Saturday, May 30, 2009

Censoring myself

I've been composing about certain topics these last two weeks but did not post them in the end because once again training and inclination forbid me to.

I've been trained by my parents and paternal grandparents to step back and observe before making any comments or decisions about things. And if silence is better for everyone involved then silence should be the proper option. Inclination to be cool and sometimes even cold about things on the other hand is something from my maternal side.

So there it is, after I wrote about something I just keep it to myself for fear (?) of offending more people than I already offend in the normal course of day. Life as it is is already very difficult without me satirizing people in a very public blog. I know I have very few reader, but who knows who might stumble into this blog one of these days.

What does not kill me... etc.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Talk about mastering the alphabet

I’ve finally finished reading Nausea by Albert Camus and it is suppose to be the diary of a M. Roquentin. The setting of the supposed diary is 1920’s France. In one of his entries, he wrote about an acquaintance the Self-Taught Man who he noticed reads books according to how the books are arranged on the shelves, alphabetically by the authors’ family name. The Self-Taught Man was already going through the "L" when this was noticed by the diarist.

It made me review my history of classification and cataloging. I know for certain that LC and DDC were developed in the 19th century but can’t be sure of the years. I know too that before standard classification systems were developed there were many ways of shelving, storing and stacking library books, one of which is arranging the books alphabetically by author. Somehow an account of a library setting from the perspective of a library user rather than a formal historian is more appealing and oddly more believable.

But in my daily library functions, I can't say I've really mastered the alphabet. We are using the LC classification system and when arranging book cards or arranging books on the shelves I can't automatically say that PG comes first before PJ. I always seem to go back to basics and think G, H, I, J...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dashed dreams of public librarianship

While still in library school, a family friend came to visit me in Cebu to borrow my notes on library science. He was appointed by their town mayor as municipal librarian with a salary that I, even now is not earning. He stayed with us for a few days because he also wanted some instructions especially on indexing which at that moment was mostly what he was trying to do in his library. I told him to enroll in an MS degree in library science so he could have the post permanently. He was not interested, he felt too old at 36 to get another degree, and he already had two besides. He said instead that he'll hold the fort for me until I'm able to take over and he'll be just as happy as my assistant. He died of heart attack (may he--André rest in peace) even before I graduated.

A classmate in the review for the board, who heard of the post from her sister who married somebody from that place, applied for the post but she never heard anything from the town officials. The post died with him I suppose. Or until such time as the town officials become politically motivated to resurrect the position which by law should be available.

I still had two years to finish library school when I first heard of that post and I somehow built a dream of public librarianship based upon the ideal public librarianship learned in library school. Even now I still dream of that dream--the things I could do given the right support. It is such a culturally diverse and resource-rich place, but at the rate public librarianship is going in the Philippines, there might never be a public library in that municipality.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The bubble bursts

I've only just found out during the last two years that when you are applying for a job, certain SOP's are to be followed. There is generally an interview process, a standardized IQ or psychological exams, and an imperative skills test. It was in my management class in graduate school that I learned about this. I cringed when I first heard of this because in all the jobs I applied for I never went through a skills test or an IQ or psychological exam. I've only ever been employed as a professional librarian in two institutions and in both cases I was only given an interview. On my first job, it was only the chief librarian who interviewed me and on my second job interview (my current job) I faced a panel of interviewers who if I remember correctly had not asked any difficult questions. Although I did apply for another two posts during my first job, I only ever went through an interview process.

In the past couple of years I have applied for two different jobs because I thought I would relocate. In one institution, the formal interview and the skills test were scrapped because the librarian knew my academic performance personally, but had I completed the whole list of human resources requirements, I would have taken a standardized IQ exam just to comply with requirements so the librarian said. In another job I applied for though not a librarian post I took a two-hour grammar and composition skills test, waited a week for a call to interview if you pass that exams and managed to go through a grueling 20-minute interview for each of the five individual interviewers and wait another week for the interview results. It was the first time I ever experienced that kind of procedure and it was nerve-racking. I realized then that the process I was going through was what my management professor was talking about. Even if I did not get the job I want to believe I went through with flying colors because the last time I heard from them after that difficult interview was that they have already contacted my reference persons and that I should wait for their call within the next three days. I don’t know if they did call but it was also during that week that my phone went dead. Or maybe I flunked that interview.

