Header MBV Logo
Columns Banner MB2 v3

The Digitization of Knowledge

One time when I was having my coffee at one of the branches of Dear Joe, I observed a couple just sitting there enjoying their coffee while flipping through their iPads presumably reading  an e-book. That imagery made me realize how times have changed. It has also made me wonder whether the printed book and the libraries that house them will soon become extinct. It seems inevitable. Google has agreed to scan millions of books from five major libraries and to make their contents searchable and therefore available to everyone anywhere in the world. With easy access to cheap electronic reading devices and free or affordable e-books, what else would motivate you to go to a physical library?


The digitization of knowledge is really a welcome development because it also means the democratization of knowledge. You can now read and enrich your knowledge without even leaving your house. Libraries that were previously inaccessible will now be within reach, just clicks away. When I was a kid, we had to walk to the public library to be able to read books. When I attended school I had access to more books courtesy of the school library. 

I do not consider myself a bookworm but I do love to read. I do love reading about history. When I was in college at the University of the Philippines Diliman, I would borrow and read the business and accounting textbooks assigned to us but I would also borrow books on Philippine history and world history. For me, this happened in the Business Library.

The UPCBA Library, of course, was where I spent my time looking for books to read. The Business Library has a very interesting history. It was organized in 1929 but was completely razed during World War II. The library transferred to the third floor of the Liberal Arts Building until 1959, when it relocated to the two-story Institute of Economic Development library building. When I was finishing my postgraduate degree in UP in 1972 the Business Library was renamed as the "Aklatang Gonzalo Puyat”. 

I really enjoyed going to libraries. I remember stepping into a room where shelves stretch out on every nook and cranny of the room. I remember being there with friends and getting the occasional shush or dagger look from the librarian for being noisy. And oh, I remember the smell of libraries. Actual, physical books have that distinct aroma that triggers nostalgia.  The earthy, musty fragrance of old books is something that I cannot experience when I use tablets.


That is the reason why I still read actual newspapers in the morning. Those are the two smells that I associate with breakfast—freshly brewed coffee and that familiar newsprint smell from the papers. I embrace new technology but I cannot enjoy reading the news by scrolling on my phone. I guess I am old school that way.

I think people of my generation and others who experienced the “old times” would naturally be nostalgic of the pre-social media days. This is the same reason for the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl records. In the age of digital music in which all you need is your phone and a subscription to Spotify in order to listen to a catalog of millions and millions of songs, why would you listen to the more expensive analog? But that is exactly what many have been craving. Audiophiles claim that music coming from a turntable simply sounds better. It is more alive and realistic. And there is also the experience or the ritual of carefully taking a record out of its sleeve, cleaning it, and putting it on the platter. And I think the album covers of vinyl are way cooler.

Anyway, back to the impending death of libraries. Will there be a time when libraries will simply become monuments of the past—probably a museum of things we enjoyed in ancient times. I hope not. But if it does happen the important thing is that our civilization should never shun books in favor of tweets or conversations in cyber space. The death of libraries I can reluctantly accept but the death of books will be the death of knowledge and civilization as we know it. 

I wonder if the kids of today still read books. I used to read at least 12 books per year. I have slowed down recently but I still love picking up a good book and sitting in a corner. Cicero once said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” So, go teach your kid to read a book and instill in them the habit of reading. If the movies are correct and the threat of robots taking control of the earth and defeating humans really do happen, those who read books—history, arts and letters, the humanities, and everything in between—will be our first line of defense.




Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar