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Books for free in library of the streets

The Reading Club is much like the street bookstores in Europe

Having just watched Kris TV’s first anniversary show, and her Kris Reali-TV coverage of sister Pinky’s Silid Pangarap AGAPP Foundation project of building classrooms for pre-school kids, we would like to share an advocacy right down her alley to visit.

Located at a quiet nondescript intersection on Balagtas St., Barangay La Paz, where Pablo Ocampo meets South Super Highway, is a home whose facade has been converted by makeshift shelves filled with books of all sorts — paperbacks, hardbound, some yellowed, others damaged but all stacked waiting to be read.

A small tarpaulin stretches across the front of a bicycle that reads “Reading Club 2000.” Across one of the shelves is painted in white “Borrow Free to Read.” The atmosphere is a cross between a second-hand store and a garage sale, very much like those street bookstores in Europe. The only difference is that everything here is for free! And like 7-11, it is open all the time.

A tall, lanky grey-haired man spots us, stretches out his hand to greet us. This is the club’s founder: Hernando “Nanie” Guanlao and this is his ancestral home. We ask him what this is all about. He points to an overturned boat across the street. Sprawling across the top are about 15 books, opened, drying in the afternoon sun with pages waving in the gentle breeze.

“If these were people,” he begins, “this would be the ICU. I’m bringing them back to life. I’m giving these books new life. They are waiting to be adopted into new homes.”

Under RA 7743, the government provides for the public establishment of libraries at all levels of governance. But the reality of implementation is neither consistent nor thorough. And this is where the people come in. The void created by the inefficiency of government is filled by the ingenuity of the Filipino.

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At the Reading Club 2000, actually less a club and more of a book loan program, interested people come by and “borrow.” There is no membership, borrower’s card, nor ID. One may keep the books or return them. “I encourage sharing with their neighbors when they’re done,” Guanlao explains. We wonder, “What’s to stop anyone from taking all the books?” He shakes his head then assures us, “The books have multiplied.”

It’s a hard one to swallow: To give something away seemed unheard of. But what he gave away in the beginning, has multiplied in returns and donations have come rolling in.

We peer into his garage and indeed what started on four rudimentary shelves back in 2000 has grown to cover the sidewalk, the garage, and travel up the staircase.

“My dream is to have a house filled with books!” he adds with excitement, “But… where would we live?”

Nine years ago, he moved his family to Muntinlupa for just that reason. Nowadays, he stays on Balagtas alone, with his wife Lourdes coming to lend her moral support.

The Reading Club 2000 arose out of a desire to give something back to the community that wouldn’t put a strain on his wallet,” Guanlao continues.

He started with textbooks from his siblings. He dreams of expansion as the Muntinlupa home already acts as distribution center for Southern communities, of drop boxes for donors around the Metro, an online presence difficult to believe for a man who hasn’t owned a TV in over 10 years.

But Guanlao is passionate for literacy, likening the giving away of books to breathing new life into dormant pages. He explains, “They’ve gone to a new user. And hopefully the new user will be happy.”

(E-mail your comments to bibsy_2011@yahoo.com.)

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