Libraries, communities and digital. Experience from Indonesia. Mario Coffa interviews Muhammad Saiful Alam
Muhammad Saiful Alam is a librarian who is currently working at Public Library of Central Java, Indonesia. He holds a position in the preservation and legal deposit unit at the library. Prior to this, he was a librarian for a university holding a position as the head of library service department. He has interests in electronic resources, digital humanity, legal deposit, and library preservation.
As a first question I wanted to ask you what exactly you do as a librarian and briefly how this desire to do this job started.
I want to thank you to involve me in this project, this means a lot to me. I think being a librarian gives you a certain kind of important role. In my country, being a librarian means that you are bestowed with this knowledge that you acquired through education or training, and that you have a responsibility and accountability to provide library service and management for people. I become a librarian because it was what I studied back then in university. I majored in library science. Hence, that explains why I choose to be a librarian until now.
What does it mean to be a librarian in Indonesia? What is the educational or academic path to follow to do this job?
In Indonesia, a librarian has different aspects when compared to other field of occupation. Unlike being a doctor, accountant, programmer, lawyer, and so on, being a librarian means that you are a unicorn amongst them—it is rare to find someone who works in this field. Not all people know that this job exists and enriches life. A museum curator and an archivist also share the same aspect with a librarian. That is why I call it special when someone works as a librarian, a museum curator, or an archivist. According to Indonesian law, you must have a degree in library science. It can be a bachelor degree, an associate degree, or even master and Ph.D. You can also become a librarian by joining a training/course on library science. The latter is what is often called as “inpassing path” because those who join the training/course have a degree that is not related with library and information science.
You deal with digital and electronic resources. Do you think that, especially after the pandemic period, these tools have been able to contribute to compensating for the closure of libraries and in what way?
Way before the pandemic took over, librarians must have known this concept of “library without walls”. Basically, it means that libraries are actually ready to deal with the physical closure because they are already equipped with electronic sources that people can access whenever they want. It is important for a library to have a librarian who knows how to make a library essentially “go online”.
What is the relationship your library has with the local community? What are the projects you propose to reach your audience?
Librarians have to be able to build a relationship with all kinds of people regardless of their background. That way, librarians are able to know what kind of information that the public needs and then ensuring that the public can access it. In my case, since I am tasked in legal deposit and preservation unit, one way I act on this mission is by engaging in a close relationship with local publishers. By having conversations with them, I am able to make them submit their publications to be archived in my library. Personally, I have a small social project to help libraries with limited resources to expand their libraries by incorporating technology in their management.
In a more global perspective, where are our libraries going or going to go in the near future? What is your opinion?
I am sure that libraries—physical and digital—would always be there regardless of time and period since people would always need it. There is an infinite possibility, it can even be turned in a form of metaverse! That is why libraries and librarians should be able to answer global challenges. We have to be able to adapt with an ever-changing development across the world.
What would you recommend to a young student who wants to be a librarian one day?
It’s pretty simple and straightforward to me. If you want to become a librarian, make sure that you are always up to date with global development and be technology-savvy. The latter is important since you will have a special ability in developing library into something that is life-changing for people.