Where can one borrow a book?

It would seem that the e-Library project is to be permanently shelved, weeded out of the collection. A shame really. Posts about the probable demise of the project can be read here: (1) Von’s Philippine eLib in Trouble post at Filipino Librarian and (2) Erwin Oliva’s RP e-Library project faces possibility of being shutdown post at Cyberbaguio Boy. Incidentally, Erwin wrote the original Philippine Daily Inquirer article also titled RP e-Library project faces possibility of being shutdown .

This further limits the roster of available fountain wells of information, knowledge, and literature. Starting and maintaining a library, any type of library is no joke. Most if not all libraries in recorded history started out as private collections of the rich and powerful. The Ptolemies of Egypt decreed that any one who entered their kingdom should surrender whatever book or scroll they were carrying. These reading materials were then copied by scribes for the Great Library of Alexandria. Roman Generals also treasured books/scrolls - one Roman General carted away a a bulk of the writings of Greek Philosophers and Scientists when he conquered Greece (much to the chagrin of the Greeks) and it is said that Julius Ceasar cried when part of the Great Alexandrian Library burned. However, it is wrong to attribute the burning of the Great Library to Gauis Julius alone. It took years to burn and loot the collection. The last part of the collection were plundered and burned along with pagan idols of the temple at the insistance of the bishop of Alexandria. To signify the ascension of Christianity in . The Library or several of its wings were attached to the temples and unfortunately the temples were not Christian temples.

Other Libraries were mostly private collections only the owner and his friends would be able to access it and they were jelously guarded. Book curses were invoked to prevent book theft and books were even chained to the shelves or to the table. However, such measures did not prevent the book from being stolen.

The private collections were rivalled only by collections that can be found in the Universities and Religious Orders - the bastions of higher learning and God’s mighty fortresses. One of the main sources of books then came from the Arabic kingdoms, which had preserved the teachings of the Romans and Greeks.

Unfortunately, this still seems to be the case in the Republic of the Philippines.

Given the present state of the public library system and the price of books in the Philippines how does one go about reading a book without burning a a big gaping hole in one’s purse?

Inside the environs of the Philippine Republic there are but a few libraries one can go to loan or borrow a book for a forthnight. To be honest with you I have not borrowed a book from a public library ever, so I do not know what the terms are. However, there are several notable libraries in the cities of the Philippines - one has just to find them. The National Library would be one and the more exemplary ones are the Pasig and Marikina Public Library. Still I am not an expert in Philippine Public libraries nor have I found myself in the position to use one so I cannot say anything definitive about them.

I can only say or state my experiences with the different types of libraries I have encountered.

Academic/School Libraries

It is a legal requirement that all schools must operate and maintain a library. The Department of Education and CHED have rules and guidelines on this. As a person who had grown up in the education system of the Philippines - the school library/academic library is the perhps the best place to borrow a book. There are several books available in the library - books ranging from the classic literature to books on biology and history. The collection gets bigger when you get to high school and to college. Schools and Universities can afford to loan out books because the students paid for it and in the case you fail to return or lose the book you pay a fine or pay for the lost book. Not all books can be loaned out, the more popular ones (usually those required reading prescribed by the Professors) and the rare ones are put in the reserve collection and can only in the reserve section of the library.

Academic libraries are also opened to the public. One has just to write a letter to the head librarian to be able to browse the collection. In certain libraries a graduate or Alumni can also use the collection. Borrowing privelage varies on policy.

Special Libraries

One can also go to Special Libraries - usually focused on a special subject. The special libraries I have often found useful are those that are part of Embassies, Cultural Organizations, and wealthy corporations. The ones I remember with fondness were the Thomas Jefferson Center, the British Council, ICLARM, and the Goethe Institute. My favourite among the three was the British Council. For a price of a book at the time you can get to borrow a set of books and you get advance notice of cultural activities sponsored by the UK Embassy. This was the library were I was able to read the works of Frank Herbert, Agatha Christie, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkien. The British Council was then located at New Manila in one of those old elegant buildings that came with a winding staircase and solid wood door panels. The centre was big enough to hold small screenings for the members I remember watching the 1954 cartoon adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm at the center. Each special libray had a very focused themes for their collections the British Council’s was British, Thomas Jefferson’s was North American, Goethe’s was German, while ICLARM was focused on … well materials about marine and freshwater aquatic resources (Fishkeeping is one of my pastimes).

