MANILA, June 2, 2005
 (STAR) By Ann Corvera - National hero Jose Rizal wouldn’t have imagined that the small piece of paper he concealed in a lamp to bid the Filipinos his last farewell would one day make it to a thing called the Internet. And it is not the reproduced kind, but the real thing.

Somewhere in the vaults of the National Library Mi Ultimo Adios and other rare Filipiniana lie safe from the hands of collectors out to make a quick buck – a lot of it. Thrice occupied by foreigners and torn by wars, the Philippines has lost its abundant national treasures – from early written books to manuscripts to historic government documents. To feel and smell history at your fingertips is a priceless but rare moment. As an alternative, the keepers of such wealth have come up with a portal accessible to everyone – from scholars to the common man – as the country strives to keep in step with the future while literally holding on to our cultural heritage.

And so, the Philippines’ first public electronic library invaded computer screens last year, showcasing a growing collection of the most exclusive and up-to-date information about us and other related sources.

Called "eLib," the project holds a collection of more than 800,000 bibliographic records, 25 million pages of Philippine materials, 29,000 full-text journals and 15,000 theses and dissertations. All these can be accessed at www.elib.gov.ph.

"This is a project not only for scholars or students. It is a project that is citizen-centric. It goes down to the most rural areas of the country. Farmers, housewives, fisherfolk and out-of-school youth will benefit from our access points in different parts of the country," Nanie Cruz, director of the National Library, told NetWorks in a recent interview, a couple of days after the eLib project turned a year old.

From fun facts to downright serious materials, eLib uses Kodak’s Sunrise 2000 technology to convert text and other materials stored in microfilm into digitized format, with partner MicroData Inc. overseeing the administrative side. The materials undergo quality assessment and are loaded into DVD before they are uploaded onto the website.

The process is relatively simple and fast, says National Library systems administrator Leonardo Bernabe Jr.

Most of the materials at the National Library are in microfilm being a safe and cost-effective way of storing documents. Along with four other participating government agencies — University of the Philippines (UP), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) – eLib ensures quality access to the union catalogue of the five partners, digitized Filipiniana materials, including theses and dissertations, special collections and researches, and online resources and subscription to electronic databases.

According to Cruz, each agency has a set of digitization equipment such as a book scanner, film scanner and computers.

At the database center of the National Library located on the ground floor, Cruz says they have four to five file servers, while four are in UP.

The "mirror site of the database center" is in the UP main library, she adds.

ELib’s "access points" are scattered all over the country – from as far up north as Baguio City to Sultan Kudarat down south – through public libraries and the satellite offices of the four other participating agencies.

"Now we have something to show about Philippine culture and heritage, scientific findings, products and everything. They are all here in one portal," Cruz says.

The Philippine eLib is a collaborative project and funded by the national government through the e-government fund. It was conceptualized in 2003 through the efforts of DOST Undersecretary Fortunato de la Peña, and was launched last year.

Since then, eLib has digitized millions of pages of original manuscripts of national heroes and national artists, presidential papers, and theses and dissertations, especially on the social sciences, humanities, science and technology, and agriculture.

On the eLib website, an image of a farmer sits with a laptop – a symbol of not only how the World Wide Web has invaded rural areas, but how eLib aims to cater to ordinary folk seeking ways to improve their produce, specifically in the agricultural sector which countless Filipinos depend on for livelihood.

Sustaining The Project

Cruz says the fees charged for downloading materials are kept at a minimum. Checking out bibliographical records, she says, is for free.

"We are thinking of partnering with the International Rice Research Institute as content builder. We include publications that have ceased to be published like the Magsasakang Pinoy to help our farmers because this project is citizen-centric. It goes to the most rural areas of the country," she says.

And riding on the prepaid card trend, eLib will launch this June a prepaid card system for individual subscribers to be made available in P100, P300, P500 and P1,000 denominations.

Not just farmers or fishermen will strongly benefit from this, Cruz says, but also students and researchers who want access to theses and dissertations. But, of course, not in their entirety since there are copyright infringements to be wary of, she adds.

The eLib project has a massive data center, subscribing to 11 online databases with full-text journals that include the IEE Computer Science Library, Britannica Online, Association of Computing Machinery Digital Library, Project Euclid of the Cornell University, and American Institute of Physics/ American Physical Society.

Bernabe says the mass database storage where digitized images are kept "consists of about 15 terabytes" and runs 24 hours daily with a back-up battery and generator.

"We use the Oracle platform for our system, but the operating system is Redhat Linux. We bought licenses for four servers. We are running on two applications and two database servers," he says.

Anybody who’s got an interest in any given topic can access eLib, even corporate subscribers.

According to Cruz, a minimum rental fee of about P100 is charged per user, or a subscription rate of P500 monthly.

At the National Library public kiosk, 36 Dell computers will be ready for use this June when the school year starts. At least 50 other computers will be distributed to 21 public libraries carefully selected by the National Library after meeting the requirements, such as manpower capability and location.

"In total, we have acquired more than 400 computers because we are setting up public kiosks all over the country like in the zonal research centers of CHED and the regional offices of the DOST and DA. We have distributed these computers to these agencies," Cruz says.

"We have also allocated computers for Congress and the Office of the President so it’s easier for them to do research outside of their own resources," she says.

A total of 135 computers went to UP for its satellite libraries, she adds.

The Department of Budget and Management initially allocated P166.77 million for the eLib project in 2004. The project, Cruz admits, is costly as its coverage expands and technologies are maintained.

For the digitization process alone, Cruz says it cost some P47 million, while subscriptions to online databases have reached P16 million. "By the end of December last year, we returned to the national government more than P2 million in excess," she says.

"We are trying our luck if we will be funded for the second year. With the GAA (General Appropriations Act of 2005) already signed, we hope to get something because there are still many things to be digitized such as rare pictures and rare maps. We may go up to more than 30 million pages," Cruz says.

Bernabe says they have spent P30 million for eLib’s rack servers alone.

The eLib project has reached other developed provinces like Pangasinan, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bohol and Cebu. On the other hand, it has yet to reach poor rural areas like the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where Internet service providers are scarce or non-existent.

Apart from financial requirements that may cause problems to eLib, Cruz cites other stumbling blocks in its expansion like "uncooperative" local government units that, she says, do not support maintenance of the needed hardware.

This is where the power of the collaborative effort comes into play. When a participating agency has no access point in a particular province, the other agencies step in so eLib could reach more and more people in the rural areas.

It was this collaboration in the first place that made eLib jump out of the drawing board and become a reality, Cruz says.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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