Davao Readers Haven

Posted on September 7, 2011 by


Written by Jesse Pizarro Boga
Images by Bam Baraguir of Mindanao Times

This article was first published in Our Mindanao

Technology offers us the opportunity to read books via electronic devices like Kindle and iPad, but we readers would still prefer reading something we can touch, smell, and even tear. Futuristic books are not yet quite ready to replace good old print books.

There is a book rental shop here in Davao City, Philippines that is a living testament to this. It has even outlasted similar businesses like video rental shops.

For only a minimal fee, one can sign up for a lifetime membership and borrow from their extensive collection of fiction paperback books with authors ranging from Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark to Stephen King and R.L. Stine, and even comic books like Archie!

But there’s more to just renting books in Davao Readers Haven; it’s a place of inspiration for constant learning through books.

Where it all began

Davao Readers Haven has been in the city for 20 years now. It started out from a book collection of about 1000 titles shared by bookworm sisters Wilhelmina and Marian Enrique. It opened December 18, 1990 and was located in Galaxy Arcade in Ilustre Street. When renting the place became quite a financial burden, they resorted to taking their library to their residence.

For three months, die-hard members and avid bookworms would still visit them there; those who didn’t know directions would call have their books delivered through meet-ups.

The sisters grew their collection by acquiring books from their contacts outside the city. When in Manila, the sisters would shop for books. When their relatives from abroad asked them what they wanted, they would say, “Simple lang naman ang kaligayahan namin: books. (We have simple joys in life: books.)”

The sisters also hunt for good finds in book sales and bazaars. When scouring for titles in piles and piles of books, they only have one rule, similar to when shoppping in ukay-ukay (bargain) stores: don’t squeal when you find something good (a book title or an author) because the saleslady might see the market potential of that item and increase its price.

Sometimes, they’d describe their book sale shopping as experience as “heartbreaking” because they find ridiculously cheap copies of the same book title which they had previously bought as brand new in fancy book stores at ten times the price.

Wilhelmina, or Wilma, as we like to call her, shared that every book that they have in the shop has a story that tells about their crazy book hunting adventures.

Today, the sisters have lost count of the number of books they have (some are even in their bodega/warehouse, stored in boxes).

Davao Readers Haven, presently located in the Madrazo fruit compound in the stretch of C. Bangoy Street, is still managed by the two sisters. Through word-of-mouth, the place gained a following and now counts over 2800 members, a combination of young students and adults. Some of them became members way back when they were still elementary students; now they are working professionals, and married.

“But only a few are active,” Wilma said.

Versus ebooks

Wilma said that although ebooks and readers are undeniable innovations in the book industry, they also see them as competition. She said that once, there was a girl who would borrow as much as 10 books per week! But now that she owns an ebook reader, she would “occasionally” just drop by; her trips to the book rental shop became less frequent.

But Wilma argues that bookworms these days still prefer to read something tangible and something they can hold and smell. Registered nurse Lyka Debil, who recently signed up for a membership in Davao Readers Haven agrees. “I still prefer reading something that I can hold. Reading an ebook in a computer is such a hassle! I can save more energy and access pages better in a print book,” she said.

“Print books in countries like the Philippines stand far from their extinction,” said Wilma. “Not everybody can afford ebook readers.”

According to Wikipedia, these devices only “attempt to mimic the experience of reading a print book.” While many of the bookworms today like to carry books in their bag through a Kindle or iPad, some just like to keep theirs in paper. Others maintain that they enjoy flipping the pages of a book as much as they enjoy reading it.

Wilma confessed that she and her sister have considered closing and selling the place (along with all the memberships) to an interested buyer. But she always reconsiders and thinks about the members.

“When they all signed up, we promised them a lifetime membership,” she said. “And for as long as all of them are alive, we will be here, and the books will still be here.”

Books: media like no other

One of the sad things that is happening around the world today is that there are a lot of people who do not read books anymore.

Wilma shared an example: once, she came across someone who, as if in a nirvana of realizations, jolted, “Isa ra man diay ang mata sa Cyclops noh? (Why, I didn’t know that a Cyclops only had one eye!)”

She said that exhibit A only shows that not a lot of people read these days. Wilma believes that a reader can learn a lot from books because even if, say, they are reading fiction, many details in a book are based on facts (setting, clothing, time, place, date, etc.)

Books enhance one’s understanding of the world, and at the same time, widens one’s vocabulary. Books spark social and academic discussions. Marian said that there is no substitute for books. “Movies don’t translate books very well. Sometimes, they miss tiny but significant details.”

Although it is undeniable that the ebook industry has flourished across the globe, some paperback nooks are being kept alive by people who still believe that there is no other medium like print.