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Philippine eLibrary: Reaching People Beyond Borders Print E-mail

By Marilyn L. Antonio

In the olden days, going to the library was the easiest and most convenient way of doing research.   For easy retrieval of books or materials, a student who is doing a paper work would usually browse over the card catalog to get information about them. He can either give the details to the librarian or look for the materials himself in the library shelves.  This method of researching had been pursued by many researchers through the years.

However, as information and communications technology (ICT) became advanced, researchers started surfing the internet for endless information.

Not to be left behind, the libraries started converting their libraries electronically.  Card catalogs were accessed via the Internet and research materials were converted to microfilms and compact disks for easy storage.   Electronic reference materials, databases and other resources were downloaded from the Internet.

ICT had made a great impact in various sectors of society, especially in the academe, community, business and government.

Conceptualization
           
The Department of Science and Technology (DoST), through Undersecretary Fortunato T. dela PeƱa, had the vision of sharing the science information of its Science and Technology Information Institute's  (STII) SCINET library to the attached agencies as well as to the rest of the country.    

On the otherhand, the Department of Agriculture (DA) who had envisioned reaching the rural folks through citizen sentries, expressed its intention in partnering with DoST and the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) in setting up an electronic library (eLibrary) project which would cater to the needs of the academe, government institutions and the citizenry.

In December 2003, the DoST, DA, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the University of the Philippines (UP) and the NLP formally agreed to collaborate and become partners in the eLibrary Project. 

A Steering Committee was formed consisting of executives from each agency who were tasked to set the policies and make decisions for the project.  The Director of the NLP served as the Project Manager while the National Library became the Project Management Office (PMO).

NLP Director Prudenciana C. Cruz, as the project manager, recalls, "At the beginning, we really did not know how to start the project.  USec Fortunato T. dela PeƱa of DoST and Dr. Sally Arlanti of UP, suggested to divide the project into components. Someone took charge of the portal development, while our part was to provide for the area to house the eLibrary.  We converted a portion of our data center and half of the library for the blind, for the installation of the kiosks. After the initial planning, the public bidding for the infrastructure followed."

First Public eLibrary in the Philippines

A collection of more than 800,000 bibliographic records, 25 million pages of digitized Philippine materials such as rare books, serials, government publications, maps, photos and online databases of 29,000 full-text journals are housed digitally in the first public eLibrary in the Philippines.  Foreign databases, local databases of partners, Filipiniana theses and dissertations, online public access catalog (OPAC), union catalog of partners, selective dissemination of information and reproduction of services (print, microfilm, CD) are also accessed in the eLibrary.

Accessing  information through eLibrary

Doing research through the eLibrary is basically the same as going to a library, the only difference is that the person can have faster results without leaving his school, home or office. 

For easy access to the website, www.elib.gov.ph, the partner agencies have installed kiosks where the registered members or any researcher can access the eLibrary.  "The kiosks of the DoST are installed in their research institutes while the DA's kiosks are found in the regional offices.  CHED have installed their kiosks in state universities and colleges (SUCs) while UP has their kiosks in their library.  We have ours in the first floor of the building," Director Cruz says.  "The kiosks of the partners' public libraries are located in their respective provinces, municipalities, cities, barangays and other congressional districts."

"The farmers who want to know more about agriculture but have no computer knowledge, can be helped by the trainers from the DA," explains Director Cruz. "They have to go to the regional office where the computers are installed. On the other hand, housewives who struggle to find information through the eLibrary, can be guided by their sons or daughters."

Membership

To generate income from the project and to make it self-sustaining, membership is offered through the purchase of prepaid cards worth 100, 300 and 500 pesos or through registration for Php 1,200/month, 7,000/6 months or 12,000/year, for unlimited access including download. "We deposit this income in the UP Trust Fund which we use in renewing our subscriptions," Director Cruz explains.   

"Basically, those who can access the system are: private individuals, institutional users of SUCs and other individuals.  Non-members can also access the eLibrary in limited cases,"
she adds.

Public eLibraries' Launching

Aside from the eLibraries which were installed in CHED, DA, DoST and UP, Director Cruz says that the public libraries nationwide are continuously being updated.  At present, the partial list of affiliate public eLibraries are:  provincial - 52, municipal - 536, city - 99, barangay - 451, and congressional public libraries- 4.   

"We will be launching more public eLibraries in the province of Aurora, in the cities of Marawi, Pagadian, General Santos, Isulan in Sultan Kudarat and in the municipality of Tagaluan in Misamis Oriental next month," says Director Cruz.

Expansion

Director Cruz reveals that they are expanding the services of the eLibrary. "We are entering into partnerships with the community electronic centers (CeCs) of provinces.  We are also introducing our project to the Department of Education's (DepEd) Alternative Learning System (ALS)."
 
"We are continuously upgrading our eLibrary system by training our librarians, acquiring computers for selected colleges, public libraries and upgrading and monitoring existing kiosks," Director Cruz adds. 
 
Contributions to the Country

"We have seen the increase in the development of education, information services, and research needs of SUCs since we started the eLibrary," Director Cruz discloses.  "We have also upgraded our public eLibraries to make them at par with other ASEAN regional libraries."

Director Cruz reveals that the eLibrary Project was awarded the 2nd prize among 53 entries of six countries, in the ASEAN Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC) - sponsored competition last August 2005, in Chinese Taipei.

"The year after, I presented a paper on the eLibrary in Maryland, USA.  Last month, through the invitation of the International Federation of Library Association, I again presented the paper on the eLibrary project to more than 100 librarians in Europe," reveals Director Cruz.  "The librarians were very happy to know about the Philippine's eLibrary project.  I can say that we are not left behind even if most of the libraries in the world are going digital."

Although the Philippine eLibrary is just on its third year, but it has already leaped beyond borders in order to make available diverse information through the Web.
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