Filipinas Heritage Library is Dead! Long Live FHL!

Few probably heard the news that on 1 November 2012, as Filipinos visited the resting place of their dearly departed, that the FHL closed her Nielson Tower doors forever to researchers. However, don’t mourn, the dead will resurrect. Ma. Elizabeth L. Gustillo, Senior Director, Art and Culture Division of the Ayala Foundation, sent a letter to all active FHL members (complete with a red bookmark)  which proclaimed that FHL will re-open on March 2013 to coincide with the 52nd anniversary month of Ayala Foundation. The FHL will resurrect at the Ayala Museum as a library with “a contemporary space for the contemporary researcher.” Contemporary? Why the emphasis on the contemporary?  Was FHL traditional? The traditional library, in a traditional space, for the traditional researcher, is dead? Long live the contemporary library? Long live the contemporary researcher?

Contemporary Space.

Nielsen Tower, traditional, out. Ayala Museum, contemporary, in.

Let me confess, I rather like the old historic unassuming Nielsen Tower. Nothing exciting about it from the outside. Nothing to compare with the gleaming towers of contemporary Makati.   But the place smelled history while all the surrounding buildings just smelled (very nicely). Inside, below, is what matters. What can be more exciting that going down the FHL’s spiral staircase and into the dark dungeon below. For the novice, be careful, you might get lost among her many doors.  Pass the correct door, you will find the  keeper who holds the key to the  many books, photographs, maps, and other hidden treasures of art, culture, and history.  Be quiet, be still. Soon, and like the airplanes using the nearby fields of long ago, your borrowed treasure(s) will arrive and bring you to places you’ve never been before. A former airport terminal guiding flyers of art, history, and culture to their chosen destinations.

Ayala Museum? Not historical enough a space for my taste. But contemporary, yes. Nothing can be more contemporary as finding the sacred tower of art, culture, and history surrounded by the Towers (and Malls) of Business and Commerce. Contemporary life seems nothing more than the extension of commerce and business. In fact, for some, life is business. I suppose the continued existence of the Ayala Museum is a reminder  that Business is Not Life. Life is Art, Culture, and History. But beyond such philosophical musings, what would being contemporary mean for FHL?

Maybe contemporary means more space. More space for an ever growing library collection. More space not just to keep but also to showcase the library’s treasures (library as an exhibition space). Imagine the Diorama visitors finding themselves viewing a “diorama” of a contemporary library. So this is how a contemporary library looks like.

Maybe contemporary means color? I hope the Ayala people don’t get too minimalist and decide that a contemporary library deserves a huge white space of nothingness (white tables, white chairs, white walls, white ceilings).  Not to mention, white monitors, white tablets?

Any clues, Ayala?

Contemporary Researcher. 

The FHL in the Ayala Museum is dedicated to the contemporary researcher? I wonder if I belong to this contemporary researcher category. Maybe the FHL conducted a profile analysis of their members and visitors and concluded that their clients belong to the contemporary generation.

Maybe being a contemporary researcher means being “Globe”connected, wified, galaxied, appled, or digitized. As I researcher, I rely heavily on online research tools and digital resources of many libraries. Imagine accessing digital images of 19th century photographs in the FHL’s collection in all their 300 dpi resolution. Imagine doing a word search on a 400 page digital copy of an 18th century book found only in the collections of the FHL.  FHL still has a long way to go, a very long way to go, to being a contemporary library in this digital sense. Of course, this is not in any way a complaint. After all, FHL stands miles ahead of other local libraries in terms of their service and projects for digitizing their unique collection.  But I don’t see a digital FHL by March 2013.

So you see, I don’t really have a clue as to FHL’s definition of a contemporary researcher. As an independent researcher, I do know  one thing. Research is all about the “search.” If FHL can make it easier (and faster) to search for a word (or an image) in their whole collection (every book, every photograph, every journal, every manuscript, every map), then I don’t mind being associated with a library in a contemporary space for the contemporary researcher. If FHL achieves this vision, well, I will probably not even need to actually travel to Makati to visit the Ayala Museum. I can stay in the safety of my house (or wherever I choose to be) and use FHL’s online resources to fly to destinations of my choosing. In a funny way, in being truly contemporary (someday in the future), FHL will still have returned to her Nielson Tower roots – the place where flights of history and imagination through time take off.

Can’t wait to get my boarding pass…..

Additional Resource:

Filipinas Heritage Library (

Ayala Museum (

~ by Martin Gaerlan on November 8, 2012.

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