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Challenges for (digital) libraries in the Philippines
Finding balance between digital and physical

Digital libraries have been put in the spotlight during this pandemic. Offering digital services may sound simple, but is in fact very complicated due to the reality of bad internet connectivity and difficult accessibility. And there are even more difficulties.

By Allana S. Delgado

In a span of a few months, libraries have had to rethink and change how they deliver their services. Libraries all over the world, not just those in developing countries but those in the "first world" as well, have faced a new challenge. Building closures, physical restrictions, and barriers to access have placed new limitations on libraries. However, libraries have also been creative and innovative in offering new services, improving existing ones, and making the most of what they have in new ways.
Digital services and online resources for libraries have entered the limelight. Many libraries have evaluated their existing practices and methods to determine whether they can still be effective in a new setting and be able to meet different needs. As I have seen in my own library and in the library community in the Philippines, change is a catalyst for innovation.
‘Digital libraries’ may be a simple phrase, but the reality is a lot more complicated. Libraries must also take into account accessibility, users’ capabilities and education, as well as existing infrastructures like internet connectivity and what resources the library can offer. Even librarians struggle in keeping up with technology.
Too often, libraries in developing countries are already limited by a lack of budget, an absence of trained library staff, and inadequate resources. This was the situation even before COVID-19. However, there has also been good news about libraries, making the community more aware of their importance. As IFLA reports in ‘Covid-19 and the global library field’ libraries all over the world have shown an amazing response to the situation.
This has also been a good time for collaboration. Local library organisations in the Philippines have organised webinars and online conferences where librarians can network and learn from each other. Associations in other countries have opened their virtual doors to international networking. Digital ways of working have created many opportunities, including the #EmergingInternationalVoices project of IFLA and the Goethe-Institut.

Emerging International Voices, a timely programme for young librarians

This programme came at the right time. It showcased diverse perspectives from young librarians and information professionals around the world, giving us the opportunity to learn and discuss with librarians in the global library field. It was amazing to see the practices and digital initiatives of the best libraries in the world.
In the course of the webinar series, I realised that my library is not alone in confronting these challenges. Libraries in more advanced countries than the Philippines have struggled to adapt to changes too.

Relying too much on technology may leave some users behind, especially those who are unable to access the internet, electricity, or devices.

This is also a way of getting to know the ‘next generation’ of librarians: a group of people from different backgrounds, who know their way around digital, and who are beyond stereotypes of what a librarian is.

Rethinking Digital platforms

Move slow and fix things © Goethe-Institut Many libraries use social media and other online platforms to deliver services. However, relying too much on technology may leave some users behind, especially those who are unable to access the internet, electricity, or devices. In Luke Swarthout’s talk on the online services of the New York Public Library, non-digital or ‘offline’ services and resources remain vital.
Libraries should evaluate and analyse the value of the platforms they are using. Social media and the like are often subject to change and may have their own goals that contradict the library’s values. It remains important for us to continue building and improving our own platforms. While they are great tools, we should not solely rely on them.

Collaboration, not Competition

Libraries © Goethe-Institut What Marie Ostergaard of Denmark public libraries said resonated with me: ‘Libraries underestimate what we can do when we work together.’ Sharing our knowledge, resources, and experience with other librarians is a great way to strengthen our libraries and deliver the best to our users. Libraries are not islands; we all work best when we join together.

More recognition for digital libraries

Just recently, Sen. Sonny Angara in the Philippines proposed a bill to update the previous law establishing public libraries in the country which was passed twenty-six years ago. The bill, if enacted, seeks to equip public libraries with digital resources and services.
Many are recognising the importance of improving libraries. Even in the midst of COVID-19, many public libraries have opened in the provinces - in Capiz, Aklan, and Laguna, to name a few. Many existing libraries have been in the news for the improvements and digital services they are providing for their users - in Manila, Bohol, and Iloilo City. Libraries have been in the spotlight and more people are realising and recognising their importance. Libraries in the country are slowly keeping up with digital innovations.
The challenges and changes encountered by libraries will be lessons learned in the next normal, and, I hope, lead to improvements even beyond the pandemic.