Malling or learning?

El Escorial Library, Madrid
Rare books library, Yale University
British Library, London
City Library, Seinajoki, Finland

The condundrum ‘what should come first, the horse or the cart?’ is resolved when you first establish the direction you’d want to go. Having done that, the question becomes irrelevant because all you need to do is turn the horse this or that way, the cart following after it.

What does a horse and cart duo have to do with these images of libraries, you ask. I briefly mentioned malls in an earlier article, about focusing too much of our energies to the enterprise as if it’s the nirvana to an individual’s or this country’s economic growth and development. I’d like to follow up on that in this article.

Looking at these awe-inspiring libraries, I realized once more that the idea of ‘library’ is not just about books and a roof and walls to store them. But more importantly about knowledge, past and present, and making it accessible to others now and the future. When I say knowledge here, I visualize it as a holy grail, a fountain of youth; only that it’s not sealed off under lock and key, rather as food, if you like, wonderfully prepared, eagerly and joyfully offered, for anyone who’d like to partake it. The quest isn’t treacherous at all and doesn’t take you far. In this light, you’d naturally want to reach deep into your pocket in order to build the most fitting of structure – think Taj Mahal – to house Knowledge and her elixir. But, why should I, you ask, and for a book! The reason’s really very up-front: Nations who have gone on the quest of Knowledge, “captured” and nurtured her, and drunk (and keeps drinking) her elixir became (and still are) the greats of the world. And the thing with Knowledge is, the more you take it in and use it the more you’re able to reap and give back – a virtuous cycle. The size of libraries is a telling sign of this. What’s more, in this stage of the global economy, information is an input one can’t do without. In its absence, one goes about in the dark, groping, liable to fall and break something and it’s usually valuable.

There have been other sources of information but when looking for authoritative, cumulative and trustworthy places to find it and look after it, civilization has turned to libraries.

Let’s take one town from among the Provinces to drive the point further. Off my head – Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. The public library is where? What state is it in? In this age of free and relatively affordable platforms to interact with the world, it doesn’t have a presence online. But. You’d see a very classy resort there (in other towns, it’s a gargantuan mall). And it’s online. If this situation is multiplied by the total number of provincial towns in the country, what is the national picture?

I’m not saying that we do away with resorts, no. The point is, who goes to this classy resort? If it’s locals, they’re moneyed, educated, have time off for an out-of-town vacation. It’s not the local farmers or fishermen and their families. This is the gap or non-inclusive growth.

This is the point where the question ‘horse or cart first’ comes in. Or, to be more academic about it, Jeffrey Sachs’ concept of ladder of development. Of those not yet on the ladder or the first rung of the ladder, they would need help in acquiring education, developing skills, affordable food, clean water. In other words, basic things first. As they move up the ladder, their capacity to participate in the market and pay to get into that resort for instance increases.

So yes seeing malls going up faster and eating precious space more than schools and learning centers or the improvement of community and public libraries sends locals into palpitations, because malling, the way we’re going at it in this phase of our country’s development tarries Filipinos from attaining our declared “adhika” which is “makita kang sakdál laya!”

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