It has been several years since I have been to a special library and it would seem a lot of the special libraries I have been going to have disappeared. The Thomas Jefferson Institute seemed to have closed down. Their office along Buendia is now occupied by a company or organization fixated with security and this probably explains the steel bars and security cameras.  ICLARM and its library has closed shop and migrated to  Malaysia. On the other hand the British Council and the Goethe Institute is still with us. The British COuncil has moved from New Manila to Taipan’s Place (?) in Ortigas.

There are several special libraries here in the Philippines one has just to find them. It is most likely the like the UK Embassy and the German Embassy other embassies in Manila have under their cultural programme libraries or media centers. Government agencies and other organizations will have their own libraries open to interested persons, although I do not know if they will loan out their collection. Ayala Corp maintains the Heritage Library, which focuses (naturally) on Filipiniana and for a membership fee one can access their collection. Although, in order borrow books from their collection you have to be a member of the Ayala Zaibatsu.

Book Clubs

When I was young there were businesses that catered to the need to read books. Their collection was limited to business books and the latest best sellers. Like a regular library all you had to do was to register, pay the membership fee, and borrow a book or two. The book rental business seemed to have thrive for some years. WHy did this business fade out? Poor business model or inability to change with the demand of its users? Who knows. But they seem to have gone the way of the dodos.


Like Guttenberg’s machine, the printing press which has made possible the mass production of books, the Internet has revolutionized the way information, knowledge, and literature can be accessed. You can now access a ton of materials from the web. One has just to look for reliable websites. Unlike the library, which usually and should have a policy on selecting books and other materials for the collection, the Internet is largely unregulated. It takes a while and some guidance before you can identify reliable sites for information, knowledge, and literature.

Yet …

Even in this age of emails, electronic copies, and e-books, there is nothing as assuring and practical as a book. It does not crash, it does not rely constantly on electricity, you do not need to download a reader to view it, and it is handy. Just open to the page where you stop last and read on. What more can one ask? Well except maybe a library for a community. A place where one can browse, glance, peruse, and borrow books. Also a place to view movies, listen to sounds, and  contemplate on life. And also a place where one can regain one’s energy, just ask the librarian of Medical Library in Metro Manila. Aside from reading, catching one’s Zs is the next most popular activity in their library.

3 Responses to “Where can one borrow a book?”

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  1. Jun21


    Said this at 10:45am:

    it’s unfortunate, but as i’ve written, i believe there’s something wrong with the business model. the money has to come from somewhere, and we just need to accept that it’s not going to come from our government. mark jimenez? =)

  2. Jun21


    Said this at 3:20pm:

    One can always try. The origin and backbone of a number of great libraries is a rich benefactor. :)

  3. Jun21


    Said this at 4:11pm:

    One of the unfortunate results of 9/11 is that embassy libraries worldwide have been closed to the general public. The American Embassy still maintains the TJCC at their Roxas Blvd chancellery but you have to request for an appointment by writing and show your credentials. The Aussie Embassy still has Australia Centre but you will have to follow a similar procedure as in the American Embassy. EU embassies have similar procedures and even embassies of our Asian neighbours do.

    Gone are the days when a person who wants to know more about a country can visit an embassy library. Gone are the days when you could actually read the Suddeutsche Zeitung in the German Embassy. Now they tell you to read it on the internet. Embassies show the best of a country and from my experience, embassy library staff are good ambassadors for their country. Now visiting an embassy for any purpose, be it applying for a visa or getting information is like visiting Fort Knox, or Britain’s MI6 headquarters.


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