Monday, 2 June 2014

A Call to Arms: Jakarta Book Cooperative Project

By Mirza Adrian NP
(5 April 2014)

Cicero once said that if you have a garden and library, you have everything. In that case, I feel that Jakarta is an impoverished city since this city has neither garden nor library, only offices and malls.

For those of you who have been in Jakarta, you can easily see that the daily routine of this city revolve around getting our way through the traffic from home to work and back every day. For most people, waking up as early as five o'clock in the morning means preparing themselves to face up to three hours of traffic to get to work then work for nine hours before facing the traffic again for another three hours. During the traffic, most people are alone in their car cursing other people around them, while at the same time being cursed by other people around them. The same thing happens on their way home and after they arrive at home, people are all spent and tired. They go to bed to reset the cycle and the next day the whole thing start all over again. This routine leaves no time for meaningful socialization where people actually share feelings and ideas to other people.

Also, the lacks of public space that exist in Jakarta confine people from meeting with different type of people from another group of society or class. For most people in Jakarta, the only public space available to meet up with other people is the mall which is abundant in this city. However, as a public space, the mall is isolated from the outside world. Within the mall, the middle class can spend their time to socialize undisturbed by the poorer part of the society. This stark division and social confinement leads to a narrow point of view that is laden with bias and prejudice which breeds social distrust within our society. By perpetuating our current way of life we are wasting our social capital and create a very unliveable city.

However, I believe that this can be changed. And I would like to change all that by creating a public library. But I am not planning to build an ordinary library. I am planning to make a communal library in the heart of Jakarta in the form of cooperative so people across our society can be involved with the creation of this library. Thus, this library will be a library that is created from the people, by the people, and for the people of Jakarta. I hope that by making a communal library we can increase the amount of meaningful interaction between people to share feelings and ideas with other people from different background, class, and ethnics. I feel that through the increase interaction we can increase the social capital of our society and make Jakarta a more liveable city.


How does Jakarta Book Coop works?

Like all library, Jakarta Book Coop is based on the leasing of books or multimedia. However, unlike other library, the procurement of the books will be done by the community, not by one institution. The main idea is that the member of the coop can put their books in the library while other member can lease the books from the library. To lease a book, members have to pay a certain sum of money and this money will be shared with the member who owns the book. That way, members will receive financial profit from books that otherwise lay dormant in their shelf. The money that is given to the library will be used for operational purpose and also acquiring new books or multimedia for public use.

The membership of the cooperative will be divided into two different categories according to their books contribution: ordinary members and contributors. Ordinary members are the people who wish to join without sharing their books. They can still borrow from the library by renting the books that other member share. The only requirement for someone to become a member of the library is to complete the administration process. Other type of the membership is the contributors. They are the members that share their book in the library and will be entitled to the share of rent for each of their books.

The length of lease for each book is divided into four different categories: (1) Books that can only be read in the library; (2) Books that can be leased for 1 week by contributors only; (3) Books that can be leased for 1 week by both contributors and ordinary members; (4) Books that can be leased for 2 weeks by both contributors and ordinary members. The length of lease for each book is decided by the contributors who share the book. If a book is lost or damaged because of other members, the contributor will receive compensation according to the agreement between the owner of the book and the member who incur loss or damage.

But a library is not just a place for leasing of books, it is a community centre. In the words of Robert Putnam, “People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.” Other than leasing of books, to be a truly community centre, a library must also hold events and activities that appreciate the creative energy that emanates from the community itself. Musical events, storytelling, experience sharing, book discussions, poetry reading, or any other events that will expose the usually invisible people to the surface will enable the rest of the community to get a more holistic view of the community. That way, the community will be able to reflect on itself by allowing people to see other people that they don’t normally see.

Using the above mechanism, I hope that this library will truly be built from the community – since the members are all a member of the same community; by the community – since it is built upon contributions of members; and for the community – since the library and its activities will increase the social capital of the community.


Why will Jakarta Book Coop work?

The act of leasing is an act that requires a lot of trust in our possessive society. When we lease something, we cannot know the condition of our possession. We can only trust the person who lends our stuff to take good care of our possessions. Sometimes, trust is also hindered by bias and prejudice that can only be removed by reality check. Thus, by enabling people to lease their books this library will provide a chance for a reality check to remove bias and prejudice within the community. The trust that is build up will make it easier for people to interact more with each other. Through this, the community becomes more cohesive and thus increases the social capital within the community.

A library will also help to evenly distribute the spread information and knowledge within the community. In Jakarta, good books (especially imported books) are a luxury item that may cost more than a quarter of the official minimum wage. Thus, the spread of information and knowledge is limited to the middle class because the lower class dismisses books as either too expensive or not important. By sharing books across community, all of the member of the community will be able to acquire equal knowledge and enable lifelong learning. This will eventually promote civil discourse that becomes a prerequisite of a democratic society. Thus, a community library needs to be built in order to provide the community with community centre that nurtures trust within the society, and fosters community resilience, self-reliance and a culture of sharing

What is needed to create Jakarta Book Coop and what is it to be done?

The first thing that is needed to create any enterprise (profit or non-profit) is a business plan to ensure the sustainability of the enterprise. After that, start-up capital needs to be acquired to pay for rent, buy furniture, and operational costs of the first few months. For operational purposes, Jakarta Book Coop will need librarians and other staff to run the library and also an Integrated Library System to manage the collection. We will also need a book security system in the library to prevent lifting and ensure contributors’ trust to put their books in the library.

Therefore the first thing that is needs to be done is to seek people who would like to help with the planning and execution until the operation of the library. From these volunteers I am hoping that we can make a viable business plan for this enterprise as well as marketing plan to ensure the involvement of wide array of people. Then I am planning to acquire initial capital through crowd-funding such as Kickstarter. I also hope that from the initial volunteers I can get initial books to share so the library will not be open with empty selves.

That is all I can think of as a starter for this project since I have no experience in making a library nor I ever learn library management. In fact, I am hoping that you could help me with by giving me some feedback regarding my plan. I also have the feeling that after you read all the writing above, you will doubt this project to work, dismissing this as a utopian project. I understand your doubt for I also have the same doubt. But I also understand that to create changes, we have to demand the impossible and create a whole new possibility. I intended this writing as a call to arms for those of you who like to create changes that improve the well-being of others. I would like to ask for your help. So if you feel that what you just read have a slight possibility to succeed, please contact me on and let’s change this city for the better.

Thank you.

PS: Currently, because of life that needs to be taken care of, I'm in no condition to follow up this plan. However, I would really like to hear your feedback or advice regarding this library plan. So please contact me if you have anything to say about this. Thanks very much for reading.


  1. good idea, mirza. Interesting project and I would like to contribute for the concept and (perhaps, I cannot promise) technical stuffs. The incentive for the book contribution will be crucial, and will determine the quality of the book contributed. How about the location?

  2. Still looking. Anyway this project is still on hold because I haven't been able to create a team to execute it. If you want to help, how about we start from creating an execution team? 😀😀