In two events last week at the national and parliamentary libraries, IFLA was able to meet with a wide range of people in the Indonesian library community, both talking about the need to advocate for our profession and institutions, and hearing about great local experiences.

IFLA’s advocacy work represents a key complement to our professional activities. It aims to ensure that, in addition to libraries everywhere delivering great services, those who take key decisions about us know this, and support us with the necessary laws and finance.

This isn’t always easy. Librarians are not necessarily trained to be advocates, and many are indeed in a position where they can feel that their freedom of movement is limited by the conditions of their employment.

This is no different in Indonesia to in many other countries. It was therefore welcome that, around the time of the Urban 20 Summit in Jakarta, IFLA was invited to two discussions in order to explore these issues further.

Working through IFLA to boost advocacy

A first session – a hybrid webinar at the National Library of Indonesia – looked at how working with IFLA can strengthen advocacy. Alongside IFLA, Dr Woro Titi Haryanti, CEO of the National Library of Indoniesa, Madiareni Sulaiman, librarian at the National Innovation and Research Council (and member of the Goethe Institut-IFLA Emerging International Voices programme) and Zulfikar Zen, Vice-President of the Indonesian Library Association spoke.

Dr Haryanti highlighted the strength of the Indonesian library field, and in particular the strong role, under law, of the National Library in promoting the development of the field as a whole. With the Library directly responsible to the President, who himself was a fan of our institutions and professions, this created exciting possibilities to seek support and action. Nonetheless, this ‘internal’ lobbying would benefit from even stronger ‘external’ lobbying, for example by associations, especially at the sub-national level.

Dr Zen echoed these points, noting that a current major challenge is to bring the large numbers of unaccredited libraries into the system, especially village and school libraries. Part of achieving this would come from bringing the profession together around a joint vision and code of ethics. At the heart of this would be a conception of librarians both as guardians of knowledge, and people with a mission and power to help everyone improve their lives.

Madiareni Sulaiman noted how librarians are at the cutting edge of implementing newer approaches such as open science, and helping Indonesia contribute effectively to global research and innovation efforts. She underlined how important it was for libraries to be at the heart of things – engaging with researchers and other users to understand their needs, and raising their profile as policy-implementers, a point well made by the IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto.

IFLA’s own intervention centred on the opportunities for, and benefits of, engaging with IFLA. This covered three main areas – our professional work, where librarians could join communities of practice and address shared challenges; our advocacy work focused on building alliances and support for libraries, and improving the policy and budget environment; and building sustainable capacity through resources such as data, but also training and regional work.

Libraries and politics

A second session was organised at the Library of the Indonesian Parliament, and addressed head-on the question of how librarians – many of whom are in public sector contracts – can seek to influence policy-making for the better.

Moderated by Ade Farida, Managing Director of Information Dissemination of the Association of Indonesian Library and Information Scholars (ISIPII), the event took place within the context of the P20 – or parliamentary track of the G20 – and brought together in particular Dr Fadli Zon, Chair of the Committee for Inter-parliamentary Cooperation, Dr Sumariyandono, in charge of the administration of the Parliament, and Wicha Chalid, Junior Librarian of the Indonesian House.

Dr Sumariyandono gave the first speech, underlining that the library was central to the operation of parliament, and indeed its history was very much that of the country as a whole. Now, it was central to plans to ensure a modern parliament, acting neutrally in order to support the effectiveness of the legislature.

Dr Zon talked of his ambition for the library, referring to his experience of the US Library of Congress, and associating greater libraries with stronger development. He highlighted the need for wider work to ensure greater accessibility to books, to improve literacy, and to support authors more effectively, and called on fellow members of parliament to build libraries in their constituencies.

Wicha Chalid explored the current and potential roles of the library, suggesting that more could be done to develop its work in gathering all relevant parliamentary outputs, as well as to support the promotion of parliament as a whole. He also looked forward to the library becoming a centre for research, as well as for co-working, and celebrated examples of direct support provided to members.

IFLA’s presentation started by underlining that neutrality itself wasn’t neutral – the work of libraries is based on the idea that everyone should have access to information, something that many would like to stop. A library that believes in the value of the service it offers should work to protect it. This could take place simply through providing great service and showing it, and identifying champions and allies, but also through mobilising associations effectively as an independent, civil-society voice.IFLA is grateful to colleagues across the Indonesian library field for organising these events, and looks forward to working further with them.