Any Filipino who has historical data in mind can tell you that the current Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas on España Street in downtown Manila was founded in 1611 in Intramuros. It is the oldest existing university in the Philippines and it is older than Harvard, the oldest university in the United States, established in 1636.
But if we are to trust the current World University Rankings, Harvard is #1, while the UST website does not provide the actual ranking number, stating only that UST “has maintained its place on the tranche 801-1000 and remained the only Philippine university in the rankings that had the coveted 4-star QS rating…” Rankings aside, historians would have to break down doors to access the UST library and archives for its documents untapped, known only to its librarians and archivists and the few brave souls who struggle with traffic, pollution and time to do research there.
The UnionBank has fortunately funded the conservation of UST’s rare materials and has made its catalogs available in a series of impressive bound and printed volumes. Our condo concierge had a hernia just by lifting the box, sent over the weekend by UnionBank President Justo Ortiz, containing a six-volume catalog of rare books at the UST Library, two volumes of books, pamphlets, brochures and becerros [copy books of the privileges and belongings of churches and religious congregations] in the archives of the UST, as well as two richly printed exhibition catalogs of Lumina Pandit I and II, on the treasures of the library of the UST.
One can only hope that the financial support will continue and that the UST will reciprocate by allowing universal online access to its funds to facilitate research without being in the library.
My enjoyment of library catalogs and the hours and hours of enjoyment I spend browsing through bibliographies are considered odd, a perversion formed growing up in the age without the internet or the online public access catalog or the OPAC. Once upon a time there was the card catalog, which trained the mind to find books by author, title or subject. If you were in a small library, you had DDC or the Dewey Decimal Classification System, where the number before the period gave you a general subject and shelf location, and the numbers after the period referred to a more specific subject and at a specific location.
R52 was relevant to me because that’s where works on or by Rizal were filed. Many years ago, while browsing the DDC manual for Philippine documents generated by the National Library, I asked how a small piece of paper on the spine of the book could contain the 17 digits after the period! Larger libraries follow the LCC or Library of Congress classification system, which has developed since its beginnings in the late 19th century and uses letters rather than numbers to classify books and find suitable shelf space for them. .
Young scholars who have used the British Library in St. Pancras, London, find it strange when I say that I used the Great Reading Room when the library was still part of the British Museum – the same building where Rizal and Marx were reading. There were no OPACs back then, and catalog cards were stuck on heavy oversized albums, which provided my daily resistance exercise. The British Library and the New York Public Library then had requests for books placed in a glass vial and sent in a pneumatic tube to what I imagined to be a secret location inhabited by dwarves, who collected the books for readers .
The state of libraries and archives in my youth shaped my research instincts and taught me that patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. In each new library, my method was the same: pull out the map catalog drawer that contained maps of the Philippines, place them on a table, and go through each map, stopping only to note items I would come back to. later.
When I search on Google today, I’m not satisfied with the result at the top of the list; who might have been sponsored, so I scroll through all the results to the end before deciding, based on my instincts and prior knowledge, which is the best source.
The research tools have changed, but the critical faculty remains: you have to continually ask, doubt and weigh the evidence before assuming you’re right. The UST catalogs will provide sleepless nights, but the result will be knowledge of new research terrain.
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