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The Growth of Alternative Libraries in a Post-Repressive Government : The Case of Indonesia’s Post-1998 Era Public Librarianship



Indonesia came under an authority cum repressive ruler during the President Soeharto administration, which lasted for 32 years from 1967 to 1998. . During his presidency, all matters are regulated by central government including the library matters. During that time, all library matters are handled by the National Library of Indonesia (NLI)  since 1980 and before by the Center for Library development. During that period no private or non-government organization-sponsored-public-libraries was allowed, all were conducted by the NLI it province branches. After President Soeharto descended in 1998, replaced by what the people called era of reformation (previously was called New Order) the private and non-government-organizations-sponsored-alternative -libraries sprouted in Indonesia. The new community libraries, called alternative libraries (Prijanto 2007) own its own characteristics as follows; (1) wholly established by individuals or NGOs without any central or local government supports; (2) tend not to use the term perpustakaan  or library in Bahasa Indonesia, instead they use other terms such Taman Bacaan or literally reading garden, Taman Bacaan Umum  or public reading garden or Taman Pustaka or Book Garden or even names such as Pojok Baca or reading corner[sic]; (3) the alternative libraries have no formal  connection with the government-established public libraries, even  there  are rivalries among them; (4) the rise of libraries as  initiated by public figures such as the wife of ministers and even the First Lady. The current First Lady Madam Ani Yudhoyono established alternative libraries but not using the term perpustakaan or libraries, instead  using other names such mobil pintar (smart mobile libraries) because the newly established libraries are equipped with computers and other multimedia facilities., The alternative libraries tend to ignore the existence of information technology in public libraries albeit not the latest models.(5)  the rate of mortalities are high in terms of any of those private established libraries soon to disappear because of various reasons such as no financial support, the new book titles are running out, the initiator got new jobs because he or she established the libraries based on his or her personal collections including the textbooks he or she used while studying at the college, the death of the initiator and his or he descendants are reluctant to continue the project, not in power again  as the case of perpustakaan pintar which supported by the profit of state-owned-enterprise. When the minister did not in power, then his wife could not  support again the library operation; (5) personal effort to educate the environments. (6) no collaboration or connection or library co-operation with the existing public libraries, even  one was impressed by the rivalry among them. For example, in many regencies, a new alternative  library was established next to existing public library! (6) no standard in operating the community-based-libraries on cataloguing, classification and loan policies. (8) No library identification numbers as suggested or required by the National Library of Indonesia policy. The phenomena is still incessant. It is suggested that the public libraries initiated to work and communicate closely, with  the  alternative libraries as both have the same common objectives i.e. to serve the public with reading and information materials for the sake of mankind. All the above mentioned characteristic coloured the phenomena of a post-repressive-government on library matters.

Keyword : Alternative libraries, Public libraries, Indonesia, History


Indonesia proclaimed her independence in 1945, followed by armed struggle againts the Netherlands government from 1945 – 1949. Although busy with her war against the Dutch Army, the government which moved its central organization from Jakarta to Yogyakarta in Central Java still has time to established a provincial library called Perpustakaan  Negara in Yogyakarta. This state library is the seed of various provincial libraries set up letter.

In early 1950s the Indonesian government then established Taman Pustaka Rakjat or reading garden. Those Taman Pustaka Rakyat little by little ceased to operate owing to the decreasing economic condition and rising political chaos. By the mid 1960s none of the former Taman Pustaka Rakjat to operate. It twas continued again in 1992 with the name Taman Bacaan Masyarakat (Community Reading Garden as shown by  Sitepu (2007). After Presiden Soekarno administration, then came in President Soeharto, known in history books as the New Order administration.

The New Order administration began to develop  public libraries in mid 1970s with  full support from National Library of Indonesia and its provincial branches. For more than thirty years the central government governed the country through strong centralization policy with firm if not dictatorial  power. When  president Soeharto was ousted in 1998   owing to to the increasing petroleum price and student demonstration, then Indonesia entered new era called era of reformation. This paper will focus on the library development post- Soeharto-era, marked by the decentralization policy, greater freedom to express, and increasing foreign aids for the non-government organisations (NGOs) with its impact to public librarianship, then emerged alternative libraries, which mean the libraries that do not belong to the government or local authority and are funded  by private organisations or individual (Priyanto 2006).

