Urban planner, landscape architect, and University of the Philippines alumni Paulo Alcazaren refers to it as “the coolest place to be in the university.” And when he says cool, he means it literally. “The high ceilings and wide overhangs kept the interior temperature lower than the rest of the campus, so it was a great place to sleep...er, study,” he says.
As a BS Architecture student, Alcazaren’s favorite area was the periodicals section. “It’s where I get to read the latest design magazines from US and Europe,” he says. “It was also where I discovered Analog, the SF magazine (science fiction), where I read short stories by Isaac Asimov (“2001”) and Philip Dick (“Bladerunner”).”
Conservation architect and historian Dr. Gerard Lico completed all his degrees—from bachelor to PhD—in UP. And his major research projects were conducted—guess where?—in the Main Library. “Close nga kami ng mga librarian,” he shares. “Many of my archival research finds were serendipitously found at the basement of the UP Main Library, where the Filipiniana and microfilm sections were located. I remember the smell of old books intermingling with the acetic scent of the microfilm.”
As a student, Lico was often mesmerized by the library, the “monumentality and scale of [the structure’s] colonnade, arcade, and grand steps.” It was in this area where he loved to sit and contemplate.
The early years
The UP Diliman Main Library has been an integral part of the UP community’s life for over 70 years but its history goes farther back. The UP Library itself was founded a hundred years ago. It was first established inside the University of the Philippines in Manila in 1922. Even then it was already a big structure with a vast collection of books, says current University Librarian Elvira Lapuz. “It was the best library in Asia before the war,” she tells ANCX. Its very first librarian was a lady named Mary Polk (1922-1924) who was from Indiana, USA. Polk was followed by a Gabriel A. Bernardo (1924-1957).
But World War II happened and it completely ravaged the campus, library included. “Walang naiwan halos sa collection,” says Lapuz. When the P135 million war reparations were approved by the US Congress, part of the funding was used to build a new UP campus in Diliman, and one of the first few buildings constructed was the Gonzalez Hall.
Juan Nakpil, then future National Artist, worked on the design. Nakpil is famous for the Manila Jockey Club, Quiapo Church, and the UP campus’ Quezon Hall, more popularly known as the UP Administration Building. Pedro Siochi and Company started the library’s construction in 1949. It was finished in 1950 and named Gonzalez Hall in 1963, in honor of former UPD President Bienvenido Ma. Gonzalez, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Diliman campus.
More than just a repository for thousands of volumes of books, periodicals, thesis and dissertations, art and multimedia files, the UP Library was a favorite study area and hangout for generations of UP students. Many of their memories are anchored to the Gonzalez Hall.
“I was always on the first floor,” recalls Senator Kiko Pangilinan, another UP Diliman alumni. “During finals of law proper, I'd be there morning to night. Malamig, tahimik and ideal for power naps. Hehe.”
PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna, who took up Mass Communication in UP, says Gonzalez Hall provided a serene atmosphere for studying. Since there was no internet yet at that time, “securing the right book as reference was a coveted victory. The library was a go-to place for research so having a good relationship with the librarian paid off,” she says. “The smell or scent of paper permeated the library. The silence which enhanced concentration. The sight of fellow students studying hard. All these are entrenched in my memory bank.”
Lifestyle writer Devi De Veyra, who took up BS Clothing Technology in UP, loved visiting the library, though not necessarily for research. “I just wanted to soak in the ambience,” she says. “I go there to walk back in time, a feeling that you can’t replicate with new buildings.”
Allen Espino finished her BA English Major in Creative Writing in UP. Since she used to commute from faraway Las Piñas to the Diliman campus every day, it meant getting up by 3:30AM to make it to her 7AM class. Naturally, she’d be sleepy for most of the day so she would head over to the library during her free time, choose one of those single tables on the far end, read, and doze off. “The main library meant rest for me,” she says.
As for writer Nana Caragay, who completed her Broadcast Communication degree in the Diliman campus, the library was a favorite spot for group meetings, whenever there was a class presentation to prepare for. “The Arts and Sciences lobby/Palma Hall could sometimes get too crowded and chaotic,” she recalls. The Main Library was a good alternative because “it’s an unmissable landmark.”
The library has three floors and a basement. It occupies a total floor area of 12,803 sqm (including the lobby and stairs). As it marks its centennial anniversary this year, it finds itself in the thick of renovation work that began in 2019. The years have taken its toll on the integrity of the structure. The spaces needed to be adaptive with the changing needs of the studentry. Thus, in 2015, the University Library started preparing proposals for renovating, retrofitting, and refurbishing the Gonzalez Hall.
“Luma na talaga. It was in dire need of renovation,” says Lapuz. “Back in 2015, we were already thinking of having discussion rooms, learning commons, areas for collaborative learning and studying, pero wala na kaming lugar para doon.”
It was in 2018 when the actual presentation of plans was made. The pandemic delayed the schedules but the university librarian is happy to share the renovations will be completed within this year. As of their last meeting with the construction firm, the renovation is almost 80% done. “We’re looking at a 21st century library complete with all the services of a modern functional library,” Lapuz says, looking forward to the time when Gonzalez Hall can fully serve the UP studentry and faculty once more.
Even during the pandemic, Lapuz says the university library has managed to remain visible and relevant to the academic lives of students. “We may have been closed physically during the pandemic but our engagement via our online platforms continues,” she says. “We continue to serve our faculty, students, and the staff of the university by being present through various means including social media (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok).”
Meanwhile, to mark the UP Library’s centennial, the UP System has launched a fundraising program called “UPgrade” to help restore the Main Library’s narra hardwood chairs and tables. For a minimum donation of P10,000, the name(s) of the donor will be engraved on a brass plaque and placed on the restored narra hardwood chairs and tables. Donors will have access to the room-use books and references through a special library card and receive discounted rates for special events reservations.
With more advanced facilities, the UP Main Library could be expected to provide seamless and unhindered access to information. “As gateways to knowledge and learning, I believe that libraries shall continue to play a fundamental and crucial role in the academic life of students. We shall remain to be the neutral and safe space conducive to learning,” says Lapuz. “We shall continue to help shape new ideas, support different perspectives, and continue to be at the center of the creative and innovative academic community that is UP.”
Photos courtesy of Ms. Evira Lapuz