At the moment three of us in the library had finished with two of the three processes or procedures to a new job. There is supposed to be a promotion for one of us. We had the panel interview three weeks ago. The skills test—classification and cataloging and indexing were administered by one of the senior librarians yesterday. Within the next week or so we will take an IQ or a psychological test to be administered by human resources. Everyone in the library is surprised by this process because not one of them it seems has undergone the whole standard procedure but it seems human resources department is cleaning its act as per civil service hiring regulations. I have no big hopes for this. I got very low scores for my academic qualifications being a non-MSLS or its equivalent degree holder. But it is nice, painful but it lets you grow, to be once in a while shaken out of your complacency and taken out of your comfort zone.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Premium Services


One of the provisions of the law is: "to set up their respective service standards to be known as the Citizen's Charter in the form of information billboards which should be posted at the main entrance of offices or at the most conspicuous place, and in the form of published materials written either in English, Filipino, or in the local dialect, that detail: (a) The procedure to obtain a particular service; (b) The person/s responsible for each step; (c) The maximum time to conclude the process; (d) The document/s to be presented by the customer, if necessary; (e) The amount of fees, if necessary; and (f) The procedure for filing complaints."

The thing was, before the seminar-workshop, we were already told to prepare and make our own Citizen's Charter, present it during the workshop and expect it to be reviewed by the whole seminar-workshop attendees. While I fully appreciate their efforts to edit my presentation grammar-wise, it was weird and somewhat demeaning to be questioned about the necessity of your own procedures. As if you do not know what you are talking about or that you've been doing the wrong things all these times. I understand where they're coming from of course, nevertheless the feelings of inefficiency the nitpicking has brought on persisted. They’ve trimmed and snipped and compressed as many office procedures as allowed by the respective person in-charge. It was a good thing my boss attended the workshop with me because she had been able to defend our procedures and our Charter calmly.

The concern is that the government is not giving premium services to the public hence this law which would guide the citizens of the republic; However, changing an accepted standard of borrowing procedure or any office procedure for that matter just because an office wanted to present an efficient looking Citizen’s Charter and a seemingly short and red tape free service is not only undermining the whole service itself but its people as well. An efficient looking, seemingly red tape free Citizen’s Charter yet not a real and true to form procedural Citizen’s Charter is to my mind just as criminal as bureaucratic red tape. But since presenting a long Citizen’s Charter is viewed as another bureaucratic red tape (the citizens shouldn’t spend more time than necessary reading anything that might tax their minds) you are left to choose between the lesser evil. Any kind of Citizen’s Charter besides the real step by step, procedural one could land you in a hot seat because if the service provided is not what is stated in the Citizen’s Charter, the citizen concern could sue the office for red tape.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Acquisitions and the Bangko Sentral

This is how I understand our long-time secretary’s explanations of a book acquisitions practice abandoned long before I was employed here.

Our library used to purchase books directly from foreign publishers and jobbers but stopped the practice sometime in the 1990's. The reason was about a Central Bank Circular regarding the bringing in or out of the country beyond a certain amount of money. Every time we pay for the books ordered in the UK or the US that amounts to more than what is expressed in that Central Bank Circular, which was always, we asked permission from the Central Bank for such transaction. The nearest Central Bank Offices from Leyte is Cebu, if you limit your purchases to four times a year that’s also a four-time trip to the Central Bank.

There was also the added burden of keeping up with the fluctuating peso-dollar exchange rate. Between the time a specific amount is requested for the ordered books and the time the money for a bank draft is released by the accounting department to the time we go to the bank, the exchange rate has changed a hundred times already. Your peso may become lesser than or bigger than your dollar account. If you find yourself with a lesser peso value, you go back to accounting to request for additional funds again. So you hope that your peso on hand is bigger than your dollar account when exchange is done. It came to a point where the banks refused to sell or change our Philippine peso with dollars anymore. The banks’ reason was that when they make the payments to the foreign publishers; the constant exchange fluctuations had them saddled with paying for the difference if their client's bank draft is smaller than the foreign account.

I suppose big libraries can resort to this if the current problems of book importation are not resolved. For us who recently have been buying mostly reprints because of budgetary constraints, this would not be feasible. All the intricate business transactions to be handled and dealt with regarding a direct importation are just but added burdens to a cash strapped library—budgets if not slashed are maintained at a certain amount without regard for the increasing value of books and government employed librarians had to justify every title acquired as essential and must have a concerned faculty’s endorsement to say the least—burdens that are lessened by jobbers and distributors.

Central Bank Circulars that might be of help.

Monday, May 4, 2009

House of 2½ Monk, CSI, New York

I rarely watched Philippine TV shows and sitcoms. I watched news; I also watched some talk shows from the ANC. When my siblings start to talk about entertainment gossip, one of my nieces would say that they need to make a sort of backgrounder because a foreigner is listening. Most of those who came into the Philippine entertainment scene in the last 10 years are unknown to me.

