of the American Society for Information Science and Technology          Vol. 28, No. 4          April / May 2002


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Challenges in Accessing Scientific and Technological Information in Indonesia During the Economic Crisis

by Widharto

Widharto is the librarian at SEAMEO BIOTROP, Jl. Raya Tajur KM6, P.O. Box 116, Bogor, Indonesia 16001; telephone: (62-251) - 323 848; fax (62-251) - 326 851; e-mail: widharto_50kdr@mailcity.com or w_widharto@bogor.wasantara.net.id

The world economic crisis shook Asia first in July 1996 and has since crossed borders with a shock wave that still reverberates. What has happened in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, during the last three years has halted a pattern of unprecedented growth enjoyed during the previous three decades. The crisis has forced the government to reexamine economic policies and priorities and has had an impact upon individual institution budgets. At this point the Indonesian economic and political situation is still unstable, and the economic and monetary crisis has set back the development we have achieved for more than 30 years.

A good example is the currency exchange rate. Near the beginning of the crisis when the now-ousted president Abdurachman Wahid took his post, the exchange rate of the Indonesian currency, the Rupiah, was Rp. 6750 against the US dollar. The Rupiah reached its lowest value in 2001 when the Rupiah sank to Rp. 11,350, reflecting an almost 90% increase in the purchasing price of foreign materials. What institution can maintain library resource development with that rate of increase?

It has been argued that growth in information service is a significant factor underlying the economic well-being of a country and is therefore a major indicator of success or failure of the economy. Despite the importance of the information utilization, however, very few decision makers in Indonesia recognize that access to information is one of the most important factors for economic recovery and growth. Just when we were moving into what one might call the third phase of development (from oral tradition through an exclusive reliance on print-on-paper sources to establishing technological infrastructures with strong economies and an opportunity to become knowledge-rich), we are faced with new challenges, primarily financial, because of this economic downturn.

Before the crisis, library development in Indonesia already was not the priority program of the government. Since the crisis, many libraries have been obliged to cancel research journal subscriptions and other publications a trend that has caused inability to keep pace with scholarly output. Special and academic libraries now continuously assess their institutions' core curricular offerings and adhere strictly to those factors for guidelines in purchasing materials and subscribing to the periodical literature. Tough choices are being made. The prohibitive cost of materials produces shortages of resources that ultimately limit services. The ability of Indonesian libraries to support the information needs of users is severely threatened by current forces that seek to create a total dependence on Internet commerce.

At the 65th IFLA Council and General Conference in Bangkok in 1990, Oliver Mann said that the impact of the economic crisis on the publishing industry in Indonesia means that it is more difficult to publish books [Current Publishing and Information Trends in Southeast Asia: Indonesian Freedom of the Press (Booklet 5:30)]. Those titles that do succeed are appearing in much smaller print runs. Consequently, despite greater freedom it is now more challenging to acquire Indonesian imprints, both from the government and the commercial sector.

Despite hampering the library development, the crisis has also had some positive aspects for library development in Indonesia. Many institutions, either through conviction or design, now concentrate on coordinating information strategies at both the local organizational and the national levels. The Indonesian state university libraries cooperate in acquisition of printed material and networking. Some have been appointed to function as discipline service centers to serve the other university libraries in special subject areas. A long term Union Catalogue project is under way. It has started to accumulate Indonesian theses and dissertations to form a unique database. This greater emphasis upon cooperation and coordination of resources and services, particularly in the scientific and technical areas, presents librarians and other information managers with new challenges to provide timely, accurate, relevant and accessible, as well as cost-effective, information. Thus, the government and organizations are being forced to consider the value of information and not simply the cost of acquisition.

Response of Libraries in the Crisis

For most libraries in Indonesia to remain current, the explosive increase in print-on-paper resources they would require is extremely costly. Introducing new technologies and providing training courses for library staff to operate innovative equipment for speedy access to the vast array of electronic information will also be cost prohibitive. It is unfortunate that as libraries began to explore the use of new technologies, they also began to experience a period of accelerated inflation.

In some universities, libraries stand in the forefront in adopting Internet technology. They establish connections to an Internet service provider and offer open access for their users to surf the Internet. Only one or two advanced libraries have published their bibliographic catalogues on the Web.

On the positive side, according to Fahmi there is digital library software available on the Web that can be installed. (See his article, "The Indonesian Digital Library Network Is Born to Struggle with the Digital Divide" in this issue.) Also, the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) can develop new software for the Digital Library Network (DLN). But the low telecommunication and Internet capacity in Indonesia have caused members of the DLN to be unable to communicate with each other freely. The situation has hampered their effort to enhance collection development and increase the awareness of faculty needs for teaching and research. Thus, the network cannot support a sophisticated digital library system. Our low bandwidth is unable to manage transactions such as parallel searching, distributed querying and so on.

Only recently has ITB successfully developed a digital library system with additional features suitable for the low Internet capacity commonly found in developing countries. This development opportunity will ensure the realization of national knowledge management of the Indonesian intellectual capital. Other examples are the electronic journals available on the Universitas Mulawarman home page: www.unmul.ac.id.

Challenges to Access Information

Other challenges in providing access to scientific and technical materials can also be encountered in Indonesia as institutions try to develop comprehensive access. These include the following.

    1. Concern about the accessibility of domestic or local information to the international arena, that is, the issue of the relationship between open information flow and information restricted to concerns of national interest. Examples are cultural sovereignty issues, including values related to indigenous heritage, customs, language and national security. This concern reminds us that, although information production and information industries are global, information policies are local.

