A Pag-asa Street in Malate, a Manila, si può: condividere libri e cultura. Un catalogo di 700 opere da condividere. Una comunità letteraria fatta di libri e lettori

Instead of food and other pantry items, a tall dish cabinet propped up against a mural on

Pag-asa Street in Malate, Manila, Philippines. It was filled with books to feed the minds of members of the community and hopefully, make reading a habit.

The Pag-asa Community Library, with more than 700 books in its catalog was inspired by the concept of sharing that started with the Maginhawa (Convenient) Community Pantry, according to Rain Russell Villaspin of Lahat ng Bata (All Children), a local youth group.

Villaspin said that this time, their organization wanted to make reading accessible to the poorest families in the neighborhood who could not afford to buy books or learning materials. “I believe that books should be available to and free for all. We can’t force reading [to become] a habit but we can develop that habit if books are accessible, because education is also a fundamental right,” he added.

A week before Villaspin decided to open a community library, there was a clamor from members of his youth group for their own community pantry project. But with kids forced to drop out of school or struggling to keep up with distance learning, he came up instead with the idea for a communal reading space where his neighbors, especially children and stay-at-home mothers, could donate and borrow books for free. Pag-asa Street is a predominantly poor community and an estero where many informal settlers live.

“In our community, many children [do not go to] school and have no access to learning materials, while in other households, there is an abundance of sources of information, or shelves full of books but are only for display,” Villaspin said. “Why can’t we create a common space where those who have more can give something and those who have none can take what they need, similar to the concept of the community pantries?”

From a donation of P1,500 from a generous sponsor, Villaspin’s group bought a plastic dish cabinet that could withstand the rain or heat and filled it with books donated from close friends, schoolmates and teachers.

Later on, the group started receiving donations from other sponsors and private individuals. So far, they have managed to raise P3,000 in cash and collect more than 700 books, aside from 14 chairs, five tables and three storage boxes. Readers can help themselves to different book genres ranging from children’s literature to fiction, self-help books, psychology and philosophy books, even Filipiniana books, among others. Learning materials from grade school to college are also available.

Similar to the concept of community pantries, Villaspin said anyone can access the library whenever they need it. To ensure that the books are well-maintained, he and other group members put control numbers on each one, with borrowers required to log the titles they choose in a notebook. Readers are limited to only two books at a time, which they should return within 30 days. While Villaspin considers the continuous arrival of book donations in the community as a “happy problem,” ultimately, his group’s goal is to see their initiative replicated in other areas. “We hope to set an example to other youth groups or public officials to make education more available to the community. If people like us can build our own community pantry or library, what more those who have the money and the power to do so?” he said.