Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Pushing the Cause of Public Libraries

It has been close to three weeks since I last posted a blog. I had been immersed writing an advocacy paper on reader development and about mainstreaming public libraries. I hope it is good enough excuse.

The past days, I interviewed two colleagues working for public libraries here in South Cotabato relative to the paper I am writing. Both expressed rather depressing realities of the diminishing motivation to push the cause of public libraries because efforts seem to go nowhere and the usual constraints due to lack of funds that paralyze their creativity. I perfectly understand where thay come from. It must be very difficult where they are -- boxed in by seemingly hopeless circumstances. It is a bit easier where I am, looking at them from afar, trying to articulate their concerns and trying to lift my fingers to be able to help them in any way I could. Then I realize that there is a difference between being there where these public librarians are and looking, empathizing and articulating their realities from the outside. There definitely is more to the advocacy on mainstreaming public libraries than just writing and delivering papers at conferences.

Then just now, I have spoken with a former colleague from the Notre Dame of Marbel University Mr. Arvin M. Tejada who is much into the same advocacy as I am. Talking to him lifted my spirits, kept me motivated and all the more challenged to push this common advocacy. Never mind if to others these may seem as time-consuming, old-fashioned, or even hopeless pursuits. It's admirable how librarians like Arvin can choose not to be constrained nor limited by circumstances, no matter how hard it is to navigate just to get the cause of public libraries to the mainstream. It is always a choice.

I wish there were more fellow Mindanao librarians with a heart and passion for community development work like those I have spoken and interviewed, so we can pull our resources and capacities together in order to push this advocacy far enough to be felt and understood.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On Embracing Change and Trusting the Future

Embrace the change. Trust the future.

In a recently-concluded Strategic Planning I attended, we were asked to write down our thoughts after the first day’s session. I had written down three, but the one that caught the facilatator’s attention was that I wrote about embracing change and trusting the future. The following day, she flashed it on screen and invited everyone to adopt it as their mantra.

Now I am starting to ask what exactly prompted me to write it, and if I can consistently live by this mantra myself.

Which brings me to a favorite book I read some thirtreen years back. The book, The Songs of Salanda and Other Stories of Sulu, was written by anthropologist H. Arlo Nimmo. It was an anthology of short stories about his own personal encounters while immersed working with the people of Sulu. Towards the end of the last chapter he wrote that, “change is relentless in its demands, and there are casualties.”

In my whole lifetime, I saw myself navigating through so many life changes, some I managed to survive unscathed, the others I either helplessly resisted or tried hard to control. Some of these changes consumed me; the others made me fly high. Change is demanding, indeed; and trusting a constantly metamorphosing future requires faith greater than one’s own.

When I came home to Mindanao in 1998, I planned of working full-time in a big academic institution. I thought of seeing myself either heading an academic library until retirement, or becoming a full-time faculty of Library Science, or working both as a librarian and a faculty on a part-time basis. I did have a taste of life as an academic, but it was not meant to be for long. Certain circumstances would always get in the way. It took a while before it dawned on me I was probably never meant to work as I planned. I was not going to be a librarian working around a physical space called the library. I embraced this twist in my career plans and went with the flow.

Today, I use the same skills I learned back in college doing other things. I do not manage an academic library and do not organize books. Instead, I make sense of and organize organizational (explicit) content, and devise a system for capturing human interactions and tacit knowledge. It's a pretty interesting job, a huge canvass from which I can still learn many other things. I still am passionate about libraries, but this time, my personal interest is geared towards public libraries. I still long to one day see more public libraries built, and more children reading inside these libraries.

So when asked about my profession, I’d gladly say I am a librarian. But not in the strictest sense. I still teach, although I am not quite a teacher, either. I am a metamorposed librarian. As soon as I embraced change, I have experienced what I did not plan -- i.e., to be in professions not exactly my own but which require the skills I have been taught in library and information science school. I wonder if this would have happened if I resisted change. Looking back now, I am glad I refused to be a casualty of my own limited notion, or of the changing information landscape. I think that as soon as we embrace change and trust the future, we'd be brought to where we can be our “best” and where we can give the most profound meaning to our existence.

Change, I learned, is pointless to resist. I have no option but to live by the mantra. I know that I shared it both as an invitation and an inspiration.