The TV shows I watched are the kind that validates my slightly abnormal psychology. I watch House. In one of "House" episodes, he said something about his not wearing a lab coat has nothing to do with how he diagnosed diseases. It is presumptuous of me to even compare my case to "his" but I hate the uniforms the government prescribed for us. Or in our case what our own uniform committee has chosen as uniform. They seem to always choose cloths mostly made from wool or synthetic fibers. They are hot and uncomfortable to wear. They are the kind of cloth meant to be worn in an air-conditioned room with nothing to do but file papers, write, type, the kind of work that does not make you sweat. They are not meant to be worn if one is suppose to carry and shelve heavy books or do housekeeping sometime in the day. Other people may equate uniforms with efficiency and effectiveness but in my case, it does not.

Another show I watched is CSI. I like gore and mayhem. I also like to guess who the culprit is. Last week's episode of CSI: New York features the New York City Public Library as the scene of the crime committed. A rare book "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" was treated with Thallium which causes the death first of the Librarian of the rare book section. The death of course was murder or rather euthanasia according to her husband who administered the poison through that book. He made other deaths occur to make his claim valid—that the librarian job was hazardous—so he could collect the insurance. He would have represented the other victims in a legal suit against the library and therefore collecting another fee, a settlement fee or whatever. I never thought a librarian's job could be exciting in that way. Imagine your library being the scene of a crime and if you're not the victim, you could be one of the suspects. I always thought the most exciting thing that could happen in a library was if an angry client would go at you with a heavy book or skewer you with an umbrella. Or a book would suddenly turn into a monster ala Harry Potter episode and would attack the librarian.

Last evening’s episode of Two and a Half Men (a rerun of season 3, episode 12 I suppose) had Alan in a grip of panic inside a bookstore. He has always wanted to read it seems, but never had the time to do so and he is in a panic because to him there is no more time to read the classics, biography, geography, etc. Charlie, his brother told him he could read while he is using the comfort room and Alan replied there are not enough bowel movements in his lifetime to read all the best books. One’s bowel movements, for those who read while pooping or one's lifetime may never be enough to read all the good and not-so-good-but-entertaining-all-the-same books but one could try. If we spent our time just thinking and planning about reading then we may even never get to read even one good book. Anyone can start reading at any age. Some started while they were still young but that does not automatically mean they are the best reader. There is no age limit to reading just as there is no age limit to learning.

And Monk. Monk is another TV character of course. He is the most or rather he has the most abnormal psychology and he makes me feel the most normal person in the world.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Movies, uncut

Our province does not have any movie theaters. I am only able to see movies when I go to Cebu, that is if the films showing are to my liking. If there is a movie I really like, I resort to buying a pirated copy; I shouldn't even mention my culpability in the piracy industry but heck... However, since I discovered a channel on cable that shows new movies I've stopped buying them altogether. At first I thought they were old movies or movies I missed altogether, even their thrillers on TV, but then I would read a review of it on Jessica Zafra's blog and realize otherwise.

The first of these movies was Russel Crowe and Christian Bale's movie 3:10 to Yuma. When I saw it, I was flabbergasted; however did I miss any Russel Crowe movie, I researched it the next day and found out that it will be shown in Philippine theaters in a month's time. The next was Christian Bale's The Dark Knight which I already knew as new so there was just the thrill of knowing that I've seen it even before the rest of the Philippines do. Slumdog Millionaire is another one. I've seen it before the Academy Awards in February and it was shown here just this April. The latest of these movies is Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, I saw it a long time before it was shown in Philippine cinemas, so long ago that when Miss Zafra blogged about it a few weeks back my reaction was--huh, it's a new movie?

On April 30 the X-Men Origins: Wolverine was supposed to be the opening day of the movie but I have already seen it on cable on May 1. I don't know where our local cable operator gets their copies of these new movies but I am not complaining. Not even if the Wolverine who was thrown into the air by Sabertooth was just a computer animation or that when Deadpool landed on his feet some strings were still attached to his back, because so far this was the only one yet to be polished. A thought though, what if some authority would decide to investigate this transgression? Nah!

Own the Knowledge, Buy the Book--Validated

The anecdote is second hand but I want to believe it for my validation and for shelving of my cynicism even for a little while.

I have always been against the faculty competing with the students with the few library resources we have but so far been unable to get other people to see my side. If I get to make people agree with me, it is always with reservations. They have their own views regarding faculty access to these resources.

Now I have authority to validate my stand. Towards the end of March 2009, CHED personnel came to our library to check on the books they have donated to the Engineering program of the university. As they were browsing the books they had donated to us, they noticed some missing titles and asked the librarian who accompanied them on their inspection tour where the books are, one faculty who was also with the group answered that the books are with them, the CHED authority supposedly said "Those books are not meant for you. They are for the students; you the faculty should buy your own references".

I am aware of the limitations of my principles regarding faculty access of library resources of course. Limitations with regards to resources that are very expensive or difficult to acquire, but for the most basic resources that are very much available in the local bookstores and inexpensive besides, it is beyond the pale if faculty would still have to compete with the students for these.