Rise of  alternative libraries

During President Soeharto administration, he launched a strong centralized policy in all matters including the library affairs. In every province there are Perpustakaan Negara Provinci X, which functioned as the library centre for the province. The name latter changed into Perpustakaan Nasional Province X or National Library in the province X. By mid 1990s there are 33 National Library branches, established in every province and its director is responsible to the Director of the National Library, not to the province government. The Province Libraries supervised the town/municipal public libraries, trained the staffs and even distributing funds and books for the public libraries.

This situation changed when President Soeharto was ousted by the people and the period aftermath was called Reformation Era. The post-downfall-of-former-president- Soeharto marked by  greater freedom to express, greater mobility of Non-Government Organisations (hereafter called NGOs)  to serve the community and greater flow of foreign private aids. With such conditions, many NGOs and even instantly-established-NGO proposed to philanthropists and  donors with the objective to serve  better the community especially in the field of library activities. Being trauma of  strong public supervision during the New Order, the new libraries set-up by private and NGSs  are reluctant to use the term perpustakaan , instead they are using other terms and being an alternative to the existing government-funded public libraries, the newly emerging libraries tend to called them perpustakaan alternative or alternative libraries.

On the other hand, the position of the Province Libraries changed drastically when the Regional Autonomy Act as established in 2000.Based on the act, the National Library of Indonesia transferred all of its books, buildings, personel to the province government. From 1998 since the downfall of the New Order until present times, the rise of on-government funded (public) libraries in increasing for various reasons as will be discussed later. Those alternative libraries consist  of the following types: Libraries operated by privates and/or family, by NGOs, by semi-public funds and those financed by the government outside the public library system.

Ad 1. Libraries operated by privates and/or family

In this case, a person of family established a library for the surrounding community. These type serves their   community mainly from the owners’ private collection and or contributions from the donors, depends on the personal’ s relationship with the others.

 For those with academic background, they donated their collection to special libraries or set up something like a private library for public. The library of Prof Doddy Tisnaamidjaja in Bandung, West Java served the public with its strong collection on physics and science as the late Prof Tisnamidjaja was an outstanding Indonesian scholar. The woman writer NH Dini also established an open library for the children in Semarang, Central Java.(Sulistyo, 2008) as did with Baswedan Library in Yogyakarta, a central figure in the freedom movement in early 1900s.

Ad 2. Libraries operated by NGOs

These type is the largest and dominant of the non-government-community libraries established after 1998. Some examples :

  1. 1001buku, perhaps the most active NGO in library community development, operated in many provinces, conducted training for library operators, published a manual and launch donation campaign for the library. Its manual how to open a children reading garden is widely used (Rahayu, 2003).
  2. Pustaka Kelana, a-German-sponsored library services, operating mobile library around Jakarta, currently ceased to operate  because there was no more financial support  from the sponsor!
  3. Rumah Dunia, a non-profit organization founded among others by Gola Gong,  a poet, novelist, television reporter (Rampan, 2000) with his wife Tias Tantaka in his 1000 square meter house in Serang about 120 kilometres southwest of Jakarta, providing library service, story telling, acting etc. Its site is
  4. Yayasan Nurani Dunia based in Jakarta, chaired by Prof Imam Prasojo, a sociology professor from the University of Indonesia.
  5. Yayasan Taman Bacaan Indonesia, established during the administration of President Megawati, chaired by the wife of the State Minister for State Enterprise, enjoyed large donation from the state enterprises. Even the President Megawati officiated the opening of rumah Baca  or Reading house (Kompas, 2004).
  6. Unaccounted NGOs which provide library service to the community. It can told as unaccounted because their libraries are not registered at the National Library of Indonesia. This pre-1998 regulation stated that every libraries must get a basic library number (nomor pokok perpustakaan)  as a part of the requirement to get support, guidance and direction from the National Library of Indonesia. In fact, it is applicable only to school and public libraries including the libraries operated by the NGOs.

