Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Old and rare books in high demand at library expo

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The busiest stand so far at the 2003 Jakarta Library and Book Expo at the Jakarta Convention Center has proven to be one selling old and rare books.

"I have sold over 100 books today," the stand owner, Syamsuddin Efendi Siregar, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, three hours after the five-day expo was opened at 10 a.m.

Employees of the Jakarta Public Library even approached Syamsuddin to buy a Dutch-language book on foremen in Batavia in the 1670s.

The yellowish paperback, titled Dagh-Register gehouden int Castel Batavia, cost Rp 600,000 (about US$73).

Many other books in various languages can be found at Syamsuddin's stand, including an English version of Koran.

One visitor, Dudi, was looking for Indonesian fiction from the 1960s, such as Gundala Putra Petir, while architect Widiastomo was trying to find a book on traditional architecture.

"This is the place if you're looking for books no longer sold in stores or that never reached bookstores. You can even find banned books," Syamsuddin said.

The expo, which was held for the first time last year, is part of the festivities for the 476th anniversary of Jakarta. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day until Sunday, it features more than 70 book publishers and distributors.

The event, organized by the Jakarta Public Library, is costing Rp 2.5 billion to hold, with half of that being covered by the city administration.

"People have the right to criticize the high budget for the event, but we need it to establish a reading culture among Jakartans and to educate people about the function of the library," Rachman Hermawan, head of the Jakarta Public Library, told the Post.

The chairman of the expo's organizing committee, Abdullah, said the event also was aimed at measuring the reading habits and interests of Jakartans, to help the library find suitable reading and learning materials for them.

Hermawan said the library had been trying for years to bring residents closer to the library, including providing 15 mobile libraries to reach remote areas in the five mayoralties.

At least 10 additional mobile libraries will begin operating within the next two years, he added.

However, he said, a change of paradigm was also needed to bring more visitors to the library, which many people still perceive as dull and unfriendly.

"With fewer and fewer playgrounds and parks for students and other people to hang out, we are trying to create a library where everybody wants to go. Moreover, not everyone can afford to buy books, and at the library they can read for free," Hermawan said.