Thursday, April 16, 2009

Starter Book on Politics

Not just your everyday political democracy but royalty descended from divinity.

This started as a thought on the first book I ever purchased then went on to the first book officially owned all by my bratty self, without share of bragging rights with my older siblings.

It was a book entitled "Ang Masasayang Bata = The Happy Children", a requirement book in grade 1. The book was about happy children who are virtuous or about virtuous children who are happy. It was big and every page was illustrated with a well-fed, smiling boy and a pink, happy looking girl overlooked either by a proud parent or an angelic angel every page of their virtuous life. At the top of each page a virtue: ang masasayang bata ay matulungin. In the middle, the illustrations: of the boy helping the girl cross the street with the ever present angel at their backs. At the bottom the translation: happy children are helpful.

Then I have an epiphany, the images of the angel, parents and children were the images of the "divine Marcoses", back when they were at the height of their delusions of grandeur. When they make believe they were descended from the gods and the Filipinos were their subjects. Anyone who has read Imelda's books would know what I'm talking about. That "royal family portrait" in one of her books was all over my bilingual first book. Of course no one in my hometown ever saw that portrait until after they were kicked out of MalacaƱang and the treasures in it were revealed to the public for the first time. But I'm pretty certain everyone saw the ubiquitous first couple portrait so I wonder now if my parents and teachers saw the similarities of the book illustrations to the Marcoses and what did they think when it occurred to them that the father in the book looked a lot like their president or prime minister or whatever Marcos called himself during his dictatorship. Whatever they thought they would have kept quite unless it was a practice in ass licking kind of thoughts.

If they could have a great painting of their divinity, why not make a book about it too and feed it to the innocents. Start them young on the proper reverence for divinity and royalty. The book is somewhere at home in my province. The details of the Marcoses's delusions of grandeur are rarely mentioned in Philippine history books and it should be because it was part and parcel of that whole era.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Secrets of a trim and slender librarian

In an ideal setting, a librarian do not have to mop her floor; never dust her bookshelves; hardly ever lift, carry and shelve books; rarely run around searching for the suddenly invisible book; but since most libraries have few staff, a librarian does all that and so much more besides being the accomplished and unflappable librarian. The process of being accomplished alone burns more calories than anything else.

So a brisk walk at high noon (i swear i see people do this) is not necessary, nor a badminton match in the middle of a blistering afternoon. Depriving oneself of the much needed fats, protein and carbohydrates, etc. is also out of the question.

All in all, librarians have toned muscles and neurons.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Great Moment As A Librarian

On my second year here in my current place of work, I was given the extra responsibility of manning the computer room as per client request or use. My main responsibility was in the technical section. We only had two computers then and they were not connected to the internet. The references the students could get from it were from two encyclopedias, some cds from FAO, and the TEEAL (The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library).

Some students who requested the service do not know how to use the computer so it was up to me to give them a little instruction or to actually do the research myself but still teach them the use of the computer at the same time. A student one day requested the use of the Britannica. He knows how to use it already he said, so I left him alone and did my own exploring of the encyclopedia. After a little while he requested to have his research printed.

The next day, the same thing happened. Then the next day. Confused, I asked him why he is researching the same topic and printing them for the third time. It turned out he was doing research for his classmates who still did not know how to use the computer. Really annoyed I pointed out to him that one of the services offered was a tutorial and besides his attitude is not helping his classmates at all, it was in fact making them get stuck in their ignorance of the use of the computer. Instead of researching for his classmates he might as well teach them how to operate a computer. I told him that if he had no legitimate requests, he can't use the computers anymore. After a few days, the same student came back, with two classmates in tow. So I ended up teaching one and him the other, of the basic use of the computer. This went on for several days, with him bringing along two friends, one for me to teach the other for him. Suddenly it stopped, he must by then discovered he had ten hours free internet use at the university cafe.

He was freshman when this happened. Then I was transferred to the circulation unit and I noticed him as a regular library goer and borrower. He absolutely availed of all the regular services that could be had. Including the not regular ones like asking us if some marine biology books have been purchased recently but yet to be brought out to the circulation unit. And to request first chance at them.

