March 22, 2019

Thousands of Indonesians have opened their own libraries


Promoting reading in Indonesia has long been a struggle—so citizens have taken it upon themselves to make books accessible to children.

Indonesia is vast, with “17,000 islands and a geography that almost spans the distance from London to Tehrah,” writes Sian Cain for The Guardian. Instituting change across such an enormous swath of territory is no easy task and, despite government efforts to promote reading by requiring daily reading time in schools,  Cain reports that “for every 100 students, just one quarter leave school meeting minimum standards of literacy and numeracy.”

The notion that Indonesians simply don’t want to read has been shot down by civilians and experts alike, who say it’s simply an issue of not having access to books. In a report by Lukman Solihin of the Research and Development Agency of Indonesian Education and Culture Ministry, he notes that only 30 percent of Indonesia’s 77,095 villages even have libraries—and many of them are poorly stocked.

In response, thousands of citizens—many of whom had to drop out of school at a young age themselves—have opened their own libraries. In West Sulawesi, a journalist combined two of his passions, books and boats, and created a sailing library. Miniature mobile libraries are carted around on the backs of vegetable carts, rickshaws, and motorcycles.

Cain spoke to Kiswanti, a 52-year-old woman, who got her start hand delivering books and is now fulfilling her dream of running a library in Parung, Java. “Reading transports me and introduces me to new worlds—I want to give children that.”

It’s inspiring to see (or rather, to read about), but it seems hardly sustainable without government assistance. The self-made librarians are almost entirely dependent on donations, and the hard work of singlehandedly maintaining these libraries has to be a heavy burden. Ideally a day will come when the weight isn’t borne by individuals, but in the interim, while the government is (hopefully?) working to make books accessible, they’re doing a marvelous job and setting an example for the rest of the world.



Amelia Stymacks is the former director of digital marketing at Melville House.