Sun, 07 Sep 2003

Rolling out the red carpet for a new library network

Ignatius Haryanto, Contributor, Jakarta

A search for a good public library in Jakarta will be in vain. Instead of cavernous libraries boasting huge collections and helpful service, we are left to make do with poorly funded, ill- maintained institutions with a sparse number of dog-eared books gathering dust on their shelves.

And while the rest of the world switched to computerized cataloging years ago, we still muddle on with a manual system.

Thankfully, help is at hand. Due to the initiative of several private libraries, people now have access to a library network, spanning the collections of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Freedom Institute, the Aksara Foundation and Utan Kayu Community Libraries.

Launched in mid-August, the network allows patrons at any of these libraries to source materials from the affiliated institutions.

"The network will be running effectively by the end of this year," said the deputy director of the Freedom Institute, Ahmad Sahal.

The libraries are currently setting up a one-stop method for searching the more than 38,000 titles in the combined collections.

Visitors to all the libraries also can get interlibrary loans, although most of the materials cannot be taken out of the institutions.

The idea for the network came from two Indonesian intellectuals, Goenawan Mohamad and Nono Anwar Makarim. Goenawan, former chief editor of Tempo weekly, has long wished for a good library system, to which end he joined forces with Nono, who established the Aksara Foundation.

The idea gradually became a reality after they discussed it with Freedom Institute executives.

The irony is that this idea to help the public came from the private sector, not the government, which often relies on the excuse of budgetary constraints in explaining the sorry state of public libraries.

The National Library on Jl. Salemba in Central Jakarta has books, but the collection is poorly maintained and not up-to- date, commensurate with its tiny government budget allocation.

Many university students and academics choose instead to search for current news clippings, new books and journals at CSIS on Jl. Tanah Abang III in Central Jakarta.

Since the founding of the Freedom Institute in 2001, this small organization has been working to build a serious private library, with 7,000 titles already in its collection. Businessman Abu Rizal Bakrie has been one of the biggest supporters of the institute, whose collection spans philosophy, political science, economics and literature. It also subscribes to major journals from around the world.

The Aksara Foundation's diverse collection includes works on corruption, Islam, the humanities and literature. Since the establishment of the foundation in 1999, its library has accrued more than 3,400 titles. The only problem for some is its out of the way location on Jl. Arco Raya in Cipete, South Jakarta.

The Utan Kayu Library is located in the Utan Kayu arts complex, which Goenawan built back in 1994 after Tempo magazine was shut down. But the library itself is quite new, and most of the collection comes from Goenawan, covering philosophy, cultural matters and some titles on the media and journalism.

CSIS' library, the oldest of the participating institutions in the network, was set up in 1971 as a think tank. Over 30 years, it has collected more than 25,000 titles and subscribes to more than 130 academic journals, both from local and foreign publishers.

CSIS is also well known for its excellent news clipping service.

Freedom Institute librarian Yanti Susanti said a library network was not new here, but the standard of the facilities on offer by the four institutions was unmatched.

At the Freedom library on Jl. Irian in Central Jakarta, for example, there is a reading room for 12 people, free Internet access on three computers and plans for it to be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Maximizing the functions of the library is part of the organization's plan to establish a nonformal school of social sciences.

"To have such long discussions, we need many, many books," Sahal explained. For instance, the institute recently hosted a discussion on the economist Friedrich Hayek, and next month will hold one on statesman and author Alexis de Tocqueville.

When the network is up and fully running, it will provide a valuable source of information for students and institutions, as well as foreign scholars seeking more information on the country.

While it is commendable that private groups have stepped in to fill this role, what about the government's role? Perhaps the real question is whether there is any government willing to deal with such matters. And that is the real pity.