Friday, June 22, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, June 23, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta

During a World Book Day celebration on March 3, 2006, the head of the National Education Library (Perpustakaan Pendidikan Nasional), Wien Muldian, invited Fuad Hassan to speak at a discussion on literacy development in the country.

The discussion was held in the library, located within the Education Ministry's compound.

The visit stunned and angered high officials at the ministry. They thought that Wien, who started working at the library on Jan. 1, 2005, did not properly inform them that the former education minister would be visiting.

"I wrote a letter informing my superiors, but it appears the letter did not reach them, maybe because there are so many letters in the bureaucracy," said Wien during a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.

Thanks to Wien's innovative ideas, the library, which has some 7,000 members, is often crowded with visitors. The facility does not only provide books, but also Internet and audio-visual services. A pleasant coffee shop also graces a corner.

The library is strikingly decorated with colorful signs and walls, provoking in visitors feelings of relaxation and comfort.

Various activities are regularly conducted in the fully air-conditioned library, including documentary film screenings, children's origami workshops and book discussions.

Wien said he was determined to optimize the library, which was established in November 2004, in serving the people. Many public libraries in Indonesia, he said, had turned into mere warehouses for dusty and worn-out books.

"Public libraries should serve public interests, and school libraries should serve students' interests," he stressed.

Wien said Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo had agreed to expand the library area "so that in future, this entire main building would comprise the minister's office and the library".

Last year, Wien helped small local publishers to sell their books by inviting them to hold an exhibition called the 50 Percent Book Event: Exhibition of Cheap Books, where the books on display were sold at 50 percent of their catalog price.

The stalls had such a cheap lease that the publishers could afford a discount of up to 60 percent. Around 3,000 people visited the event every day for nine consecutive days; thousands of books were sold.

Since its opening, hundreds of literacy and literary events have been conducted in the National Education Library. Wien also targets national days such as Education Day and Awakening Day to hold book bazaars or exhibitions.

The library has likewise launched a special corner for the blind.

"And we have U.S.-made software that enables the blind to read all the printed books here," Wien said.

Born May 3, 1972, in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, Wien grew up in a family of book lovers.

He attended Muhammadiyah elementary school, where he spent much of his time reading books in its small library. When he attended junior high school in Cirebon, West Java, he regularly visited a public library in the city.

During his time at SMA 16 high school in West Jakarta, Wien invited renowned writer Hilman Hariwijaya to speak about his creative process in writing Lupus, a novel that was very popular among young readers at the time.

After his father died, Wien had to burn the candle at both ends to finance his studies and buy books. So he started moonlighting as a conductor on a M-16 Meruya-Tanah Abang mikrolet (public minivan), which would also take him to the University of Indonesia (UI), where he was a student.

Wien majored in Library Science at UI, only to find the classes too technical and boring.

His innovative approach toward literacy was evident even then, as he invited Pasar Senen book sellers to sell their books at the university -- "so I could get books for free".

As editor-in-chief of Suara Mahasiswa (Students' voice) bulletin, Wien regularly invited famous writers to a discussion at the university. He also led the university's student press and was involved in the student publication Harian Aksi Bergerak! (Active action daily) during and after the 1998 reformasi movement.

His 1996 visit to Japan, a country with a high literacy rate, further strengthened Wien's desire to push for literacy development in Indonesia.

He later traveled throughout the archipelago to hunt for books, collecting more than 12,000 books for his private library.

"I am particularly interested in social and human issues," Wien said of his collection.

Wien established the Forum Indonesia Membaca (Indonesia Reading Forum) in October 2001 and in just two years, it had successfully distributed more than 800,000 books nationally. With 70 volunteers, the forum helped set up around 100 taman bacaan ("reading gardens", or small libraries) around the country.

He said he was skeptical about the common perception that Indonesians had little enthusiasm for reading: "The problem, I think, is more about limited access to reading materials."

Wien said the government should help encourage the opening up of small bookstores around the country.

"The government can help facilitate incentives or soft loans for people to open bookstores."

The establishment of community-based libraries that involved the support of local publishers is also important, he said.

"And a library is not only about books," Wien stressed, "but also a cultural center where literary events are held and where readers can meet writers."

For information on activities conducted by Forum Indonesia Membaca for World Book Day 2007 at the National Education Library, visit

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