Ad. 3. Libraries operated by semi-public funds

This type supported indirectly  by public funds. The first example is Taman Bacaan (ReadingGarden) established by the wife of the Minister for State Enterprises during President Megawati administration (2001-2004). It ceased to operate or operates under minimum capacities as the funds get drained.

The same pattern also happened with the current administration. The wives of the present cabinet with the chairwomen the First lady i.e. Madame Ani Yudhoyono launched the “Smart Car” programme in 2004. The programme was expanded into “smart motorcycles”, “smart ship”. Although the management refused to be called as mobile libraries,  basically the “smart car, smart ship,  smart motor cycles” are actually a vehicle equipped not only with books, but also supplemented with computer, and or television sets. In July 2008, the head of the Indonesian National Committee for UNESCO praised the “smart car” programmes as a tool to motivate rural community to read and eager to proceed to learn and could eradicate the illiterates (Suara Pembaharuan, 2008).

Such praises prompted many librarians to complain that such movement has been conducted by many public libraries without getting enough attention from the public officials (ics_group) and also  questioned the continuation of such project after the initiator no more in power. Being winning his  second term, Madame Ani Yudhono are expanding the smart libraries, currently the total is [CARI DATA]. In an interview regarding the First Lady’s probability to be a  candidate of the next president, a pro-government public figure told the television interviewer that the First lady has established perpustakaan pintar to educate the people as mandated by the Constitution. Latter on the First lady refused to be nominated as the next president candidate. So the establishment of an alternative libraries is political  move in order to be recognised by the public.; however such movement is not quite new because the building of the current National Library of Indonesia was built by a foundation called Yayasan harapan Kita chaired  (late)Madam Tien Soeharo  the wife of President Soeharto who ruked Indonesia from 1967 to 1998 (Sulistyo,2008).

Libraries established by corporation   as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Either national or multinational corporations launch ed various programme to donate books, establishing taman bacaan, mobile libraries and other activities to promote reading habit (Kompas, 23 Oktober 2004).  They are among others are Citibank, Herosupermarket, Bank Niaga, RCTI television broadcasting, state oil company Pertamina, Sampoerna Foundation, various banks etc.

 The examples are : (i) The State Oil Trading Company Pertamina opened various reading garden and library and handled its operation to NGOs.  (ii) Coca Cola founded a foundation whose mission to support the libraries usually the school and community ones. It also published a manual for establishing a community library and two other manuals (iii) Sampoerna Foundation, directly related to cigarette industries established  Taman Belajar Masyarakat (Community Learning Garden) in Surabaya (East java) and currently in Riau (Sumatera). Its existence was discussed and criticised owing to its relation to cigarette manufactures (Tini (2008), Pendit (2008); (iii) University of Indonesia signed the memorandum of banks’CSR to the universities however only nine  banks by 2012 fulfilled their promises The cooperations between the University of Indonesia with those commercial banks covered the following forms:

  1. Opening branch offices and banking services in the campus
  2. Procurement of Automated Teller Machine (ATM) Services
  3. Tuition fee payment services
  4. Employee recruitment programs on banking sectors
  5. Community development program
  6. Scholarship for outstanding students
  7. Research grants for university members
  8. Professional Banking Development Program to enhancing the student learning(Irawati & Rachman, 2012),

Ad. 4. The library financed by the government outside the public library system

One of these types are  Taman Bacaan Masyarakat ( Community Reading Garden) operated by the Directorate General of Non-formal and Informal Education, the Department of  National Education. These library is a continuation of the extinct Taman Pustaka Rakyat developed by the same directorate from  1960s era. Its objects are providing reading material for new literates to help them keep and improve their literacy and avoid relapse (Indonesia. Direktorat Jenderal pendidikan Nonformal dan Informal, 2007).

