To read is to experience the world concocted by the imagination and bringing pieces of it in the real one. Reading allows for comfort, gaining knowledge, and relating with the characters and prose. Of course, nothing really beats experiencing life with your own senses, but books do allow a reader to live multiple of them through their pages.
But such pleasures are not for everyone, or rather, cannot be afforded by everyone.
Reading is a Privilege
For most Filipinos whose conception and means of survival come more immediate, reading is a luxury that cannot be prioritized over the basic needs. Books are relatively expensive. A book priced at an average of 500 pesos is enough to feed a family. While it is easy to describe the pleasures of reading and enumerate its benefits to the readers, the harsh reality for most Filipinos is an unsubtle reminder – one cannot simply choose reading over the family’s meal.
One might argue that reading is a part of everyday life, and therefore, owning it is a right. But to own a book can also mean sacrificing a meal, a pair shirt or trouser, and many other things. If owning a book entails sacrificing these necessities, gaining a new knowledge or simple indulging in beautifully written words are not worth that trade off.
Thus, it came to no surprise that Filipinos became known for a lot of things – hospitable, talented, gentle – but never for being readers. Even though the Philippines is a country of 107 million people, a book would be considered a best-seller if it reaches only a thousand sales per year. On the other hand, it also comes as a double whammy that the country boasts 97.95% of readers form its overall population, but an overwhelming majority could not reach a minimum level of comprehension (Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018).
Of course, access to books are not impossible. Schools and educational institutions house their own collection of books and reading materials that are open for students’ use. However, it is worth noting that not everyone can access education and go to these schools. These school libraries are free, but only to an extent.
Libraries in Shambles
On the other hand, the burden of owning a book and cultivating a reading habit do not only rest upon the people’s financial capabilities or their access to educational institutions. The lack of public infrastructures and libraries allotted for reading is also culpable to the problem – the public library service is close to non-existent in the county.
On a report published by the National Library of the Philippines on 2019, it is reported that majority of thepublic libraries in the country are found in the municipalities (50%), barangays (21%), cities (19%) and provinces (9%). However, the actual total numbers of public libraries in the Philippines only make up 3% of the ideal as prescribed by the law.
The inadequate funds for public libraries have also been noted. Even if funds were forthcoming the National Library and the local authorities would have difficulties in increasing the book stock for public libraries. The similar report also noted the lack of staff and personnel that will supposedly man these libraries.
Support from authorities are also minimal. The lack of local authority support for the public libraries is manifested in the appalling condition of many of the libraries - poor locations, old furniture, leaking roofs, worn-out and outdated books - were some of the glaring signs. With these poor library conditions especially in the local areas, people’s awareness of the libraries also become quite low.
Only 11% of Filipinos aged 18 andup borrowed books from libraries, said Dr Dennis Mapa, Dean of the Universityof the Philippines' School of Statistics. According to Mapa, library awareness was particularly poor at the barangay level, with only 12% of respondents saying they were aware of a library in their area.
Reading opens a path
Reading opens a path to learning – and learning leads to deeper understanding. If Filipinos learn to make reading a pleasurable experience, a second nature that is almost as easy as devouring their favorite adobo, the country would flourish into a place that nurture ideas and intellectualism among its citizens.
But before Filipinos learn to love books more, it is imperative that libraries that will serve as havens of knowledge be established in places where people can freely come and go. Access to books should not be a question of who can afford to buy a book, but a right that every Filipino should have regardless of economic status. The jarring realities of the libraries and the inadequate financial capabilities of the people to access books seem difficult to overcome, but not impossible.