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Alistair Troy B. Lacsamana
Multimedia and Outreach Librarian of the Quezon City Public Library (Philippines)
Executive Director, Aklatang Pambata

Love your work. Although sometimes it will not always go your way or as planned, an attitude that you can conquer anything and everything is advantageous. Be brave and bold. Be creative and be resourceful.

Briefly, how do you describe what you do as a librarian?
In computer terms, I’m a widget. I package information so that people will go to me and will be able to find the information they need easily. I am also like a water faucet. I continuously give out information. As a librarian, I endeavor to be well read and always be updated on general subjects. If the library users are given a wrong answer, it’s like giving them dirty water. If I give them incomplete answers, it’s like the water pressure is low. I keep myself well-informed by reading the newspapers everyday and searching answers by asking questions from concerned persons and consulting the Internet. I also read for leisure, but not so often because of my busy schedule.

Are you or have you been involved in library or other associations? Are you or have you been involved in committees, initiatives, special projects? How did you first get involved?
Yes, I am currently working in a public library and heads an NGO, which advocates building community libraries and reading centers.

As part of my duties as a multimedia librarian of Quezon City Public Library, I initiated a computerization program for the library. Today, the library boasts of its own library system called Openbiblio, which runs on open-source, and also an updated website. Through research and collaboration with on-the-job trainees, I was able to customize the system according to the library’s needs. The computerization of the library is still on its first phase. We wish to replicate what we have done at the main library in all our library branches. The second phase entails that we acquire hardware and Internet connection. So far, we were able to talk with a foundation that will donate to us second hand but working computers and in exchange I will teach them to install the library system in their ‘public life-libraries.’ That’s how they call it.

Our main library branch had also done a survey regarding holding tutorial sessions about computers and teaching information literacy to the public. We found out that there is a need for such training. I utilized the surveys using the Internet. We are preparing the modules and have started the tutorials in a soft launch this March, and we are finetuning the modules. We asked in a survey kung ano yung mga topics na gusto nilang matutunan, and ang lumabas ay how to use word processing and Word. So, yun na muna yung gagawan namin ng modules. Tapos, nakalagay nga rin dun kung papano mag-apply for email.

So you surveyed the users?
Yes. Meron kaming certain topics, tapos tinanong namin sa kanila ano yung mas kailangan na kailangan nila. Hayun. For one month. Ang lumabas nga yung gusto nilang malaman paano gumamit ng word processing applications. So, by June, we shall have started the formal tutorial trainings. And masaya naman ako kasi we have the support of our library administration. At saka nga gusto ko rin mamaximize yung computers na nandun sa library kasi na-observe namin, during mornings, walang masyado gumagamit. Kaya nga para naming tinanong kung meron ngang need yung mga tutorials at meron din naman.

I am also the outreach librarian or the one in charge of monitoring the branches. I have scheduled a quarterly training for all the staff of our branches. Through the help of an avid supporter of the library-Ms. Rose Ann Belmonte, yung asawa niya anak ng Quezon City mayor-and siguro dahil meron talaga siyang, hindi lang her politics, because meron siyang talaga sigurong commitment at saka yung puso niya nasa mga bata. Tinutulungan niya kami sa pamamagitan ng paghahanap ng tao na pwedeng magtrain sa amin. Sa simula nga, naghanap siya ng tao na nagturo ng storytelling training sa mga branches. At ang susunod nga ay yung puppetry training this April. Through the help of an avid supporter of our library, our librarians have received free trainings on storytelling. Next trainings will be on puppetry, doing library orientations and computer literacy or training them how to use the library system, if the computers will be in place by then. I myself will train them in the succeeding sessions, or I will find people who can properly train them. Yung mga staff namin sa libraries, hindi talaga sila library science graduates. Ano sila, parang wala talaga silang training on libraries. So, ang sa amin nga ay ma-impart ang training ng papano mag-manage ng library.

Sino lang pala ang librarian?
Karamihan nasa main library, pero meron ding mga branches na merong librarian yung background. Siguro, of the 20 branches, mga 3, 4, 5. Ganun. So, malaking challenge sa amin yun kasi mas madali mong turuan kung meron silang background na library science. Pero hindi na dapat mag-buckle up sa ganung limitations.

