THE National Book Development Board (NBDB), a government agency concerned with the books read and published in this country, has come up with a novel idea — Book Nooks.

These are modest places in remote areas where the internet is minimal, where there are no bookstores or libraries but where there are people who should read. So, the NBDB has, with the cooperation of local government units, nonprofits, and cultural and tourism officials, set up mini libraries for anyone in the area to use. They can read in places where the Book Nooks are, which may be a corner of a school, a niche in a government agency building (tourism office or a government service agency), a public place like a market or plaza, or they can borrow books to take home.

So far, they have about 52 Book Nooks in the country, from Ifugao to Tawi-Tawi. Tawi-Tawi has about three in the province and Ifugao has two. Bontoc and Paracelis in the same area have them too. Other places are Tugaya in Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao, among others.

The setting up of Book Nooks is planned. The NBDB trains the people who will run them through compact courses in library science, business management and storytelling. This latter is a community-based activity that while intrinsically oral can eventually be recorded and become the written record of an originally oral narrative. Concentrating on the communities' oral traditions is very empowering for them because questions of identity and pride accompany it, which is the stuff of nation-building. So, storytelling is planned as part of every Book Nook activities, which should eventually lead to more books read as interest in narrative increases.

Book Nooks are meant to be user-friendly, inclusive and open to all. One need not be a teacher or a student or a professional, or be of a certain education or class; it is for all. It includes the farmer and his wife, street children, out-of-work people, employees and laborers as long as they are interested and show respect for books. The NBDB has an operations manual for each area which gives pointers on their characteristic institutions, environments and culture. The Book Nook personnel will be approachable and welcoming, teaching people not to be afraid of books, how to handle books (including how to safely flip the pages). Book Nook activities from storytelling to book handling and borrowing will be casually monitored and the community that participates in Book Nook activities will be encouraged to write about them in their own internet outlets like Facebook, etc. if available.

Book Nooks' books are from 1,000 to 1,500 titles, 70 percent of which are for children and 30 percent young adult or reference materials. Our legends, myths, history (all Ambeth Ocampo's books), cultural traditions and events are part of the subject matter. Graphic novels of local content will be a large proportion of the books. They eventually attract serious book readers. No foreign books needed as there is a lopsided 24 imported books for every one Philippine-published book as a matter of record, according to the NBDB.

Reading is not only entertaining and informative but induces critical thinking, a much needed trait that the majority of our population does not have in enough quantity or quality.

I interviewed Charisse Aquino-Tugade, executive director of the NBDB, to learn about Book Nooks. Both of us felt that the Philippines does have a decent publishing industry at this point with many universities, independent publishers and a good number of Filipinos writing and publishing. But our bookstores need orientation in the new circumstances. Philippine publications are not exotica and should be shown as regular publications in their large spectrum of offerings. Note how our large bookstores have a minimal "Filipiniana" section compared to the number of Philippine publications that are available. Note too that the term "Filipiniana" almost denotes exoticism rather than legitimate subject matter published by Philippine authors on Philippine subjects, ranging from history, culture, sociology, cuisine, clothing, environment, etc. Time to be more adult and knowledgeable about our publications, and give them the space their number needs and deserves.

The NBDB promises to keep adding and monitoring the Book Nooks around the country. It is an excellent use of taxpayers' money. If they encourage more readers, we will have more critical thinkers which this country sorely needs, particularly in the light of elections.