Books You Cannot Borrow, National Library of Indonesia

On 21 November 2018 I visited our national library for the first time. The government spent a lot of money to build it. I registered for membership years ago, but I never verified it. You need to verify it in the library, but it’s located smack dab in the government district in Central Jakarta, where you have to brave traffic to go there. I also didn’t want to visit on a weekend knowing it’d be full of people. I finally went there on a Wednesday, 11am, and it was full of students. I don’t like crowds, but I’m happy people visit the library.

When you step into the lobby you’ll see this tower of old books they use for posture and decoration.

The staff directed us to the lockers as soon as we entered the building. We must put our bags in those lockers. In return, they gave us clear bags for our things. Maybe they think this way it’ll be easier for them to spot book thieves. Unfortunately, you cannot borrow any books in the national library. Despite having been operating for half a decade now, they say they’re still transitioning their system and transferring books from Salemba. We’re free to read on the spot though.

If you want to be a member, you have to register yourself online. In the registration area, they have provided rows and rows of computers for you to do it. Then you take a queue number. When they call your number, they’ll take your picture and print your library card. I already registered myself in 2014, so I only needed my picture taken. It was quick and relatively painless! The membership is applicable for ten years.

After that we went to the 21st floor for the public books. If my memory doesn’t fail me, they only have five elevators for 24 floors. For some reason, they also put the busiest part of the library on the 21st and 22nd floors, where all of the public books are. Now this part of going up and down the building is painful.

Since it’s a new building, everything is crisp white and clean. I didn’t smell any dust. Many shelves are even empty! It looks like they use the Dewey Decimal System, but the shelf signs don’t match the books stored in them. It was quite confusing.

Book Collection
Not wanting to miss anything, I walked from shelf to shelf, checking out the books they have. I was pleasantly surprised to find Tan Malaka’s Madilog in the philosophy section. It was next to a book on dream interpretation. On the shelf across, I found a Wiccan spellbook, displayed together with Deddy Corbuzier’s Mantra. I don’t know who procured the books, but I’m glad they’re there.

I made a note to remember any books related to criticism of G30S/PKI that I see, but I didn’t find any. Maybe it was there but not easily accessible? Who am I kidding.

And oh, about a fourth of the books on the 21st floor are related to Islam.

They do have a lot of popular Indonesian and Western fiction though. I hope they’re adding more, because they still have a lot of room. On a dedicated floor, they also have books from and about non-English speaking countries. Here there’s also a lot of room for more collection.

Some parts of the library are literally locked and chained. They do this for rare and old books. But you can ask the librarian for them. Needless to say, you have to be very careful in handling them. I’d also like to add that the smell on the rare books floor is heavenly. However, I have to admit I was afraid it was maybe fungi I breathed.

Don’t hesitate to bring your laptop! The library provides a lot of desks, chairs, couches, bean bags, reading nooks, and electronic sockets. I appreciate the real effort they’ve made in making the place students/visitors-friendly. The library is quite cozy. Restrooms are, I’m happy to report, big and clean. They have tissue and hand soap dispensers. Yay!

Obviously you can’t bring food and liquid into the reading area for fear of ruining the books. But there’s a spacious, clean, and cheap canteen on the fifth floor with the National Monument as a view. If you don’t have your own laptop, the multimedia floor has rows and rows of computers connected to the internet. I don’t remember I saw any, but I’m sure there’s a printer and copy machine on every floor.

Overall, the National Library feels like a state-owned gigantic coworking space. A free one as well! If you’re a member, you can even use the private discussion and reading rooms. The public area tends to get busy and crowded. Even though everyone’s trying their best to be quiet, there’s the inevitable noise of flipping papers, footsteps, and students sighing over their essays.

I was impressed with our library. Next time, I’m planning to visit the regional one.

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