We have aggressively promoted reading to the users. After the training, our librarians have held regular storytelling sessions. We also celebrated our own version of Public Library Day just this March. But for our adaptation, we extended it to one week. Our celebration for this year calls for the active involvement of parents in instilling the culture of reading to their children. Our theme was, in Tagalog vernacular: ‘Basa Tayo ‘Tay ‘Nay! 20 minuto bawat araw, mahalaga!’ or ‘Parents read to your children: 20 minutes a day matter! It was participated by the Office of City Councilors, National Book Development Board, artists, and a publisher. I can fairly say that one of our goals has been achieved because we were able to invite parents and explain to them the benefits of reading to kids. The other goals of the campaign was to inform that the Quezon City Public Library has 20 branches, and lastly, to form storytelling brigades to help the library in instilling the habit of reading to children. Parang the library is a venue parang ang community ay magtulong-tulong. Sana di kami mahirapan kasi ang mga stakeholders naman dito ay ang mga anak nila and the community as a whole, di ba?

As head of an NGO, which is called Edukasyon Para sa Kinabukasan [Education for the Future], we partnered with community organizations such as Gawad Kalinga [Rotary], and Total Philippines, and also the barangays [communities] to build the community libraries. As a volunteer organization, we offer our services to donate books, train volunteers or staff, and monitor the libraries for 6 months to one year. After more than 2 years and 6 libraries after, we have gained learning experiences. Each community that we have helped is distinct and has different characteristics. One problem that I’m talking about is sometimes the volunteers that we have trained come and go. If we encounter problems, we make assessments with the community and ask for their suggestions. One suggestion for that particular problem is to make a social contract; meaning the volunteers that we have trained must enter a contract wherein he or she promises to pass on the learnings to a new volunteer.

We have been approached by numerous requests to help build libraries, but we can do only so much with little grants that we have received from some organizations. And all our volunteers have full-time jobs. We have been submitting grant proposals but, unfortunately, we have not been successful. Hopefully, we might receive a grant in the near future for us to establish more libraries, which are functional, and to realize and maximize our group’s potential.

Also, I am an officer of my alumni association. This is my second time to be elected. I am in charge of the alumni website and our newsletter. I still manage to infuse my advocacies in such capacity. I accepted the additional responsibility because I see it as an opportunity to reach and connect to possible partners.

So, is there more opportunity for involvement through the alumni association than through like PLAI or the other organizations here?
I cannot speak for the national organization, but our group-UPLSAA-is very young and dynamic, so I think my group is good in doing projects. But for other organizations, I cannot answer for them.

So you’re not part of them?

How did the idea for the NGO start?
When I was in college, I belong to a volunteer organization; it’s an office before-UP Pahinood. Then, the office was closed. And the volunteers, we don’t want to parang magkahiwa-hiwalay. So, we formed an NGO, which we called Eduk, Inc. So, ang pinakagoal namin ay to help, to tackle the problem of education, at pano namin matutulungan yung present situation, present education system sa Pilipinas through libraries. Tapos nagkataon, habang kakabuo pa lang namin nyun, meron kaming kasama dun sa Pahinood na may kakilala dito. So, dahil din sa pagkatayo namin ng library dito sa Paltok, dun nagsimula ang lahat-na nakita namin na may magandang maiidulot yung libraries. At ako yung librarian sa grupo na tinanggap ko naman yung responsibility na binigay sa akin. Although nung una, natakot ako kasi bago sa akin yun, pero kahit bago sa akin yun, hinarap ko siya ng buong puso. At siguro dahil unti- unti na-instill yung commitment ko na may magandang maiidudulot yung ginagawa namin. Yung pagtapat ng mga libraries, merong siyang mabuting madudulot at malaki in the long run. So ganun yung naging istorya.

Tapos, yung mga kasama ko dito, although di pa malaki yung organization namin-siguro we’re a group of 15 or 20, nandiyan pa rin sila. True-blooded na volunteers din sila. Siguro maganda yung naging training namin nung nasa college pa kami, nung nasa organization pa kami ng UP Pahinood, na-instill sa amin na yung pagvovolunteer, walang hinihinging kapalit kundi yung magbigay ng serbisyo ng buong puso.

