Dec 01, 2023 Last Updated 8:29 PM, Nov 27, 2023

The kampung bookshelf

Published: Jul 02, 2000

An innovative idea to stimulate reading in the urban village

Bambang Rustanto and Lea Jellinek

A mobile library stands alone, forlorn beside kampungs without any people coming to it. The librarian leans against the door, tired waiting for people to come. The dust collects on the books. It is not that people do not know the library is full of books. It is because they do not want to read.

Children grow up with stories based on the history of the place where they live, their ancestors, their religion and funny and dangerous characters. The stories their grandparents and parents tell describe an exciting journey through life - the ups and downs, the difficulties, the traumas they will have to face, and how to behave in polite society. It is a rural tradition based on most Indonesians' recent peasant origins. The wayang is part of this tradition. This should be the basis on which a reading culture is built.

Indonesian children learn reading in a back-to-front way. First they are taught to read and only later to listen, see and experience. They do not get beyond phase one because the reading does not ring true. At school, creativity is not allowed. Children must follow the teacher. Answers are brief and by the book. Composition is not part of any Indonesian child's curriculum.

The problem starts at home. With TV and radio, parents are losing their oral tradition. Those quiet moments in the morning and evenings or during the mid-afternoon siesta when people laze about and talk have been lost. Children are being told fewer stories.

Schooling exhausts them. They grow up disliking learning. If the books a ten-year old carries are piled on top of each other, they are taller than the child. Yet hardly anything in those books remains in the child's mind because they are so full of shallow pieces of information. Even teachers find it hard to remember what is in them.

Warung baca

Our non-government organisation Kesuma has a kampung bookshelf system (Warung Baca) in Jakarta. Each community of 150 people (RT - rukun tetangga) will borrow about sixty books per month. One person can read three to five books or magazines a month. The sixty books/ magazines consist of approximately twenty children's books and stories, ten educational books, ten magazines, newspapers and children's magazines, and twenty books for teenagers and adults. A simple list records the name of each borrower, the date of borrowing and the return date when the book is due.

Children and adults serve themselves from the community bookshelf without being surrounded by too many rules. They take the books home and read in their own time, their own way and the more relaxed environment of home.

Bookshelf minders are all women. The community decides how these organiser(s) should be reimbursed and where the money will come from. Other payments may be used to buy new books, repair the bookshelf, help pay for the collection and distribution of books, or repair damaged books. Based on the Kesuma experience in Kemanggisan, Jakarta, the community is able to raise just Rp 3000 - 5000 per month. A contribution from the community creates responsibility and a sense of ownership. Since starting the program in October 1999, not one book has been damaged or lost in the seven bookshelves.

Food and drink sales have expanded around the Kesuma kampung bookshelves as people drink and eat while they read. Children talk with one another about their learning difficulties.

Once a month, the bookshelf organiser places all the books and magazines in a cardboard box and carts them to a neighbouring bookshelf, so the books are rotated between the seven bookshelves. A mobile library in a truck is unnecessary! The bookshelves are within five minutes walking distance of people's homes.

The kampung bookshelf is for everybody - the young, the old, the middle-aged and teenagers. It satisfies people's varied needs. As the old and the young read together they encourage each other. The influence runs both ways.

Lea Jellinek ( and Bambang Rustanto are freelance development consultants in Jakarta. Kesuma needs money to buy books and magazines. Anybody interested in supporting its work should contact Lea.

Inside Indonesia 63: Jul - Sep 2000

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A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

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