Libro Futuro

Librarians, storytelling and “Philippine eLib”. Mario Coffa interviews Blesila Velasco

intervista in italiano

 Blesila Velasco joined the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) on February 1, 2002, hence her almost two decades in serving NLP. In 2007, Bless was awarded the Model Employee Award by the NLP and a recipient of several awards and recognition, such as the Hall of Fame Award, Career and Self-Development Award, Gawad ng Pangulo ng NLP Award, among others. She was the chairman of the 2019 Library and Information Services Month and 2020 National Book Week celebrations. Together with her team, was able to conceptualize training, convening, webinars, online learning, workshops, etc. in the Philippines and in the ASEAN region. From 2017 up to the present, she has been leading a team to implement projects for public libraries funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and The Asia Foundation (TAF). Some of her brainchildren and/or initiatives are the 1st ASEAN Virtual Regional Conference of Public Librarians and the Search for Gawad Parangal sa Natatanging Propesyunal na Tagapangasiwa ng Pampublikong Aklatan (Search for Outstanding Public Librarians) since 2019. She was a recipient of an International Federation of Library Associations – Action for Development through Libraries Programme (IFLA-ALP) Scholarship on Literacy for Information Professionals which was held at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and Master in Development Management at Development Academy of the Philippines, a national government scholarship.  She obtained both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Library Science at Philippine Normal University in Manila. In March 2018, she earned her Doctor’s degree in Education in Industrial Education Management at the Technological University of the Philippines. In 2011, she was one of the innovators of the International Network of Emerging Library Innovators (INELI) Cohort 1 funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was the Project Director of INELI-ASEAN in 2015-2018, the first long-term international project of NLP. A team leader of the national implementation of INELI called Network of Emerging Filipino Library Innovators (NEFLI) for both cohorts 1 and 2. In 2017-2018, she was the President of the ASEAN Public Libraries Information Network (APLiN).

As a first question I am curious to know the current situation of libraries in the Philippines. Facilities, digital libraries and the librarian profession. Can you tell us briefly?

Almost every organization was greatly affected by the imposition of quarantine measures and libraries were not an exemption. During the start of the lockdown, libraries were generally at a “loss” as it took us by surprise. However, we always kept in mind that library services and programs should not be hampered by the four corners of the library. More than ever, the quarantine and COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity for libraries to look into making our services and programs available and more accessible in the digital platform.
In general, library services and programs have stopped because libraries were closed and were unable to function/operate due to the pandemic. Some of the library staff were also assigned to lend a hand in the local government units (LGUs) response to COVID 19, and some were transferred to another department of universities, colleges, and schools. There were also some libraries that remain open to the public, depending on the quarantine classification of their community, but with a limited number of users being able to accommodate with. FYI, the Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7000 islands, hence quarantine classification differs.
The impact of the pandemic to libraries is they have to make an abrupt “paradigm shift” from print resources to electronic resources, face to face programs and services to virtual programs and services, physical spaces to online spaces, physical reading areas to closed or rearranged reading areas, minimal health standards of health and safety in the library to new health and safety protocols, and usual staff roles to new/adjusted staff roles. Some of the libraries were able to transition in an instance, however to many, depending on the capacity of universities, colleges, and schools, and for public libraries, their local government units.
Nonetheless, with the continuous growth of public libraries going digital, we are now seeing several libraries providing online storytelling, arts & crafts, and puppet shows using Facebook as a platform to reach out to children and their families. Some of the libraries were also able to come up with virtual reference assistance, aside from updating their websites, social media accounts, guidelines in the new normal, etc. Some examples of the virtual assistant are the Library Virtual Reference Assistance (L-ViRA) of the Cagayan Provincial Learning and Resource Center, Library Online Information Services Assistant (LOISA) of the Laguna Provincial Library, mySOUL Virtual Library in Siliman University, LORA, a Librarian in De La Salle University, etc.

On the National Library website, I was very impressed by a very nice section on fiction with links that refer to videos on Facebook where talented readers read or tell a story. Very beautiful. What is it about?

The one who reads or tells a story is a licensed librarian. She is Ms. Melanie A. Ramirez, Section Head, Children’s Section, Reference Division of the National Library of the Philippines. It is their innovative way to help public libraries affiliated with NLP, not only learning from her but to share this with their clients while transitioning their services from face to face to virtual services. They preferred Facebook because many Filipinos use this user-friendly platform.
This section on NLP’s website is all about the collection of storytelling online to children to promote, improve reading, writing and communication skills, logical thinking and concentration, and general academic aptitude, as well as inspire a lifelong love of reading. Librarians/Teachers/Parents/ can use them for their Storytelling Online in their communities. This is available 24 hours a day for children as well.