What or who influenced you to become a librarian?
Before, I did not have an inkling that someday I will be a librarian. Before, I envisioned myself as a computer engineer or to be in the field of environment. I was enrolled in electrical engineering course when I entered college, but because I was not able to cope up with the academic requirements in my course, I shifted to Library Science.

But what made you shift there in the first place?
Actually, accidental lang siya. I had a classmate in French language course, library science siya. “Oy, mag-apply ka sa library science.” Nag-apply ako sa ibang courses, hindi ako natanggap. So, first sem na, wala pa akong college, floating ako. So, no choice kundi mag-apply sa library science. Luckily, na-admit naman ako. Pero parang blessing in disguise na napunta ako sa library science. I learned to appreciate library science nun palang, from the start, nung pumasok na ako. At saka siguro, madali ha, pero hindi ko alam sa iba kung madali din library science. Yun nga, nadalian ako, nagustohan ko yung natutunan ko. Hindi sa akin parang finorce sa akin. Yun ang istorya.

I promised myself that my shifting will be a new start and, this time, I’ll make it good. One year ako na engineering, one year ako nasa engineering college, one year na non-degreed-ibig sabihin sa UP yun, wala kang course. One year lang dapat na wala kang course e, so I had to find a college. So, nung nasa library science na ako, tinapos ko siya in just two years kasi merong na-credit before, nung nag-eng ako at saka nag-floating. So, I finished the course in less than two years. So, somehow that experience made me more focused and determined. Ayoko namang parang magbuhat ng sarili banko, nung nagboard ako-merong board for librarians e-I passed the board with flying colors-top 9 ako. Pero di ko inaasahan yun. Pumasa lang ako, masaya na ako.

Although at first I didn’t know what library science had to offer me, slowly but surely I began to appreciate my course. What I am today is the product of how I was brought up by my library school. I was very fortunate that my teachers are the best in their field. I was grounded by solid training on technical and library skills. My teachers also have exposed me to the various library settings that were and is still useful now. Saka nga, kahit wala na ako sa college ko, nagpupunta pa rin ako sa school, kinukumusta ko sila. Sila rin, pag my kailangan, receive my opinion or my help, natutuwa naman ako na ganun.

I consider also my influence or motivation to be in the public library realm is yung kids. Ewan ko basta mahilig ako sa kids. I strongly believe that reading plays an active role in molding the kids to be productive when they grow up.

If you could have done anything in your career differently, what would that be and why?
I would not want to change careers kahit na accidental yung pagiging library science student ko, since I have found that there is so much that I can do and contribute in my field. Being in libraries, I know I can help a lot of people. Every one will have an information query for some time in their lives. Being in the public libraries is more exciting. I am able to help and reach out to a lot of people of different backgrounds. I am also challenged by the fact that much is expected from us in the public libraries, but the help from outside parties is not enough. I hope that I will be able to communicate with public officials the importance a library holds in the development of our country. My ultimate goal is for them to understand that and translate it to more libraries and more support from them.

Tell us from your own experience one leadership lesson that you have learned.
Two things: communication and collaboration. Those are 2 concepts I should be reminded of always. It is not enough that you have big dreams and plans. I should be able to communicate with my co-staff and co-volunteers the essence of why are we doing such activities and the importance of their contribution to our end goals.

When we plan out in putting a library or a library program, we meticulously discuss the steps we will undertake, persons who will be involved, and a timetable. We also regularly monitor to see the development and to assess our next moves.

In one training I had with my branch librarians, one comment or observation they gave that I appreciated the most is that they were able to freely express themselves because of a set-up that encourages free speech. Hindi yung normal na parang nagsasalita ako, parang give me an update. Kailangang ma-encourage yung participation nila. Sabi ko nga sayo, di ba may mga ibang librarians dito na yung background nila, di talaga library science. So, mahiya sila magsalita. Pag sa meetings, ano lang sila tahimik lang sila. Meaning some of my co-staff were not that open or were shy. Yun nga, yung set-up, it encourages free speech. By being open, I think we may avoid future problems. Since then, I make it a point, during meetings and updates, to encourage them to speak their minds. You must know your staff or volunteers, their problems, and their opinions since they will be the ones to whom you will delegate tasks and rely on. I also encourage them to voice out their opinions. They are part of the team. Their achievements make the libraries. The branch librarians are the library.

