Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now for the money

A room of one's own is a book by Virginia Woolf. This is one of my favorite books. It is doubly treasured because it is the only book I have that has a dedication—from my brother. It can be downloaded subject to copyright; you might like to read the whole book.

The book is basically about: "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." But it could be about women who love to dance, paint or cook, become a lawyer, doctor or first-class pilot. Women nowadays are better educated and have more options in life than in her time, but there are still girls left behind. As with any era, it is the women from wealthy families that are able to explore themselves for talents and abilities and are able realize their full potentials if they choose to do so.

The poor girl who is able to enroll in college could have excelled in academics but we’ll never know because she has to work for her living too. She maybe able to earn a degree but she has deferred other dreams for herself because she had to support her younger siblings through school if not become the breadwinner for the whole family. Or she herself has become a mother and if she is the kind of mother Virginia Woolf talked of: “What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses?", then the cycle of women poverty will continue. The glimmer of talents she may have could never be developed because she does not have the time or the money to enroll in extra classes and extensive trainings: ""then the thought of that one gift which it was death to hide—a small one but dear to the possessor—perishing and with it my self, my soul,—all this became like a rust eating away the bloom of the spring, destroying the tree at its heart." Most of them do not even have a space of their own to relax, think, or just be; they have to share rooms with other women in cramp lodgings.

But for the exceptionally talented, she does not have a hope because our nepotistic system forbids her to. Sometimes even outstanding talent does not bring her anywhere without endorsements.

Saddest of all reasons why some women do not realize their potentials is not the patriarchal society that some of them still has to live in, but that some women just absolutely detest other women and will do anything in their power to put down possible contenders: "To begin with, always to be doing work that one did not wish to do, and to do it like a slave, flattering and fawning, not always necessarily perhaps, but it seemed necessary and the stakes were too great to run risks."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Librarian: idol, star, hero, etc.

Twice this semester I inspired awe, the positive kind, which usually isn’t. I felt like an idol. A fraction perhaps of how idols all over the world felt but I must say it was uncomfortable.

As it has been impressed on me time and time again by some librarians and by other people that my being a librarian and a reader and a lover of books do not make me special, that a well-trained librarian could do what I am able to do just a well. I never say I am exceptional, only that my being a reader and a lover of books make my job as a librarian all that much easier. I’d rather everyone; students mostly go on taking my particular and personal help for granted, something that I do because I am trained to do it. But some people are more impressionable than most.

When students come to us asking about particular authors and titles, our standard answer is “have you consulted the card catalog?” Our next action depends on the answer. But what if you are pre-empted by the statement, “I have checked in the card catalog but have not found what I am looking for”. Sometimes we searched the card catalog ourselves to make certain at other times we say “if it’s not represented in the catalog then the library does not have it”. But what usually do we do when confronted with: “I am looking for this chemistry book whose author I do not remember but its cover is blue”. I am sure any librarian would have launch into a lecture regarding the merits of remembering a book by its cover, shape and size alone.

This was somewhat how the cases of hero-worshiping came about.

One student was looking for Machiavelli’s The Prince. He said he had searched the card catalog but had not found both author and title. I know. So I did not have to consult the catalog thinking he might have gotten the spelling of the author’s name wrong especially since he pronounced it as “me-tsa-veli”. But I know too that we have this set called “Great Books” by Britannica. It is a 60-volume collection. I directed the student to it. Individual authors and titles in the collection which includes more than fifty authors and their works are not represented in the card catalog but I had read some of them and I was certain Machiavelli was in it. Like they said a well-trained librarian could have found the book just as well, but it is my being a lover of books and a reader which made my job in this case very, very, very easy.

The other case came to me like this: “I have seen this book a few weeks back but I did not borrow it because I was busy. I can remember its cover which is red. I can’t consult the card catalog because I can’t remember its author and I only remember a fraction of its title. I have looked and looked for it at the shelves but it is not in the “P” section anymore”. So I asked the student if she was sure it was a book that belonged to the “P” section because sometimes books are misplaced. She was sure because it was a collection of short stories. I asked next what the fraction of the title was and she gave it. It is a book some of our staff are reading and re-reading and which I have read too so I was able to give the girl the author and complete title: The next 500 stories by Frank Mihalic. Had I not read the book it would have been very difficult for me to help because the fraction she remembered was the 500 which is in the middle of the title itself.

It was the start of the bowing and the endless looks of idolatry and the ever grateful smile that is star-struck in essence. I noticed because like I said students more often take me for granted or pointedly ignored me.

I may not have even noticed the hero-worshiping look, had it not been accompanied by a slight pause and a bow. I could take star-struck smiles thrown my way maybe. It was the bowing I can’t handle. And bow they both did every time they met me in the lobby or anywhere else inside and outside the library. I know they were responding to the excellent librarian they saw in me in those instances but it was only so because of my being first and foremost and always a reader.

I’m glad the semester is over. I hope the break will cure them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Digital divide: I, on and have the smaller portion

You may remember me blog about job interviews.

One of the questions of the interview I had in Cebu two years ago was about digitization. I was asked what would I say or do if my chief librarian would tell me that for the next ten years she plans to entirely do away with books and to digitize the library 100%. After the interview I felt such a total idiot for the answer I gave especially since it was suppose to be a job making electronic abstracts and providing electronic news, newsletters and such to executives and other people online. The feeling of being an absolute ignorant persisted longer than it should because one, I did not get the job and two, I immediately researched online about digitization and read about the collaboration between Google, Stanford and research libraries in the US and UK.

This is the gist of my idiotic answer: “I would tell my boss that first she has to send us or provide us her librarians with trainings and up-to-date education regarding computers and computerization, the internet and digitization in general. But a ten-year digitization plan might be too ambitious because of the reality regarding digitization efforts that are going on in the world. But let’s just say that a country like the United States is already digitizing old titles and old editions of books and publishes books in the traditional forms yet at the same time putting out the digital form, I can say with conviction that Philippine publishers are not doing it. And unless there is an equal effort in the Philippines for the next ten years to digitize then the library digitization plan will be a failure because Filipiniana books and journals will not be represented. Philippine publishers may not be too keen on publishing the traditional and digital forms of a book because of the very limited market of both forms. Ordinary Filipinos can not afford to buy the hardware to make e-books and digital books readable.” I said more of course but I really forgot.

On page 11 of Newsweek September 28, 2009 issue, there is an information aside that says: "The percentage of books in European National Archives that have been digitized: 1% (one percent)."

Some of the books in these archives might already be represented in the libraries in the US and therefore may already be digitized, but countries in Europe are publishing their own literature in their own languages which may or may not be translated into English and therefore may or may not be digitized and it is a very controversial and complicated issue besides…. What I am trying to say really is that Europe is rich and we are poor and they are yet at 1% or 5% Europeana.

I feel a little validated in my views regarding the digitization efforts in the rest of the world. Then too the Newsweek article says much on the availability and affordability of e-book readers. And really I should not have felt such idiocy because I was giving an answer basing from my situation and my experiences.


Still seeking validation and yes I was not too far out after all. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google laments: "But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources."

I am making it clear though, I am not against digitization. I am all for it. What I am seeking validation of was my view of the digitization efforts in the world.