Not only did he borrow reference books for his major, he was also reading literature. He discovered one Vonnegut in the literature section. Interested he checked the card catalog but found nothing else. It was a good thing he was the way he was because he asked if there were other Vonneguts in the library. Two of our Vonneguts are classified under fiction. Unfortunately some of them are not represented in the card catalog, especially the older ones. When he was done reading the last Vonnegut in our library and if I remember right it was Dead Eyed Dick, he voiced his sadness over our lack of good books. I disagreed with him of course, I gave him names of authors he might enjoy reading, he said he'll check them out. When he said there were no more good books, he probably also meant at that time, of our loss of the third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, our having not acquired the latest Harry Potter book. Whatever he meant, I offered him my own Vonneguts, my own copy of the Return of the King and the latest HP book which actually was my nephew's.

Then years passed. He was the same pushy kid and I was the same stressed librarian but we had an easy and rare librarian and library client relationship. All too quickly he was processing his graduation clearance and I reminded him our first encounter and had a quiet laugh over it.

On the day of the graduation ceremony, we at the library were listening to the radio broadcast of commencement exercise as always, and I was surprised to hear he graduated Magna cum laude. It was a proud moment for me, realizing I have helped him with his pursuit of knowledge even just a little.

I still try to recommend books and authors to a few students borrowing literature, but most of them just goggled at me. It's also sad to be looked at like the ignorant librarian recommending newer edition of the zoology book when the instructor specifically say this edition in his syllabus. It's my nature to kibitz and my profession to recommend books and authors so I'll just have to deal with the odd looks--like I lost my mind--some students are giving me when I do this.

Trash literature?

There was a period in my life where my father was absolutely livid and frustrated about my choice of "trash" reading materials, he meant the romance novels/love stories of course. I was in my teens and he was probably afraid of what I might learn from those explicit romance novels. My explanation to him was that most everything is romantic novels. Some are just disguised as a spy novel or a horror story but they are basically about a search for love or redemption.

But one very good thing came out of it. It made me want to read Shakespeare again. Even the worst of these trashy novels mentioned Shakespeare. I've read his poems and sonnets before the trashy period but not his plays. So when I abandoned the romance novels to read Shakespeare's plays, I found out I was correct about the main theme of the world's literature, but the difference lies in how great literature made you think. Or rather how your brain works. With romance novels, one understands the sentiment, empathize or sympathize but one does not delve deeper either into the psyche or into the human heart. They do not give one more complex than one already have nor they do ease one's angst. One just cruise along when one is reading these paperback romance novels, they do not require one to think more than one should.

I still read novels but I've since learned to choose only the better kind. The ones that make one questions one's existence. The ones that paradoxically eases some of my mental burns.

My father said during this period "some novels pretend to be high brow but in the end, they do not bear deeper examination. They made reference to all sorts of theory and schools of thought, but why not read these theories and schools of thought yourself?" And this was what my father wanted me to understand. He said, "you may be enjoying that book right now but will you still enjoy that plot when you're older, more mature, have seen much of the world?" He wondered why I came to that point when I've actually had a very good start with my reading habit. My answer so far though not very convincing even to myself, is that there was a dearth of good reading materials in my hometown.

The romance novels I've been reading may have been labeled as trash by my father and probably by some people, but to others, these are all they can afford to read, literally and figuratively. It is so much better than without any interests, skills, hobbies or creative habits at all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I think I have a unique collection of bookmarks. I used to buy them, but then I found out I could collect them another way. In library books, in the books of a second hand bookshops, in books donated to our library there bound to be bookmarks left there by the last reader or the former owner of the book.

I appropriate them for myself. But not all. I only choose those I think are creative or unique. I don't filch those that have Bible quotes, I'll just as well read the Bible. And I don't take those bookmarks that have syrupy sweet and trite quotes on them.

The most cherished "find" so far are a brown leather one that used to have but since faded, a gold logo of Reader's Digest, the head of Pegasus. A thin cartoon one that says "Stacey's Professional Bookstore", I love it because it has the self-portrait of Da Vinci on it. Another one is a 1/4-sheet of bond paper with a love letter or maybe it is a love poem written on it, I don't know if it is original, but it is sweet.

I have discovered some things inserted in a book that may not have meant to be a bookmark but it gives you a window to the life of the former owner or reader of the book. So far there was that love letter, then a fancy restaurant's meal coupon, a Canadian train ticket, a brochure to a spa in New York and a discount coupon for a tomato sauce.

There is quite a number of collected bookmarks already, someday I'm going to gather all of them and count them. I like doing this not because it satisfies my criminal mind but because they are somewhat similar to books, they've touched another life. They may have been left there unintentionally but they're in all sense abandoned and I am rescuing them.

The next time I found another one, I'm going record their history, which book I found it from, when I found it, such things. I am also going to record my thoughts and speculations about their former owners.