How do you recognize the contributions of others in your library and in your community?
For our branch librarians, a simple and sincere thank you whenever they have contributed something for the library is sufficient. For our library donors and volunteers, we properly acknowledge them also by submitting letters and posting their contributions at the website. We also have a blog wherein the volunteers document their contributions and testimonials.

What values (personal traits or characteristics) do you look for and admire in a leader?
Focus and sincerity to help others. It inspires me to work hard if I have the cooperation of my superiors. My greatest inspiration is their belief in what I do and their belief that I am capable.

What advice would you give to up and coming librarians? (Library students? Interested in becoming librarians?)
The field of library science is enormous and exciting. Find your niche and be the best of librarian for that niche. For my early years as a librarian, I was in the field of university or academic library-almost 10 years. Ten years din akong nasa UP at De La Salle. Sooner, I would discover that I would be more productive in the public library setting. Being in the library is like being a teacher. At the end of the day, you feel satisfied and content, knowing that you have taught or contributed to someone in need.

Love your work. Although sometimes it will not always go your way or as planned, an attitude that you can conquer anything and everything is advantageous. Be brave and bold. Be creative and be resourceful. If confronted with a reference query and you can not find the answer, try and try again. There is an answer to every question, you just have to find it.

How does reference work here?
Actually, wala talagang concept sa reference sa public library. Pero sa university, meron talagang assigned na reference librarian. At ang ginagawa lang nila, pag may nagtatanong, merong index cards. So, kunwari tinanong nya, “Who discovered the Philippines?,” ilalagay mong sagot, tapos san kinuha yung information. Tapos yung mga questions nakalagay sa isang box. Tapos yun ang kinoconsult. That’s for university libraries. Pag sa mga public libraries, sa amin, wala pa masyado nga.

What do you think are the top issues facing librarianship (positive or negative) that could change the course of things? If we should try to change that course, how should we go about it?
The rapid development of technology and the decreasing support for public libraries.

The very fast pace of development has its advantages and disadvantages. Information can now be searched and transmitted in a jiffy, but librarians must be able to assess the information that is found in the Internet. Not all information in the Internet is correct and verified, even in Wikipedia, di ba? Ang Wikipedia, ginagawang ano na e parang reference ng mga estudyante. So, ako, for my part, dapat maging ano lang tayo, maingat sa paggamit ng Wikipedia as a source, a major source. And since information is more accessible, few users will frequent the library, di ba? Nangyari talaga yan. Kasi ang pinupuntahan nila, Internet na lang. How will the libraries get back their users? We can arrest the situation by marketing to the public that the library is a different breed. Mas alam natin kung saan kuhain yung tamang impormasyon.

We should also maximize the use of technology. It is now possible to coordinate activities even without meeting personally. Yun nga, using the Internet, di ba? And dapat yung mga librarians natin maturuan natin na pano gamitin yung technology. We should also be computer literate, to be at the same level with the users. Minsan mas magaling pa sa atin yung mga users, di ba? And we can answer their questions readily about technology. Yung Internet, wag natin siyang isipin natin na parang kalaban natin, pero it complements our work. Yun nga, hindi rin tayo papalitan ng Internet kasi nga sabi nila, dahil sa Internet, mawawala yung books. Pero hindi yan totoo, di ba?

The second one is the decreasing support for public libraries. In the Philippines, there is a law that mandates that every barangay should have a library. The law was passed 1994, but after 14 years, hindi siya na-implement. There are about 40,000 barangays. Ang mga barangay libraries, we have siguro mga less than 400. Like in the States, yung support na nakukuha ng public libraries, nagdidiminish siya. So, what would a library do if all the projects will be for naught because of budgetary constraints? How will the library managers address this? So, I am pushing for my office na lapitan yung mga City Councilors at Congressmen to help us in the financial aspect. Naniniwala kas ako na, kung meron ng or ready na yung mga finances, tayong librarians baka pwede tayong makapagfocus tungkol dun sa mga activities ng libraries. Hindi na naaano ang energy natin sa paghingi ng solicitation sa mga mayors, sa mga councilors. Dapat nandiyan na siya. Tapos, tayo makafofocus na tayo sa reading promotion, information literacy. So, we the librarians can focus on the basic matters of the library.

