Article about Indonesian reading gardens in IFLA newsletter

January 18, 2009, [MD]

The article below was written for the IFLA Section of Libraries for Children and Young Adults Newsletter, December 2008 (just published), edited by Singaporean librarian Ivan Chew, whose blog I have been reading for a long time, and whom I was lucky enough to meet in Singapore in 2007, while getting a new visa for my stay in Indonesia. You can download the newsletter (pdf) which also has nice photos (see page 11-13), or read below. You can also download the thesiswhich this article was based on in English or Indonesian from E-LIS.

The literacy movement in Indonesia - access to books, creativity and love of learning Introduction

After several hours in the back of tiny buses, and about half an hour on the back of a motorcycle, my friend and I arrived at the small village of Arjasari. We followed our host Agus Munawar among the houses, and to our goal: the reading garden. Around fifty small boys and girls were sitting scattered on the floor of a pendopo (kind of open balcony), reading in deep concentration. Some sat by themselves, engrossed in a text, others were in pairs or small groups, with one child reading aloud for the others. When they had finished their books, they went into the small adjacent covered room, and chose another book from the racks.

This was Sunday - reading day - and they had started the day by doing physical exercise together. After we arrived, different children took the microphone and read confidently aloud from their chosen material. Hours away from the nearest public library, or even the nearest book store, this local citizen's initiative was helping children acquire a love of reading and learning, which would probably help them not only do much better in school, but also grow up as better informed and more active citizens.

As unlikely as the scene in the little remote village might seem, it is far from an isolated example. After the fall of Suharto in 1998, and the end of the Orde Baru (new order) regime, which strictly limited freedom of speech and associations, a growing movement of taman bacaan (an Indonesian term which means reading garden, pronounced taman batsha'an) has appeared, which tries to provide access to information, and above all foster a love of reading and knowledge among the younger generations.

Background Dauzan Farook was one of the pioneers of the modern literacy movements in Indonesia. When he retired, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to spreading knowledge and reading to the citizens of Yogyakarta.

He spent his pension of roughly 50\$ per month, and all the savings he had left, on building up a library of books and magazines. He then walked around for hours each day, approaching people and asking if they wanted to borrow his material. He would lend children's books to children, and books on economics to business men. When he passed away in 2007, he was 83 years old and had amassed more than 10,000 books and 4,000 magazines in his apartment. He helped inspire a movement, and many activists today still talk about the legacy that he left behind.

The fall of Suharto But the big change began in 1998, when Suharto's regime fell. This unleashed the pent-up energy of all kinds of organizations that had been repressed and had their activities limited during the Orde Baru; youth, social and even religious organizations. In addition to their newfound freedom, they were met by a society still slowly recovering from the devastating financial crisis that had begun in 1996, and had caused many children to drop out of school for failure to pay the school fees, and some even became street children. There was thus a strong drive from many different kinds of communities to come together and provide social services, and it is also not strange that one important focus of these social services would be to provide education and access to information.

The new grassroots literacy movement that centered on reading gardens probably began in Bandung, an educational hub a few hours west of Jakarta. Early known for its many sub-cultures, an ecosystem of "do-it-yourself" (DIY) philosophy had developed around the punk-rock scene, with small shops selling fan products that were home-produced, posters and t-shirts, and the gradual development of hundreds of independent clothing retailers that sold fashion through local independent shops. It was in this fertile environment of initiative and spirit of nyeleneh - kumaha aing (uniqueness and DIY) that students and artists came together with activists to form the first komunitas literer (literary communities), based around alternative bookstores as activity hubs.

Networks Different kinds of networks played a key role in spreading the idea, and helping people start reading gardens all over Indonesia. In Bandung and Yogyakarta there were forums where owners of community libraries could meet and share experiences. Rumah Dunia, a reading garden started by the well-known author Gola Gong from the proceeds of his book royalties became known as a "best-case" reading garden, with many visitors who came to learn about its intensive programming of literacy activities, amateur theatre, and training in writing and critical journalism. Perhaps most important was the 1001 Books network which provided both a forum for sharing experience, but more importantly, access to sharing of resources.

The 1001 Books network collects and distributes children's books to more than a hundred different reading gardens. Internet is an important enabler, as it makes possible the coordination and recruitment of hundreds of volunteers. Through their mailing list, reading garden operators are also connected and can exchange experiences. They pick up donations at people's homes, collect books in residential areas and public places like malls, and have a network of book-drop boxes in strategic places, like supermarkets, to make it easy and convenient to contribute.

Current status There are roughly three “reading garden” models operating in Indonesia today. The government founded thousands of village reading gardens in the 1990’s, which mostly fell into disarray, and has recently again began to provide one-time seed money for around 2000 reading gardens. Most of this seems to go to book depositories connected with schools and government institutions. There are a number of Indonesian companies that have sponsored reading gardens, as part of Corporate Social Responsability, for examples Ria Pulp which sponsored over hundred readings gardens in the island of Riau. However, what is perhaps most interesting is the reading gardens set up by individuals and local community organizations, which number several hundred in Jakarta alone. A common theme for these is their strong focus on becoming more than a gudang buku (place to store books), and there are often activities scheduled the entire week, emphasizing reading, writing, drawing, acting, and journalism.


Stian Håklev January 18, 2009 Toronto, Canada
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