If there’s ever a personal library we’d like to crash, it’s Ambeth Ocampo’s. We’ve always imagined the noted public historian and Rizal scholar to have neatly filled up shelves, a charmingly cluttered desk, some of the rarest Filipiniana titles, and anything and everything Jose Rizal has penned.
Lo and behold, that very space, in real life, is not far from what our heads conjured.
Ocampo recently did a library reveal—or is it a library flex?—for the National Book Development Board, indulging his fans with a rare glimpse at what we’d like to guess as his most favorite space. He does have rare Filipiniana, and by “rare” he means anything published before 1950. And he does have all of Rizal’s writings—25 volumes of it, in fact, including letters and journal entries. He owns a facsimile of the “Noli Me Tangere,” as well as a copy of the handwritten “El Filibusterismo” which he bought for a measly P50. There’s even a reproduction of the novelist’s high school notebook. “Dito lang I can write forever [na] on Jose Rizal,” he says on the video, referring to his wealth of material on the nation’s hero.
What else does Ocampo’s treasure trove contain? Well, a section of a hefty, pretty vast shelf—which some people mistake for a stock Zoom backdrop—is dedicated to books on the Philippine revolution; another section is exclusively stacked with titles on Magellan; and yet another section contains a collection of dictionaries, which includes the oldest Tagalog dictionary from 1913.
From what we can see in the video, Ocampo also owns a Nick Joaquin bust, a sculpture of a female figure likely by the artist Jullie Lluch, and ephemera from National Artists: painting brushes of Arturo Luz and Vicente Manansala, and pens from F. Sionil Jose and Virgilio Almario.
There are many more books that the author of “Rizal Without The Overcoat” and the “Looking Back” series bought and collected over the years—some of them are in the Kyoto University Center for Southeast Asian Studies; there are 10,000 volumes in Holy Angel University in Angeles; and some are in his cubicle at the Ateneo de Manila University. But Ocampo says the books in this home library are the most important to him. He needs them to be readily accessible when he’s working.
Ocampo, who grew up in a household that encouraged reading, says he agreed to show his library to the public not only to be able to share a bit more of himself to his audience but also as a way to inspire people to put up their own libraries. Of course, after seeing this historian’s shelves and what they contain one might say, “How can I amass even half of that collection?” But Ocampo has comforting words for the beginner. “You are looking at at least 50 years of accumulation,” he says. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a first book.”