The government especially focused on starting Taman Bacaan Masyarakat in villages where illiteracy was almost acute. In one occasion Directorate General of Non-formal and Informal Education, Prof. Ace Suryadi told the reporters that the Taman Bacaan Masyarakat will be developed into book kiosk so that the users don’t need to buy form book shops which is not always available in regencies, mayoralties or municipalities. The programme to further Taman Bacaan Masyarakat to be a book kiosk was criticised by a retired librarian, Mrs Somadikarta who wrote that the Taman Bacaan Masyarakat should be developed into a complete public library instead of a book kiosk (Somadikarta, 2008). She also cited that the occasion of 15,000 Taman Pustaka Rakjat developed in 1950s  (Dunningham, 1954) were extinct by the mid 1960s should not happened again.

Reasons to establish an alternative  library

With the  emerging of   alternative libraries after 1998 or early 20002 a question emerges why the phenomena happened? The answers are as follows:

  1. Life style. For some celebrities the establishment of libraries opened for community is a show that this their life style, in another words, reading is part of their daily  life. As reading is not yet a part of daily Indonesian life or called the  low habit of reading, with supporting  or sponsoring or pen their collection for the community, the celebrities (either artists, poet, rich people) want that their community should imitate their life style, at least in reading. An analogue of this phenomena  is the growing café cum reading facility albeit limited in many cities. For example in Greater Jakarta the are are some café cum books such as Bloc FISIP UI, Zoe Café Depok,[CARI CAFE BACA] Hybrid Ciputat, QB Kemang (now defunct), Aksara Kemang, MP Book Point, La Biblio Perpustakaan Departemen Pendidikan Nasional (Department of National Education) ( Arda, 2008, February 3) Even in a talk show conducted in July 2007 involving the Director of NLI with some book shop managers, concluded that library plus café will be a trend in the future (Suara Pembaharuan, 27 July 2007). It was said that  one of the reasons  is that the library is too formal, no noisy was allowed let alone drink and eating and no other activities (Priyanto, 2006). This facility is offered by bookstores which provide small café, there is no partition separating “the reading room” and “the dining room” (Burhanudin, Jakarta Post, June 26, 2008). However such facilities could not afforded by majority Indonesian who spend less than Rp50,000 or about US $5.50 per month. (Sulistyo, 2008).
  2. Unemployed. Interviews conducted in Yogyakarta last year (Lasa HS,2011)showed that those who have graduated from universities but still unemployed, collected their books from their student days  era, and open a community library [sic]. When they got a job, the library is closed and the collection was donated to other community or most often to mosque libraries. The phenomena of the unemployed and killing the time with work in library also happened in Greater Jakarta when the local government opened  Perpustakaan kelurahan or village libraries at big cities. Those unemployed manned the library which is always situated at the head office building and left it when they got a job! Latter on the Greater Jakarta government closed the Perpustakaan kelurahan  with the results the  people are served mainly by the municipal libraries and that is not enough.
  3. Idealism. Perhaps this is the dominant reason why a person, family or NGOs opened the community libraries. Although many NGOs has not enough budget to open a library,   the era post-1998 marked the affluent contribution from donors, especially from abroad. Interviews showed that the donor is not stingy with a proposal for opening a library for the community and hence the flows of financial assistance. Although this is a-not- quite- difficult-task to  do, it has another negative aspect in the form of too much reliance to the donor. It was known that some alternative libraries were closed when their donor’s financial  assistance were drained.
  4. Part of social corporate responsibilities (CSR). Corporations are required to donate part of their profit to the community, known as corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR program is a strategy that has been developed in order to gain economical, environment, and social balance of the  business activities Based on CSR, many corporations supported the library, some with fanfare. The donation can be direct to the recipient or indirect through foundation  A study by Irawati & Rachman (2012) showed that the CSR are that libraries  could utilize the facilities and services by banks’CSR program.However there is a controversy regarding the Sampoerna’s CSR in library program and establishin Sampoerna Corner, a small library devoted to entrepreneurship, located at the corner of various university libraries. IThe controversion erupted as  Sampoerna is one of the giant  cigarette producers in Indonesia (Sampoerna, 2010).
  5. The desire to be free from the bureaucracy. For long time, the NLI and its Provincial Branches supervised, directed and financially support the libraries. Such duty is called pembinaan in Bahasa Indonesia, a term which could not be found in English word. As it covers the meaning of supporting, supervising, giving assistance in terms of financial, books, and sometime even buildings. In order avoid dependence to bureaucracy which is linked the  repressive government in 1980s and 1990s, people attempted to avoid the bureaucracy bysy establishing their own idealized libraries. Generally, the policy of pembinaan  does not  quite worked well with the academic and special libraries as they are generally better staffed and  managed and sometimes  financially independent,  hence they are more independent than say school and public libraries. Even some outstanding libraries and  documentation centres challenged the pembinaan policy, instead they said that they should membina (verb) or guide the National Library!

