How can a non-librarian lead the National Library?

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Duterte appointee Cesar Gilbert Adriano was appointed director of the National Library, despite not being a librarian. How has this been received by those who practice the profession? Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The appointment on March 17, 2017 of Cesar Gilbert Adriano as director of the National Library of the Philippines (NLP), in any other circumstance, would have been unremarkable. The position was vacated due to the demise of Atty. Antonio Santos, its former director, in 2015.

In the interim, the Civil Service Commission posted a job vacancy for Director IV of the NLP, with an annual salary of ₱812,808, possessing the following qualification requirements: a master’s degree, 120 hours of managerial training for the last five years, five years of supervisory experience, Career Service Executive/Career Executive Service eligibility, and — most significantly — the director must be a licensed librarian.

Adriano is not a licensed librarian.

“For 27 years, maybe more than that now, since the law was passed in 1992, a professional licensed librarian has been holding the helm of the premier institution in the country which was the National Library,” says Fe Angela Verzosa, a 72-year-old retired professional librarian, and a former president of the Philippine Librarians Association, Inc. (PLAI) and the Philippine Association of Academic and Research Librarians (PAARL) in 2000.

“There were applications, pero hindi ‘yun ‘yung kinonsider,” Verzosa adds. “We were aghast when we heard, and it was confirmed na a certain Mr. Adriano from Davao was appointed.”

Adriano is virtually unknown in the librarian community. “When the news first came out that Mr. Adriano was appointed director of the NLP, we looked at the roster of librarians. Kasi ‘di namin siya kilala eh,” says Kathleen Lourdes Obille, dean of the UP School of Library and information Studies (SLIS). “Then we realized na hindi siya librarian. So it’s really a surprise. We were disgusted by the news, because we know that there are other qualified librarians out there.”

Vernon Totanes, director of the Ateneo’s Rizal Library, filed a complaint with the Ombudsman. He questioned why, despite the provisions of The Philippine Librarianship Act of 2003 that “only qualified and licensed librarians shall be employed in government libraries,” Caesar Adriano was assigned as Director IV of the National Library of the Philippines. Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

Adriano’s ‘non-librarian’ status was the white elephant in the room — everyone knew he was not qualified, but no one questioned it in strong terms, even PLAI — until Vernon Totanes, director of the Ateneo’s Rizal Library, filed a complaint with the Ombudsman.

In it, he questioned why, despite the provisions of RA 9246 (The Philippine Librarianship Act of 2003) that “only qualified and licensed librarians shall be employed in government libraries,” Adriano was assigned as Director IV of the NLP — “that is, the National Librarian of the Philippines.” He further alleged that a violation of this provision was a criminal and corrupt act, punishable by law.

As of publication, Adriano has yet to comment on the issue, averring in a report that he will wait for the Ombudsman complaint. Another report quotes NLP’s assistant director Edgardo Quiros who said that Adriano is not covered by RA 9246, and that Adriano was merely appointed to a temporary, non-career service position.

Nevertheless, the issue has made its impact upon the professional librarian community. “Disheartened sila,” says Obille, as dean of UP SLIS. “Ang pinaka-comment nila is, how can a non-librarian lead us?”

Why a librarian as director?

Notwithstanding the legal and professional requirements of the National Library director, Totanes says that a librarian with wide experience in the profession is essential for the development of public libraries all over the Philippines. Appointing licensed librarians also discourages the practice of assigning non-librarians who do not have the welfare of libraries in mind.

“Ako, okay na ako doon sa mga scholars, book lovers. ‘Di ko na kukuwestiyonin ‘yun,” says Totanes. “Pero ‘yung mga non-librarian na dahil lang kamag-anak at kaibigan sila ni mayor … Eh anong nangyari dun sa library? Wala. Dahil wala silang alam, wala silang malasakit sa libro, umupo lang sila doon para sumweldo, tapos parang namatay na ‘yung library.”

This is why the best place to start exercising exactitude and professionalism as librarians is the National Library, adds Totanes. “Siya actually magsasabi na hindi pwede ‘yung mga ina-appoint na ‘yan. But if he is appointed himself, not a licensed librarian, can he actually tell the mayors, the cities, in all these public libraries, to follow the law? Wala siyang credibility.”