     Access to public information is still limited mainly due to a bureaucratic culture where officials remain reluctant to disseminate information. Many people still find it difficult to obtain data or information from government institutions because the government still perceives information as its personal domain. For example, satellite data on forest fire hot spots should be shared with the Environmental Impact Control Agency (Bapedal), which then should pass it on to the Ministry of Forestry. Data about the weather should be shared with the Meteorological and Geophysics Agency.

      Of course, there is also information whose disclosure would have serious prejudicial consequences, such as violating a person's right to the presumption of innocence, disrupting or threatening the survival of a business, undermining the nation's defense and security or threatening the lives of others.

    2. Lack of technological sophistication, including incompatibility of systems, unreliability of telecommunications, interrupted electrical supply, insufficient maintenance of equipment and even shortages of supplies. These problems plague efforts in many locations. In some areas, particularly outside Java, there are not enough telephone lines for institutions to develop basic online networks. Lacking in some instances is an infrastructure to ensure continuity of access. Traditional methods of information collection, processing, storage and dissemination are prevalent.

    In addition, the library automation programs in Indonesia are heterogeneous. They always depend on the need and capability of each library. Some libraries implement standards that are internationally accepted, while others have been creating their databases using a very simple format. It is understandable that the libraries do not opt for future cooperation. The argument against implementing a uniform standard is that the time spent for document processing becomes longer.

    3. Lack of adequate bibliographic control or collection development. There is a lack of depth in many collections. It is very important to keep in mind that library development is not a priority of the national budget. Thus, very little money is available for acquisition of books, periodicals and other library materials. For university libraries the shortage has even caused a halt to the purchase of library materials for the past several years.

    Moreover, the depository act that is imposed by the National Library for the national bibliographic control of all publications in Indonesia is not well implemented. As a result, needed information may be present but not available, since there is no place to look for it.

    As for electronic journal collections, it is good news that many biomedical journals are available via the Internet. Developing country researchers and students will benefit since they may access the information at no cost to themselves or their institutions. But how many of them have access to the Internet and at high bandwidth? It is essential to bring pressure to bear upon governments and other interested international funding agencies to help spread high bandwidth Internet access in countries such as Indonesia. Only then can researchers take advantage of this offer by journal publishers.

    4. Severe shortage in Indonesia of educated information professionals who can develop the services to store, process, analyze, package and deliver scientific and technical information. UNESCO mentions that

    Effective management of information requires professionals who understand information, how it is created, organized, sought, and used by people in both their work lives and their professional lives. One of the most important activities in an information society is to maintain a cadre of qualified information professionals. [UNESCO. Principal Regional Office for Asia and Pacific. (1998).  Curriculum for an Information Society: Educating and Training Information Professionals in the Asia-Pacific Region, p. 3.]

    In order to assist librarians in Indonesia to cope with the numerous pressures of current innovations, as well as to adapt to the challenges of the new millennium, appropriate training courses should be provided for them.

    5. Inconsistency and lack of control of the publishing regulation, which have caused publishers of some serials to change their titles very often particularly in recent times with the flush of enthusiasm for reformation. Pursuing missing issues of serial titles is one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks in Indonesia.

    6. Difficulty in obtaining Indonesian material. Newspapers, serials and books published in the provinces are very difficult to get, if not impossible to obtain, in the other provinces. This situation necessitates that librarians or other interested users travel around to collect these.

Training Needs for Library Development

Positions in library and information science are definitely increasing. The amount of information being generated is doubling at an alarming rate. Technological advances brought on by the Internet have made it easier to access remote information, but librarians serve a critical role by organizing and facilitating access to distributed information and by teaching and educating users about new ways to access information. National and international initiatives in agricultural sciences and other disciplines are renewing and stimulating interest, research and new facilities. Librarians will be more critical than ever to the process of selecting and evaluating information and teaching users how to use and evaluate information resources.

It is imperative that library and information personnel at all universities be thoroughly trained in basic library techniques. It is necessary to train staff at the designated discipline service centers to the high level in technical and management skills required to provide an efficient system-wide information service that will act as the major information resources within the network. It is also necessary that staff in user libraries be upgraded to enable them to effectively utilize and contribute to the resource sharing network.

Automation is seen as central to the resource-sharing infrastructure. In particular, a well-supported, centralized bibliographic service center is crucial to ease access to collections throughout the network. This automated center will be the hub of the bibliographic network underlying the library resource-sharing network. Continuing support in the procurement of both hardware and software will be a requirement for the Bibliographic Center, in each of the Discipline Service Center Libraries, as well as the resource-sharing network libraries.

The Role Of International Institutions

Parlinah Moedjono stated  [Service within universities communities. In: Proceedings CONSAL VIII, Jakarta, Indonesia, 11-14 June 1993. p. 18] that foreign assistance from friendly countries for library development never lasts long, but is carried out only according to the time frame specified by the project duration. In the last decade the Directorate General of Higher Education-Ministry of Education and Culture, has received approval from the Indonesian government for several such loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

 Up to the end of 20th century, the Indonesian university libraries have also received library materials donations and technical assistance as well as experts and consultants in library services. These donations came from international organizations, such as the British Council, the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JIPA), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and IDP Education (Australia). There are continuing opportunities, as well. For, instance, the Asia Fellow Program and the Special Libraries Association both offer help.


Indonesia and many other developing countries are struggling with a lack of resources either to buy traditional library materials or to build the infrastructure necessary to take advantage of the information available electronically. But over and above these considerations, training remains a key to the future of the Indonesian libraries and to their successful use of information technology.

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