead of being rewarded for passing a test, people should be rewarded for exceeding expectations. I always thought that the test-driven mentality deeply ingrained in the kids of today in the Philippines is the wrong way to build a society of progressive and critical thinkers. It's not that you should be able to answer questions, but that you're able to ask questions that challenge the status quo. What you'll find is most kids in the Philippines don't have this curiosity of "why are things this way" or "why do they have to be this way" because these characteristics are deemed undesirable. Then we wonder why there aren't a lot of inventors in the Philippines and ask why we keep producing great nurses and customer support agents.

I think having access to information -- that later becomes knowledge, which should be the foundation of wisdom -- is fundamental to the progress of a society. Any person who has played Civilization would know that having a more libraries is the best way to advance the state of the art -- and that universities should be the source of the innovations and not the trainers for industry. In my dream of the Philippines in 20 years I hope libraries would be a prominent fixture of every town or province and that people start moving away from thinking of the mundane and think about how innovation should be what's constant.

Let's stop teaching kids to become test masters and let them become more creative and innovative. Let's nurture the curiosity of the youth and the ingenuity of the locals. Let's advance the state of the arts and make it available to everyone. Let put information where it can be used to create knowledge and then wisdom needed to advance.

I wish there were more people who cared about the state of the lack of libraries in the Philippines and did something about it. I'd be happy to help in whatever way I can.


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