“Sa mga students din namin, siyempre tinuturo namin na kailangan professional, you have to get a license to be a librarian, [so] sila din nagulat.” —Kathleen Lourdes Obille

Obille, who has been working with PLAI and other groups in revising the Librarianship Act, says that while there is no explicit provision that the National Library director himself or herself shall be a licensed librarian, the principle embodied in the law is that all librarians shall be licensed.

“But then di kami makagalaw kasi presidential appointee siya. Hindi naman siya career official,” she says. “But we are coordinating with PLAI and what we’re doing is revising our RA [9246] to include explicitly that the National Library director, most especially, should be a licensed librarian.”

Verzosa sees a legal question arising from the appointment of Adriano. On one hand, she says the CSC should have been more aware of the enabling law that regulates the librarianship profession.

“We saw the position advertised in the CSC and naka-indicate naman talaga doon na licensed ang dapat mag-o-occupy ng position that was vacated by the late Atty. Santos. Bakit di na-observe?”

On the other hand, she avers to the power of the president to appoint officials such as the National Library director. “Hindi tayo sigurado kung ano ba talaga ang mas supreme — ang appointing power or ang enabling law? It’s going to be very interesting.”

What’s at stake

As a professor in UP SLIS, Obille teaches her students that being a librarian is a profession that requires dedicated years of study and a license.

“Sa mga students din namin, siyempre tinuturo namin na kailangan professional, you have to get a license to be a librarian, [so] sila din nagulat,” she says of Adriano’s appointment.

“Medyo disappointing din kasi, the director of the National Library should represent the Philippines in international conferences, like IFLA [International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions],” Obille adds. “But for the previous IFLA, hindi siya nagpunta.” The IFLA is a leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and its users.

The issue has made its impact upon the professional librarian community. “Disheartened sila,” says Katherine Obille, dean of UP School of Library and information Studies. “Ang pinaka-comment nila is, how can a non-librarian lead us?” Photo by KENNETH ABALLA

Totanes also observes that Adriano is not present in important events concerning the profession. “He’s not here [in the PAARL General Assembly]. He was not there at the National Congress last year. He sent someone to read his message,” he says. “He’s not here, yet he’s supposed to be everywhere, pushing the advocacy agenda of libraries in the Philippines. But he’s not doing that. Bakit? Kasi he doesn’t know anything.”

The appointment of the ‘national non-librarian’ also sheds light on other pressing problems in Philippine libraries. “First walang item on government librarians,” says Obille. “So the government can’t fill a nonexistent item. But they have libraries all over. ‘Yun nga lang hindi qualified ‘yung mga tumatao doon.”

“As for precedents, for schools and university libraries, who are covered by accreditation by CHED [Commission on Higher Education], we are mandated to have licensed librarians for their top positions, with either Masters or Ph.D. So educational qualification ‘yan. Pero sa mga public libraries na hindi rin sufficiently na napo-police, wala, they don’t follow,” Obille adds.

Obille says there is also need to redefine the context of librarianship (if it includes archiving and other services) and revisit the salaries of government librarians. She hopes that such issues will be addressed in the ongoing revision of the Librarianship Act.

All these are issues that could gain widespread traction with the support of the National Library director. “Looking at him as a manager, sige pwede, pero i-empower lang niya ‘yung mga librarians to help him,” says Obille. “Sige andyan na ‘yan, ano pa nga ba, he’s coterminus. But there has to be a move out there, especially with this move by Von [Totanes] na ma-address ‘yung issue.”

But for Totanes, the National Library requires no less than a licensed librarian, and not just a manager. “The issue for me is not how he manages. The issue for me is if he qualifies for the position,” he says.

“This is really not just about the National Library,” he adds. “It’s about, you know, who’s going to replace Patricia Licuanan at CHED? … How about the SC justices? … There are actually department secretaries who have not been named. Wala namang batas dun. Maybe with this kind of pressure, people like Mocha Uson will never be appointed again.”