Distant Relations

The Place of Libraries in Museums (By Ana P. Labrador)

The significance of Gabriel Bernardo's work bears upon all of us in the academe today. Without his tireless effort to modernize the library system, many would have been lost in their effort to read a poem, find out who the first quantum physicist was or understand the kula ring exchange in the Trobriand Islands in the Pacific. In a sense, no matter how much we complain about the library not having enough books for our specialist knowledge, we would be poorer without a sound library system, which Prof. Bernardo has helped to create. Ultimately we would not have a proper library in which to absorb and wallow in the books that represent the incredible production of knowledge.

As you can surmise from my opening comment, I am not here to talk about Prof. Bernardo but of the effect of his dedication to lay the foundation for a University Library. More significantly, I am looking at efforts such as his in the context of museums. In many instances, librarians and museum curators have similar roles as keepers of collections, presenting expert knowledge and devising public access. Museums, libraries and archives are related with one another, bound by the materials they keep. Library Studies scholar Georgen Gilliam (2002) pointed out that they all keep documents. I have noted this in the past even art collections are documents, considering the different sectors who visit the exhibits.

One of the chief differences lie in interpreting collections where curators are expected to inform, educate and entertain visitors through exhibits. But as I will relate to you later, many roles crossover between librarians and curators since museum and libraries are like cousins who even if they have been estranged by territorial disputes of jurisdiction, remain related. On the other hand, neither do they have to merge and become one bungled bureaucracy. Using the analogy further, cousins cannot marry based on most local practices as well as by Philippine law. Perhaps this separate legal framework should be the case for libraries and museums too.

Early last year I was one of the discussants at a forum led by the Society of Student Archivists. We had an interesting dialogue in Putting Our Acts Together: Cooperation Among Archives, Libraries and Museums. In that forum I put forward the importance of libraries in museums. More particularly I cited many cases, such as the institution I represent, where museum collections do not only comprise the objects in its storage and exhibit halls. In addition to constituting its holdings in the museums, often there is little mention of books and papers used as record and for research. I am glad that I have been given another opportunity to expand my discussion on their significance in terms of our heritage.

Keeping libraries are essential part of museum work. For instance the bulk of what is seen on exhibition depended on the research done outside and within the premises of the museum. But as Bierbaum (1996) noted "museum libraries do not yet appear to be an overwhelming concern for the museum profession. The relationships between museums and libraries are also linked by the work engaged by either one. Primarily it is scholarly concerns that are part of the work of curators, researchers, scientists and collections managers. The International Council of Museums (1996) stress upon public access to the collection whether they are researchers, viewers or learners. A point to consider with reference to making the library in museum more accessible is to ask if the library in a museum considered a restricted collection of the department or office taking in whose possession it cares for. In the case of UPVM, the lack of staff to mind the museum has limited access.

Another interesting distinction is that libraries in museums are different from libraries attached to museums. Eventually these become separate institutions such as in the case of the British Museum and Library that only became independent from each other in 1973. Compare this to the National Museum where the Library was conceptually and physically detached by law in 1928.

Eventually department offices may opt to create collections for their own libraries in museums (just like in Universities) to acquire and keep books for their use (e.g. Conservation Department at the NM). In whatever forms libraries might take shape, museums build scholarship through putting together libraries.

All these ideas that I have been describing will be more understandable with illustrated examples. Let me show you the slides now to illustrate my discussion of the place of libraries in museums.

The Smithsonian Institution used to be called the National Museum located at the heart of Washington DC. A series of buildings, mainly of neoclassical design stand at the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. This complex of museums encompasses almost every human interest: the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of American History, the Hischorn Gallery, and the Natural History Museum are just some of those museums. It will probably take you months to cover all the exhibitions in the galleries. These lively activities will not be possible without the libraries in each museum that serve not only the museum staff but also international researchers. Today with the new head of Smithsonian who mainly think in fiscal terms, many of the libraries are being shut and placed in a big, central museum where users will probably take forever to find anything.

The New British Library in St Pancras. Much criticized for its ugly architecture outside, the new Library was physically detached from the British Museum at Russell Square. The famous Round Reading Room where Marx wrote Das Kapital has been turned into exhibition spaces. The library collections include printed books, manuscripts, maps, music and stamps. Its practice of exhibiting manuscripts, rare books and other documents continue today.

The Library at the Antoni Tapies Museum in Barcelona. This is a good example of a converted building and the library was part of Tapies bequest to the City of Barcelona. He is one of the most important Catalan artists in the 20th century along with Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. Impressed by the quality and the craftsmanship of the storage shelves, which has not been touched since the Montaner I Simon publishing house was completed, the architects took the structure as the basis for the library project. The storage shelves acquired a dual function as pieces of furniture and space distribution elements. The fundamental idea of the transformation is a very simple principle: the storage shelves became bookshelves.

The National Museum of the Philippines Library. Padlocked and has been closed for a long time. It is an example of how centralizing the collection results to a lack of users and their collection becoming redundant.

The NMP Deparmental libraries may just be seen as shelves but researchers and staff depend on them. This is an example of the Conservation Departments collection and its head said that they cannot trust the central library to take care of their books. The strong reference collections are found in the departments.

The Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center. This is an example of a library within the museum and its collection donated by one person. There are 4,700 volumes in the Library. We are currently in the process of physically reorganizing it and cataloguing the collection to make the library more accessible.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford. This is an example of what we are aspiring for at the Vargas Museum, integrating sound practices of display for access and appreciation of our rich materials.

European libraries beset by problems of conservation. Deterioration of books reflect negatively on how we regard our patrimony. Libraries like museums are part of our cultural heritage.

We need to carefully examine the future of libraries within museums in terms of budget allocation, accreditation standards, and "workplace enhancements" such as technological advances in the field (Bierbaum, 1996). The UPVM is yet to achieve all that but perhaps examining it briefly might give us some ideas why art museums tend to take care of its libraries more than others. Having been donated from a private collector, indications point to Vargas valuing the UPVM library collections. This can be seen in terms of: 1. part of his donation to the UP; (2) the specialized nature of the library and archive collection, including rare books, Filipiniana, the Commonwealth and Japanese periods: and (4) the requisite though skeletal staff to mind the collection.

Someday I am hoping that the UPVM should have a curatorial team to head the museums, archives and libraries that comprise of specialists, in the field including a curator that is free of a director's job like mine at present, a college librarian whose status equal that of faculty members and a full-time museum specialist. When that time comes, the UPVM will become a full-pledged research center honoring not just the man who made the collection possible but also its users who deserve much more than we can give them.

Let me end this lecture with a personal anecdote to illustrate the importance of librarians and curators everywhere in preserving our national patrimony. At the time Gabriel Bernardo was the Professor Emeritus after his stint as a University Librarian, my mother entered UP as a freshman. Being from a small town, she was overwhelmed by the vast University Library and could not use it being afraid of such halls. She nearly failed her English I if not for a librarian -whose name she forgot - who helped her find her way around. After that my mother's love for books and libraries never waned. I grew up surrounded by books and an appreciation for libraries and librarians. We must thank pioneers and prescient people like Bernardo who cared enough so we can be more educated. He inspires me and have put that same determination in making accessible the collection of the Vargas Museum including its library and archives.