Thu, 25 May 2000

Grand plan for library a step ahead of times

JAKARTA (JP): After thinking deeply, Hernandono, the head of the National Library -- home to a lofty number of historical documents -- finally realized that his dream of developing the institution into a world-class library might be too ambitious.

According to him, his vision is heavily blocked by a lack of budget and professionalism of most of the 650 staff at the library, which houses some 1.2 million items in its collection, including some 10,000 old books, maps, calendars, invitation cards and a variety of precious old manuscripts of different cultures written in various media, such as tree barks, leaves and bamboo.

"I know that the present condition is far from perfect but I believe that people should always have high hopes in their lives," he told The Jakarta Post in an interview late last week.

Hernandono disclosed his ambitious plan to reporters during a news conference two days earlier, held in conjunction with the library's 20th anniversary on May 17.

All visitors, particularly regulars, must agree with him about the poor skills of most of the staff which, in return, lead to the improper treatment and system of handling the giant collection.

"It's far from ready to support my dream," Hernandono said.

The library has become the most popular place for students, researchers, professors and many other professionals seeking valuable references for their studies.

Hernandono said the small budget allocated for the library made it difficult for them to give optimal standard treatment to the old manuscripts.

This year, for example, the government allocated a maximum of Rp 700 million (US$84,340) for restoration work at the library.

"It's really inadequate for such work," he said.

The amount was taken from the total of Rp 20 billion allocated from the state budget to the library for the year.

"The first Rp 15 billion is used for operational affairs, and the remaining Rp 5 billion for salaries," he added.

The Rp 15 billion is used for, among other things, he added, the expensive maintenance of the library's seven-story main office and old two-story administrative office building, both located at the same compound on Jl. Salemba Raya in Central Jakarta.

Due to the shortage of funds, the library still has no rooms with a set temperature and humidity level required to properly maintain the collection, Hernandono explained.

The rare manuscripts, such as lontar (manuscripts on leaves) from South Sulawesi and the bamboo calendars from East Kalimantan, are simply kept in air-conditioned rooms, which have no instruments to regulate the temperature and humidity.

Consequently, many of the manuscripts are damaged.

Dutch restorer PM Poldervaart who visited the library last month, disclosed that about 75 percent of the old books and manuscripts in the library are in a bad condition.

According to the expert, the rare collection should be in rooms which have a constant temperature of 18 degrees Celsius and 50 percent humidity.

During a visit on Friday, The Jakarta Post learned that a room containing old manuscripts was 30 degrees Celsius and had 73 percent humidity.

An old map of Jakarta, dating back to the 17th century, was torn, while several old handwritten books were acidified, crumbling or had fallen apart, making it impossible to read the contents.

Worse still, most of the librarians, apparently, have no proper knowledge about how to handle such ancient manuscripts. They treat the valuable documents like ordinary books at their homes.

When photocopying, for example, they handled the books roughly.

"I don't close my eyes to the fact. I think only a quarter of our 650 employees are qualified, and I believe that it is the reflection of the attitude of civil servants nationwide," he said.

He added that most of the library's employees were like clerks with poor salaries and that they did not treat the collection properly.

None of the state heritage was insured, Hernandono said.

He said was also aware of the attitude of some of his staff, who lend books to outsiders for their own business interests.

"I can't change an attitude myself; it should be a nationwide movement.

"We stock check annually and always find that about 2 percent of our collection has gone missing (due to the illegal acts of his staff)," he said.

He said the collection of old books and manuscripts at the library was more complete compared to those found at any other national libraries in neighboring countries and in countries which historically had a link with Indonesia, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.

"Sometimes there are manuscripts relating to their countries which cannot be found there. That's why the library has the potential to be a world-class library," he said.

The library was established on May 17, 1980, as an integration of four big libraries in Jakarta, namely the National Museum's Library, the Library of History, Politics and Social Sciences, the Bibliography and Deposit Division, the Center for Library Development and the Jakarta Regional Library.

The library is under the Ministry of National Education. (ind)