In the Philippines, what impact has the Covid 19 experience had in the library sector? In many places in the world I have noticed that it was an opportunity to rediscover digital and related tools. What can you tell us about it?

I’m partly answering this question in question no. 1.
In addition to that, social media provided an alternative platform for libraries to continue offering their services. Through the use of these sites such as Facebook and Youtube, they were able to promote and provide online services and programs, thus enabling them to easily reach out to their clients. For public libraries that are interested in having an official library website, we refer them to the Information Technology Division of the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) to assist them as well as the installation of the KOHA library integrated library systems. NLP also shares its available online resources to public libraries, of course, those could be shared only without any infringement issues.
On the other hand, public libraries are monitored thru the monthly reports they submit to NLP. A dedicated and user-friendly form, where public libraries will just have to provide the data being asked, was created on the website of NLP. Through this process, we were able to identify their online activities, users of their online resources, and regular statistics of their monthly engagement in the social media (e.g. view count of online activities posted on Facebook). For those with weaker network connections, monitoring is done via phone call/interview with the librarian or officer-in-charge, and they are being asked to submit pictures of their libraries via email. They may opt also to send reports via snail mail.
Through the use of social media, public libraries use Facebook pages and other social media platforms to promote and provide online services and programs, to easily reach out and provide services and programs to their clients.
Through their monthly reports submitted to NLP, we were able to identify what are those online activities, the number of users of their online resources, and the number of viewers of their online activities.
The main challenge libraries face in this new normal environment is having stable or reliable network connectivity within their area. We do know that as a country, not all areas in the Philippines have a strong signal for internet access – be it wired or wireless. Without a network, the implementation/execution of online services remains a difficult task to do. Furthermore, if these libraries face difficulty in this area/aspect, more so are the users as having a smartphone is often not enough if there is no internet connection at all or they rely exclusively on networks provided by telcos (Smart, Globe, etc.).
In 2020, NLP purchased more e-resources than print materials, this is also the same with other types of libraries. However, not all can purchase as soon as possible. For the public libraries, for example, another challenge is the budget allocated by the LGUs o acquire resources. Online resources for library-use tend to be expensive. If during the old normal, public libraries often experience budget cuts or cost-saving measures, more so now that we are in the pandemic where the focus of LGUs is on Covid-19 response. To augment e-resources collections of existing public libraries, NLP offers Tekno@aklatan resources that can be installed in their laptops/desktops, it can be accessed also through NLP’s website. For the newly affiliated public libraries, NLP acquired e-resources and printed books as initial resource allocation to them, and this approach started in 2016. For the previous years, NLP  only allocates print and non-print materials such as maps, DVDs, CDs, etc.
Nonetheless, we always advise our affiliated public libraries to always make themselves present virtually. “Digital presence” is very essential nowadays to become more relevant in this time of pandemic as the services we provide may not have a direct contribution to pandemic response, but the impact it creates produces a resonating effect to the community. Also, in one of our memos released last February in celebration of the 62nd Public Library Day every March 9 in the country, we also encouraged public librarians to coordinate with their local chief executives for the provision of a stable network connection within their libraries.

In terms of recognition of the profession, what is the situation of the “librarian” in the Philippines?

As to the librarian profession in the Philippines, it is the only country that has a licensure examination for librarians, hence we have to earn 15 Continuing Professional Development (CDP) units every 3 years to renew our license.
Since 2019, The Asia Foundation (TAF) strongly and wholeheartedly supports the initiative of the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) for the conferment of awards and recognition for deserving public libraries/public library personnel in the Philippines. Hence, NLP has been implementing this for two years with the following objectives: 1) To encourage all affiliated public libraries with NLP to continue their exemplary contributions in their community; 2) To recognize public librarians or individuals who have gone above and beyond their work in the community through their dedication, commitment, and hard work as a manifestation of their outstanding public service contributions; and, 3) To create stronger partnerships between the NLP, and other stakeholders for the development of the public libraries in the country.

Philippine eLib”. What is it about?