Observing the growth of  alternative libraries, there are some notions as follows.

  1. Most of the alternative libraries tend  to avoid to use the term perpustakaan which in English called library; instead  they prefer another terms but still based on the word pustaka which mean books in Bahasa Indonesia (Kamus Besar, 2001). So the terms  they used were taman pustaka or book garden, taman bacaan or reading gardens or rumah baca i.e. reading houses. If the alternative library managers used the  term perpustakaan, then they tend  to add additional word such as perpustakaan dunia or world library, perpustakaan Islami or Islamic libraries etc. They reasoned that the word perpustakaan or library connoted with dirty books, dark room, formal, all notion of a bad libraries. So its is understood why an Indonesian whose book Laskar pelangi (becoming a film showed on October 2008)  frankly stated that he didn’t like the school libraries because of his childhood experience with  neglected library in the island Belitong, off South Sumatra.
  2. Lack of co-ordination and operates independently out of public library system. Almost all alternative libraries  operates without bothering to consult or coordinate with the existing public library system. As post-1998-Indonesia marked by “feast of democracy” after the absolute  power of President Soeharto for more than 30 years, the NGOs felt free to operate independently without consulting the public library authorities. The results are overlapping of services, an independent library operates not far from the public library. In Bima,  Province of East Nusa Tenggara, a “smart library” was established behind the public library! Such  action also showed the egoism of the independent library but also the inability of public libraries to serve the communities. The egoism is showed by rumah bacaan (reading house) which is equipped with computers, a  rare facilities for public libraries, to operate and even built its new building next to an existing public library building. This phenomena  is common in many cities and municipalities, hence it is quite common to find a public library building within its compound another Taman bacaan. On the other hand, such situation also showed the public library in-competency  o serve the public, because out of 497 municipalities in Indonesia, 190 has no public library at all, even those existed, not all are in good conditions (Perpustakaan Nasional, 2011).
  3. Too  depend  on charity or  foreign or public donation. It is a common view that many foundation, alternative libraries even the mosque libraries launched campaign to collect books from the public. Sometimes the library operators hunting to book sales or begged  the publisher to donate their books [sic]. Had this programme succeeded, then the books they got are not always suited  the readers’ need. There is  a joke among the library operators  that when they asked the new students to donate books to the university library,  instead of donating books to their respective university libraries, the new students donated their books to the community libraries. As a result the community library got almost two thousand copies of the same title! This situation still happens in 201 even to private universities (Kohar, 2012). With no regular budget, it is not surprising  that alternative libraries ceased to operate owing to lack of funds. Notice that some library  Websites from 2005 are not visible in 2008. For example, Jakarta-based-Pustaka-Kelana-operated- mobile-library-service ceased to operate in mid 2008s because the donor from German ceased to contribute.  On the other hands, the  government-operated-Taman Bacaan Masyarakat (community reading garden) are not utilized because of lack of promotion and limited available reading materials (Kompas, 29th April 2008).
  4. Lack of trained manpower. Almost all community libraries have no formal librarianship training, they are volunteers who  operate the library based on enthusiasm and idealism. Some foundations conducted a very short course on library management [sic] for the volunteers; in fact the course lasted no more than 5 hours. Many professional librarians are surprised   by that very-short-training course!
  5. Although the above mentioned point showed some deficiencies commonly found among community libraries, there are some  bright success. One of them is the community libraries succeeded in reaching the grass root, not served by the existing public libraries. One foundation served the still- wandering -people, the   others served  the refugee children, street children in big cities.
  6. Some other activities not always found in public libraries but can be found in alternative libraries such as teaching  the children to draw, story telling, writing for early age, even visiting the zoo for community children. With that  creative activities, it is not surprising that many children are more attracted to community libraries than public library owing to its activities.
  7. The idealism to serve the public. A retired actress operated alternative libraries in the shopping centre called TBM@Mall or Taman Bacaan Masyarakat di Mall (Community Reading Garden) (TBMaMall, 2012; Saufni Chalid, 2011).

