Monday, August 17, 2009

The Filipino Librarian By: Nilda Pilar S. Montecillo

We do not know of any place in the world except in the Philippines where librarians are licensed like doctors, engineers and lawyers. Either a place of honor is reserved for librarians in the country or the science part of library discipline was interpreted as the equivalent of quantum physics or the geography of the Himalayas. Anyway, it is only very recently that our librarians are given the recognition and salary levels that most of us richly deserve.

It is however still a long upward struggle for our profession to be financially rewarding in the Philippines and I would suppose in any less developed country. With the economy of scarcity as a backdrop, librarians in the country had learned to be persevering and make do with what they are paid not out of meekness but because of the realization that in the field of education, idealism is more valuable than materialism. Very intellectual but disconcerting nevertheless.

In some top of the line schools where fees are beyond the reach of ordinary working Filipinos, librarians occupy the equivalent of middle echelon management positions with better pay than teachers. Ensconced in their air conditioned libraries and surrounded by top of the line computers with internet access faster than the speed of light, our modern day librarians are in another plane where warmth human interaction is missing. Somehow the romance of actually handling collections and the smell of leather bound books are no longer part of these high-end libraries.

For most of us in the Philippines, we manage libraries the traditional way; manually and with tender loving care. In the Philippines, advance technology is largely expensive to acquire and subsequently maintain. Talk of licensing and cost of hardware. To put everything in perspective, a high school student in our school, a private provincial institution, will annually pay between Pesos: 10,600.00 to 12,000.00 (US$220.00 to US$250.00) in total school fees. On average, a teacher or even a librarian will gross about Pesos: 11,000.00 a month or around US$230.00. The costs to do things manually even if inefficiently still make better economic sense than computerizing the library system or the whole school system for that matter. However, with the advent of less expensive hardware and free softwares, we are moving towards modernization in our own careful and well-planned phases.

The top tier high schools in the Philippines will cost anywhere from Pesos: 100,000.00 to 120,000.00 annually or about US$2,100.00 to US$2,500.00. The chief librarians at these schools earn about Pesos: 50,000.00 a month or about US$1,050.00; the same pay scale at large corporations particularly law firms with extensive library collections. These schools are mostly catholic schools catering to the educational needs of wealthy families and located in Metro Manila. Public schools cost practically nothing but they are very crowded with lower standards. Public librarians should be grossing about Pesos: 11,000.00 (US$224.00) a month but there is now a law that will increase the pay scale of the teachers and of course public school librarians to Pesos: 15,000.00 (US$312.00) a month in the next four years. Again, as a perspective, the minimum wage in the country is about Pesos: 375.00 or less than US$8.00 daily. At this level of family income, education for the children will be at best up to the elementary grades.

But we are sturdy people who put premium on education. The popularity of Filipinos as educated workers in foreign countries is a testament to our latent talents as a people. With minimal encouragement, we can excel even in the world stage. But this is altogether another interesting topic.

In our country, libraries are where you can still look directly into the eyes of your clients and instinctively know part of their personalities by the kind of books they read. Libraries are where books are stored in open shelves and not in some hard discs. Where titles are handwritten in rectangular index cards. Where library cards are examined not swiped. Where voices are kept low out of respect for the sanctity of the place and not because those are the rules.

Librarians are a respected lot in our country but the type that are easily forgotten. They work tirelessly and unobtrusively for their fulfillment is the perfection of their craft and in making their libraries useful to their public. Oh! I love to be a librarian!
Nilda Pilar S. Montecillo is a member of the NY Librarians Meetup and resides in the Philippines.

1 comment:

  1. How long shall we, Filipino librarians,remain like this? Or should I say.... Will there still be jobs for librarians (as licensed librarians)in the future?