The Philippine eLib was launched in 2005 as a collaborative project of the National Library of the Philippines (NLP), University of the Philippines (UP), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). A project funded through the e-Government Fund of the Philippine Government to provide for the information needs of all sectors of society in a convenient, affordable, and efficient way of delivery. Available resources include union catalog of the five partners; digitized Filipiniana materials including theses and dissertations; special collection/researches of the five partners; and, online resources/subscription to electronic databases. In a nutshell, It is an electronic resources portal that is accessible via the National Library of the Philippines website.
Additional sharing:
Just to share with you a brief background particularly on how public libraries are established in the country. As mandated by Republic Act No. 7743, the establishment of public libraries in the Philippines is through the partnership between the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) and Local Government Units (LGUs).  The Public Libraries Division of NLP is the central node of the public library system in the country. It provides guidance and technical assistance for public libraries and barangay reading centers, monitors public libraries under its auspices, training public library personnel, and distribution of library materials.
The Public Libraries Division (PLD) of NLP, in order to tailor-fit its activities with the current scenario, conducted series of virtual meetings, consultations, and brainstorming among its librarians and staff who are either assigned in the Training Section or the Field Libraries, Establishment and Affiliation, Monitoring and Evaluation Section. All ideas were very much welcomed and entertained. In one of our meetings, we even had Director Cesar Gilbert Q. Adriano who joined us to obtain his ideas and thoughts about our proposed activities. Towards the end, our ideas were put into writing to serve as our guide/blueprint. From there, we were able to identify which activities can be transitioned to online/digital services (eg. capacity building of public librarians through webinars and online learning, virtual monitoring, and evaluation of affiliated public libraries, etc.) and which activities need to be “shelved” first (face-to-face/classroom-type training, physical monitoring of public libraries, annual book allocation program, etc). Through the conduct and cascading of our identified virtual activities, we were able to provide guides and procedures our public libraries may also adapt to in this new work environment.
I can only share more about public libraries because this is where I have direct access to their data and statistics. As of December 2020, there are 1,546 public libraries affiliated with NLP.
On the other hand, PLD was able to adapt to the challenges of the new normal. We shall continue to provide the usual services our division provides to the public libraries with some modifications/tweaks. In other words, we did not deviate from our major functions, instead, we strategize to fit services and programs with the current needs and demands of our clients.
Our activity of establishing and affiliating public libraries is still ongoing. We were able to identify LGUs without public libraries established, and we are continuously coordinating with them via email. We’ve also partnered with a third-party distributor to facilitate the delivery of resource allocation to affiliated public libraries outside National Capital Region (NCR). For those nearby NCR or provincial government units/libraries that are capable of going to NLP and providing service vehicles, we’ve asked their assistance to facilitate the distribution down to their city, municipal, and barangay reading centers for resource allocation.
Capacity-building or training through webinars is also regularly being conducted by PLD, and we are continuously accepting partnerships with library organizations and local government units through their public libraries for the training to be conducted. Our webinars and other training opportunities are free-of-charge and some have even been granted continuing professional development (CPD) points. We also have transitioned one of our programs that seek to train public librarians and library-in-charge with basic concepts on managing/running a public library into an asynchronous mode of learning. This is entitled Online Learning on Essential Skills for Public Library Personnel. Aside from the 3-year development plan as the major output of this online learning, submission of an impact story is also a required output.  We also have a leadership training program for public librarians/personnel called Network of Emerging Filipino Library Innovators (NEFLI), now implementing cohort 2. The Division has a training plan for 2021 which is included in the DREAM-LIB: A PUBLIC LIBRARY PROGRAM DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC, AND MANDANAS-GARCIA RULING TRANSITION STRATEGIES FOR NLP’S AFFILIATED PUBLIC LIBRARIES AND LOCALLY FUNDED PROGRAMS (Develop digital services, guidelines in the new normal, and health awareness programs; Revise Philippine Public Libraries Standards and formulate accreditation scheme; Engage public library association, public library personnel, and other stakeholders; Alter PLD Organizational Chart; Market online and offline services; Lobby LCEs to support their public libraries; Improve access, connectivity and collaboration; and Build hybrid collections).
Monitoring and Evaluation of public libraries are also ongoing despite the pandemic. Through the use of our online monitoring form, we no longer have to physically visit the public libraries in order to gauge their activities. Likewise, we also conduct scheduled monitoring of libraries thru video chat via FB messenger, Zoom, Google Meet, and other meeting applications.




Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.


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