Present condition

 By early 2008s Taman Bacaan Masyarakat were almost collapsed with less than 500 Taman Bacaan Masyarakat left from the 7,000 that had been operating at the height of the programme. This collapse mainly attributed to  the lack of support from provincial and local governments which after 2000 thanks to Regional Autonomy Act have more autonomy in governing its home affairs. As can be predicted those local governments were reluctant to support the Taman Bacaan Masyarakat which they considered heavy for their budget.  Another possibility is that the government’s Taman Bacaan Masyarakat  program were never designed for sustainability, and that the collections were only books about Pancasila (the state ideology) and government doctrine which made the Taman Bacaan Masyarakat uninteresting to the local community, and unlikely to receive support from them (Haklev, 2007).

 The Sustainability

Various alternative libraries depends on donation and support from volunteers who are willing to spend  their energies, time, efforts to serve the communities. Also the political-related-foundations such Mobil pintar, Rumah baca are depend on political and financial support from the state enterprises, government agencies, parliamentary members etc. Once their power diminished, the financial support will cease unless their libraries are taken over by the government.

 The fates of  Yayasan Taman Bacaan set up by the wife of the Minister of State Enterprise  during the administration of President Megawati (2001-2004) showed the phenomena. It  ceased to operate because the state-owned-enterprises no longerchanelled their annual profit to the foundation. The  Mobil Pintar activities, established and  headed by the current First Lady Madam Ani Yudhoyono aretill operating thanks to two term presidencies  of her husband, the current President Susila Bambang Yudhoyono.

 With such condition then it is necessary to work closely with the public library authorities in order to sustain the service and spread its wisely. The case of Taman Bacaan Masyarakat is an example. When the director general of non-formal education was detained by the Corruption Eradication Committee, then the future  fate of Taman Bacaan Masyarakat are in uncertainty as it depends on the initiator’s efforts and once the initiator lost its power,  so does its baby projects.

The phenomena of individuals,  families, corporation, NGOs etc in establishing various alternative libraries is not an instant phenomena, it will and still  take place in the future. There are always idealist persons or NGOs to educate the community, hence the development of community libraries set up by individuals, families or NGOs will take place in the future. This trend indirectly can overcome the rising price of books which is not on the priority list of the average Indonesian owing to limited income as cheap books are still a dream (Astuti, 2008), hence the libraries are still badly needed by the communities. In that case, individuals, families, NGOs still play the dominant role in serving the communities through the community libraries, whatever its name. Once again better communication with public library authority so the library service is effective. And still the co-ordination is needed.

Such notion also applicable to various alternative libraries established by individuals, families and NGOs. If the stakeholders do not work closely, avoiding the parochialism attitude, then the communities will be served better. The word co-ordination in Indonesian context is very hard to implement in the library activities.

The future

With the phenomena of  various organisation, individual, corporation are still willing to developed alternative  libraries are good points although  another information industry sector is actively reaching the communities (read television broadcasting) then it is necessary to developed reading culture (as mentioned by various ministers) so that the communities libraries built by various stakeholders are not in vain. To attain that goals it is necessary to work together among community or whatever its name with the government-funded Indonesian  public libraries.


The repressive government treatment  including to library and information field exploded when the government changed , from the old one to the new one such as in Indonesia. The changes  was expressed in various alternative  libraries apart from the government funded public libraries. In so doing, the NGO-operated-alternative  libraries or whatever their name could reach the grass roots, executed various library-related-activities, some of which are not available at the existing public libraries. Although the NGO-and-individual-operated-alternative  libraries gained some success  in their  operations,  they tend to neglect the public library authority for various reasons. What needed for the future is a better coordination among alternative  and public libraries in order to serve better the community, disregarding the differences.


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(Is anybody know about book cafes’address?)

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