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The Competitiveness of Our Librarians and IT Professionals
by Tereso S. Tullao, Jr.
Date: 8/27/2002

The news that the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is up for a review must have created a ripple of apprehension in various industries in the services sector. Within the last three months I have been invited to various forums on how we should position our country in the next round of negotiation specifically on our commitments under the GATS. Last 16 August I was with the Philippine Librarians Association Inc. (PLAI), and to my pleasant surprise the discussions focused on preparing the competitiveness of Filipino information specialists and away from he usual protectionist stance of some of our professional organizations based on their perceived competitive threat of foreign-service providers.

There are several reasons why Filipino librarians should not be threatened by foreign competition. The Philippines is not exactly the most attractive employment site for foreign librarians even if we liberalize this sector. The practice of library science is very limited and made possible primarily through the movement of persons. There are only about 3,800 licensed professional librarians all over the country although there are some 40,000 individuals serving as librarians in various institutions. Moreover, the supply mode of movement of persons to provide a service is protected by a constitutional mandate “that the practice of a profession is exclusively for Filipinos.” Specifically, the Labor Code restricts the hiring of foreign workers through the labor market test. Employment of foreign workers is only possible if there are no available Filipinos who are able and willing to do the service. Lastly, service providers coming in under the supply mode of commercial presence, and not under movement of persons, can pose a real threat to Filipino service providers as in the case of the entry of David Salon in the hairdressing and beauty parlor industry.

Although library science program is not as popular as nursing and other health care programs, the potential employment of its graduates outside the country is very promising. A number of Filipino librarians are working in North America, England, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries where English is used in information management. The training in library science in this country is patterned after academic programs in several American universities. Since English has become the language of information and international communication, the exposure, knowledge and use of the English is a significant asset of Filipino librarians in global competition. There are two main setbacks, however, in library science education in the country: undergraduate orientation and the limited use of information technology. Since a librarian’s work requires professional maturity, most academic programs in the US are graduate level programs. With the explosion and accessibility of knowledge as a consequence of rapid developments in information and communications technology, library science has been transformed into information management beyond the traditional libraries and extends to the cyber space.

The worry of the leadership of the PLAI with liberalization is the possible brain drain of our limited number of qualified professional librarians. As mentioned earlier less than 10 percent of our librarians are licensed information specialists. A global liberalized regime in this profession may push the more qualified Filipino professional librarians to seek greener pastures abroad. The ones who will be left behind may be less qualified to perform the process of sourcing, processing, storing, retrieving, cataloguing, and collection management of information in a more demanding technological setting.

If we cannot prevent the egress of Filipino librarians, we should transform our library science education into world-class academic programs as a means of preparing Filipino librarians for global employment. Aside from improving our academic programs, local librarians should work towards mutual recognition agreements with other countries so that education and other related experience earned in this country be recognized and find appropriate equivalency with the professional requirements in other countries. Beyond the licensure requirement under RA 6999, the PLAI can initiate programs that will grant additional levels of accreditation, certification and titles for licensed librarians and information specialists. Given the prestige of PLAI these titles granted by the association can create a significant market value to those being accredited. The market value can be further enhanced In the global market if the association can get an international body that can recognize these titles. In addition to graduate education and other formal training, the breadth and depth of professional experience and the use of information and communications technology should be the pillars of a globally competitive Filipino librarian.

Source: Tullao, Tereso S. Jr. Manila Bulletin (Aug. 26, 2002), p. B-7.

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