Jakarta Butuh Revolusi Budaya!

Wanna get smart? Do it by the book

Posted on: August 9, 2008

This article was published by The Jakarta Post on July 17, 2008. Read the article on The Jakarta Post, here.

If you ask me what makes Americans so smart my answer is very simple: Because they read books. By that I mean lots of books.

In America it’s not an unusual view to see someone placing his or her left hand onto the holding bar and reading a thick novel with the right hand while standing in a subway car during the rush hour.

It seems that reading is something that is so much valued and appreciated.

Unlike Indonesians, Americans have a much better access to books. Finding books and reading them for free are not difficult at all. In Jakarta, I remember, I had to be clever to find ways to read books for free at bookstores. The challenge for me was tough, bookstores in Jakarta are probably intentionally designed to be uncomfortable as much as possible for so-called cheaters like me. They just wanted me to pick a book, buy it, and leave.

In America it’s a different story. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders, to my surprise at first, let their customers read their books as many and as long as possible. They even provide their customers with comfy chairs. No sealed books or magazines, you can grab any book you want and get a perfect spot to read it for free! If you have some money to spend you can buy their coffee and enjoy it with the book you’ve been dreaming to read, but let me remind you that buying the coffee is not obligatory.

Bookstores are not the only places to find books in America. For some Americans, public libraries are so much better than bookstores. And I have to salute American government for this matter. Americans are indeed so lucky to be blessed by the easy access of knowledge and information.

In the county where I live, there are twenty one public libraries that will happily serve their residents. Getting a membership card is so easy and it only takes a few minutes after you present your ID card. The facilities are amazing.

I can borrow up to fifty books and I can return them at any library in the same county. Yes fifty! I couldn’t believe myself when a librarian unearthed that fact for the very first time. I even felt I had to make sure one more time and asked, “You mean fifty books?” The nice librarian nodded and smiled.

I can check the availability of a book online and I can place a hold so that other people won’t take it. I can even choose in which location I want to pick up the book. And yes you’re right, it’s all free (some complain it’s not actually free since they pay taxes and of course they’re right to see it from that point of view).

A new public library in the county where I live opened in late 2006. It’s the biggest library in the area and it was built on a $26.3 Million fund. It has everything you want: 200,000 collections, 22 PCs on each floor, free Wi-Fi service, and more.

And that’s just one county. I believe other counties in America have almost the same quality when it comes to public libraries. No wonder Americans are smart.

Some of you may not like America. And although I’m still a big fan of pecel lele and nasi padang I think at least there’s one thing we can learn from this superpower country. And it is their ability to provide books and knowledge to their citizens.

In Jakarta, based on www.jakartalibrary.com, there are “actually” six public libraries. I don’t really know who to blame, whether the local government or Jakarta’s residents, but it seems to me that those libraries are completely unknown to the public. I myself feel ashamed to know that Jakarta has actually six public libraries while I’m in America.

I can’t tell much about the facilities that those libraries have, but six libraries are clearly not enough for a city as big as Jakarta.

I know it’s not the wisest thing in the world to compare America with Indonesia. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t apply some of the good things that advanced countries enjoy.

It’s something that everyone of us has to understand that making our children smart is the key to making Indonesia a competitive nation in this already-competitive world. Depending our future solely on natural resources won’t be enough, it’s our intellectual resources that will be the answer.

I do enjoy going to a public library or a bookstore in America. Although I have to admit that my first experience borrowing books from the library wasn’t entirely because I wanted to read all the books, but now I’m an addict.

And when I sit down in an air-conditioned library with my hands holding a nice book and admiring the facilities around me I sometimes think how in the world we can be better if one small library in America is ten times better than the library I used to go in my university in Jakarta.

It’s time for us to think about books and how we can provide them to our people. So next time you want to join a demonstration make sure whatever issue you and your friends are trying to protest don’t forget to bring a big banner that says, “Give us more books!”

Picture above is from here.

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