Library Tour: Freedom Institute Public Library

Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, is not known for its libraries. Compared to New York (the NY Public Library) or Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress), the city that is about as populated as the Big Apple has no well-known library. Of course, there is the national central library. Yet instead, this post will take you to a smaller library only about a kilometer behind that huge library.

Tucked behind trees, and located just across the very place where Indonesia’s independence was proclaimed on August 17, 1945, Freedom Institute Public Library is a tiny oasis in the middle of this bustling metropolis. Tough enough to find a good library, Freedom Institute couples its collection of books with a nice place to write, to find inspiration, or even to (at least try to) find a little quite time in the midst of the noisy Big Durian.Freedom InstituteIf no one points the library to you, you won’t know that there is this library, even if you pass the very street where it locates everyday. Hidden behind tall set of hedges and trees, with only “Wisma Proklamasi 41” written on its outer walls, you must walk past through its gates to find a building with Perpustakaan Umum (Public Library) written on it. This is the Freedom Institute Public Library, and as its name indicates, it is open for public.

The library is a part of an eponymous non-governmental organization specializing on democracy, politics, human rights, and economy, currently led by Rizal Mallarangeng, of a family of renown politicians.

A walk through Freedom Institute Public Library's hallway. © Matthew Hanzel 2015.
A walk through Freedom Institute Public Library’s hallway. © Matthew Hanzel 2015.

Upon entering the compound, you will get a strange sense of green and tranquility, entirely unique to a city like Jakarta. Almost absent of Jakarta’s constant pollution, you will encounter a modernist building with rigid, dark grey-colored walls and peering through-and-through glasses. Walking through its outer hallway, you will also see some benches in the middle of a small garden, and a large swing.

When you enter the library proper, you will be asked if you are a member or not, and you will be asked also to deposit your belongings. Membership is mandatory for all visitors, and it is totally free. Some things are allowed inside, e.g. your computers (laptop/tablet), mobile phone, books, and stationery.

Inside, you will find some workstations, and a number of long desks for co-workers or to share with other patrons. Books can be taken from the shelves, and returned only to a special trolleys (to allow the librarians to return them to the right places).

Perpustakaan Umum Freedom Institute. © Matthew Hanzel 2015.
Perpustakaan Umum Freedom Institute. © Matthew Hanzel 2015.

This library is good for you if you are researching on a number of topics, namely: politics, philosophy, economics, and international relations. I find its collections from those particular topics to be great. Specifically, its collection of international relations books is quite particular in Indonesia: It has 2 copies of Morgenthau’s Politics among Nations (6e), at least 2 copies of Mohtar Mas’oed’s Ilmu Hubungan Internasional (Mas’oed being an IR legend in Indonesia himself), and a number of other books such as Buzan’s International Systems in World History, Carr’s Twenty Years’ Crisis, and many more. It has also a number of regional politics books divided into their respective groups, including East Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and more.

Not only limited to books, it has quite a robust collection of scientific journals as well. I was especially elated to know that it has a quite large collection (while not exhaustive) of Foreign Affairs.

You will not be blamed if you get a sense of comfort writing and reading in this library. I think it is designed for convenience, for you to stick around for quite some time. Of course, considering its location, it is not surrounded by shopping malls or restaurants, so if you want to take a lunch break, unless you are willing to eat from street vendors, you are out of luck. However, you can sit inside the library, take a few books, and hope that you can find some breakthrough with your ideas (especially useful if you are writing books, doing research, or writing your thesis).

For students, I think one particular facility that will be useful is its photocopy machines. If you want to take a part of your readings, especially when you are working on research papers (or thesis, even), you will be able to do exactly that. If you even need a copy of the book, tell them so, they have entire book copying service at hand.

A small caveat though. During my last three visits, I noticed that some people are making quite annoying noises inside the library. Being a public library, it does not restrict entrance aside from its free membership. During those instances, those groups did take one or two books, sit together, and then talk and chat. Of course, it is typically unacceptable in a library, and I think the librarians should have done more to at least maintain decorum.

Still, this library is quite something to be found in Jakarta. If you are working for anything (especially in international relations, like myself), or just want to find inspiration or ideas, take a look at this fine library. Yet please, use it properly. Do not use this library for simply hanging out and chitchatting with your friends. Simply unacceptable.

Perpustakaan Umum Freedom Institute
Wisma Proklamasi, Jalan Proklamasi 41
Jakarta Pusat 10320
Working Hours: [Mon-Fri] 09:00-19:00

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