How do you communicate to people and city officials the importance of libraries and librarians?
Yun nga, ago lang nga ako sa public library. Yung method ng public library sa Quezon City, sa mga projects, we try to involve them. Yun lang muna. Pero, in the long run, iinvolve din namin, kung kya, yung lahat. Na para sa budget meetings, magkakaroon na ng allotment yung every library. Kasi nga sinabi ko sayo kanina na ang budget namin centralized-isa lang para sa main library and for the branches. Ang sinusuggest ko sa head namin na lapitan yung mga councilors para mag-allot sila ng fund for that particular branch. Kasi ang nangyayari ngayon, merong ibang branches na hindi adequate yung space. Tapos, yun nga mas mabilis sa amin, yung mga outreach libraries, na mamonitor yung mga libraries namin kung merong Internet. Sana mapuna yan ng mga councilors.

How do you convince them-that it’s important?
Pag nakita lang nila paano kadalas siya frinifrequent ng users. Nakita mo naman dun-parang gamitin siya. Hindi naman lahat ng branches gamitin dahil siguro sa location, dahil di napopromote. So, dapat lamitan yung mga Councilors at Congressmen. Dapat mapakita ko na meron talagang need na suportahan ang library. So, hindi ko nakakalimutang i-emphasize yan sa mga branch librarians. Ang main para ma-convince sila ay mapakita na ginagamit nila ang library, ginagamit ng community ang library.

Is that enough, or should there be some kind of measure of the effects?
Siguro kailangan din na merong study na dapat na nagpapakita talaga na merong impact din nga sa community.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned in your current position?
Loving your work. If you love your work, everything comes out naturally. And making your staff love your work, too. Although it is easier said than done-mas madali siyang sabihin kesa gawin, di ba-if one is able to explain your motives and goals in a clear manner, everything will go right.

What are the top three things they don’t teach you in library school that you think are critical?
Three things: project management, customer service and library promotion, tapos psychology in library setting.

The first one, project management. I think it would help a lot if a project management course would be offered in library school kasi ang library, maraming aspects, di ba? So, a librarian must be able to focus on one project. Minsan kasi sabay sabay, di ba? Na hindi siya natataranta. So, kung merong project management course sa libraries, matutulungan yung librarians dito ng malaki. I think it would help a lot if a project management course would be offered in library school. If a librarian would know how to plan and organize an action plan, much can be achieved, and we would find libraries solving problems with focus and with much ease. It is an effective tool that I think is essential for libraries, too.

The second one, customer service and library promotion. I think it is being discussed in library administration courses and being performed in practicum, but I think future librarians and libraries will benefit if the college students conceptualize a customer service program and apply the program in actual library setting for 1-2 semesters. Parang pag marketing student ka, parang ganun din. It’s a service din. Dapat in concept magawa mo at in application magawa mo rin. There is a saying that practice makes perfect and start them early, right?

Psychology in library setting. Meron ding course na inooffer-yung basic psychology-meron, di ba? Sa amin, meron yung basic psychology. Pero gusto ko sana i-offer na course dito yung in a library setting. Maraming mga taong pumapasok, ibab ibang ugali. So, may mga problematic na situations na minsan parang hindi natin alam kung papano isosolve. So, kung mas specific ang course on a library setting, siguro mas madali nating masolve yung problem yung sa totoong setting na. Basic psychology classes is a requirement in library science, but because in the library, we meet different people and sometimes difficult people, a psychology in specific library setting is most helpful.

Is there any one thing that every librarian should know?
I think every librarian or anyone working in a library should be a leader. He or she should initiate projects that will benefit and is essential to a library. He or she should always be informed and educated of the latest and correct information. Kakabasa ko lang kasi ng book on Zen. Parang Zen for librarians ang naisip ko: If you’re a librarian, be the library.

Name one person that you think of as a library leader.
Isang pangalan ng tao pumasok sa akin-si Von, Von Totanes. Although bago pa lang siya sa library science field, marami na siyang na-accomplish. Although from different course before, I have seen his contributions and commitment to help the library profession. He initiated a blog on Filipino librarians. He taught at the School of Library and Information Studies and is now pursuing graduate studies. He had made librarians known in the Philippines and, I think, internationally, and he achieved it in a short span of time. He inspires me to excel and be of service to the Filipino people.