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Widharto — Indonesian Librarian

Widharto — Indonesian Librarian
An Indonesian librarian who obtained his MLS in the Philippines has been featured in the June 2007 issue of SLA's Information Outlook. Some of the more interesting aspects of the article include an overview of the Indonesian library system and an explanation regarding why some Indonesians have only one name. The full text of the article is reprinted in full below with permission.

Widharto and I first met at SLA's 2005 annual conference in Toronto. He actually surprised me by talking to me in Tagalog (see "Proudly Filipino"). From then on, we corresponded via email and met several times in 2006: at the UPLSAA Homecoming and Consal XIII in Manila, and at SLA's annual conference in Baltimore, where he received the Diversity Leadership Development Award.

I've complained in the past about the lack of diversity in the Ontario Library Association, but I have never felt this way about SLA, which encouraged and welcomed members from different races and cultures long before Widharto and I became beneficiaries of its generosity. Jose Escarilla, a Filipino librarian, was featured in the November 2006 issue of Information Outlook.


Joined SLA: 2000
Job: Librarian
Employer: Bogor Agricultural University
Experience: 29 years
Education: Bachelor’s in English Literature and master’s in Library Science
First job: Documentalist

Biggest Challenge: To disseminate information to facilitate accurate decision making in our institution; to encourage clients to obtain techniques and skills for utilizing the wide range of information tools (from print to electronic), as well as primary sources in molding information solutions to their respective institutional problems.

An Indonesian Institution
By Forrest Glenn Spencer

“I honestly don’t know why I wanted to become a special librarian,” SLA member Widharto said. “Like many other librarians I know, I had never planned on becoming one. By chance, I got a job as documentalist at SEAMEO BIOTROP in Bogor, Indonesia. As it was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, it offered good remuneration. I took that good opportunity.”

It was an opportunity that has led to a lifetime of rewarding work and accolades for the Indonesian information specialist. Last year, Widharto received the SLA Diversity Leadership Development Award.

One of the most prestigious awards bestowed by the association, the honor goes to a member who represents a group traditionally under-represented, and the recipient must have an interest and potential for leadership with SLA. The award, sponsored by EBSCO Information Services, includes a $1,000 stipend.

“I am proud to say that I am the first librarian from a developing country to be granted such an award in recognition of the achievements I made in the last decade, especially that I have been able to promote the library and library development of Indonesia for the world,” he said.

Indonesia is a country of 17,508 islands that straddle the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, tucked in between the continents of Asia and Australia. It’s a country rich in cultural and natural resources. Its population of about 205 million people represents more than 300 tribal-ethnic groups. It is the fourth most populous country in the world, after China, India, and the U.S.

Widharto likes to explain his singular name. “Many surnames become fixed and hereditary in an individual family. In Western culture, they are frequently known as last names; however, in many parts of Indonesia, they do have and use real last (family) names solely. Only some ethnic or tribes give family names to their children, such as people from North Sumatra (Batak), Northern Celebes (Menadones), or Mollucas (Ambones).” But for Western documentation, he has to include his name on forms as “Widharto Widharto.”

A Knowledge Bridge

Widharto describes himself as a special librarian in his professional career, but in many ways he has been a vital bridge in his country’s efforts to expand its knowledge resources, particularly in the area of agriculture, with the international community through the educational institutions he has served throughout his life.

In many ways, Widharto has become an institution. He has built his career in the research, organization, and dissemination of scientific and educational information that is being conducted in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia.

Today, Widharto is the senior librarian at Bogor Agricultural University (BAU), a job he took in January. The position includes administrative and supervisory responsibilities and much more: He also serves as a reference librarian, information literacy instructor, cataloger, collection developer—and the individual in charge of public relations.

In this post, he will be able to use the networks he has already established and promoted. “Both the international as well as the local institution are willing to cooperate for the benefit of BAU,” he added, “such as fund raising for staff development, acquiring books which are not available in Indonesia or even for subscribing to electronic journals.” Widharto is proficient in speaking and writing in English, so he is assigned to aid his colleagues in editing their English abstracts and articles, and prepare cover letters when his institution composes documents for the international community.

Before joining BAU, Widharto was employed at the SEAMEO BIOTROP Regional Center for Tropical Biology in Indonesia for 28 years. He moved to his new job due to government regulations. (SEAMEO BIOTROP is the acronym for the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Tropical Biology, one of the 15 agencies under the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization.)

“The supporting staff of BIOTROP, which includes the librarians, is only allowed to work until age 56,” Widharto said. “But as I am a member of the government’s civil servants, I have been a functional librarian and I am allowed to work until age 60.”

Bogor is now Widharto’s home. He was born in Kediri, East Java, Indonesia. Besides speaking Indonesian and English, he also speaks the language of his Javanese mother.

His interest in learning to speak English began in the first year of elementary high school. “I understand that English is an international language,” Widharto said. “I learned it over and over, and finally I attended English literature at Malang Teacher Training Institute where I obtained my B.A. degree. In my opinion, those who speak and write English well don’t get lost when they are traveling abroad, or have any problems learning new technology.”

In colonial times, Bogor was an important Dutch hill station, midway between the mountains and the hot plains of Jakarta, which are about 37 miles to the north. Bogor is noted for its number of agricultural research centers; many institutions are headquartered there.

Widharto joined SEAMEO BIOTROP in 1978. For the next seven years he was assigned to collect all documents—mainly, scientific, administrative reports and other related papers—published or issued by or related to the Institute. He left in 1984 to pursue his MLS from the Institute of Library Science at the University of the Philippines, in Diliman, Quezon City, through a scholarship from the International Development Research Center.

After he completed his master’s, he was still a government civil servant under a bonding agreement with the government of Indonesia. An opportunity arose for him to join BIOTROP’s Regional Center for Tropical Biology as a senior librarian. He knew the institution was working on research and development in tropical biology; but, gradually, through experience, he came to understand the importance of the library and librarianship. He held the title of senior librarian until he left in 2006.

“Additionally, I supervised library administrative activities,” Widharto said, “including budgetary and personnel management, scanned selective articles from the serials subscribed to by BIOTROP, provided reference queries for end users and established net-working with other special libraries in and outside Indonesia.” He also conducted searches for the research staff and served as BIOTROP’s information officer. “In this capacity, my duties included the preparation of articles in English for the membership countries of SEAMEO. I updated the SEAMEO newsletter, prepared press release video scripts of BIOTROP reports, and was involved in the marketing of publications from our center.”

In the past few years, he served as a reporter for BIOTROP at its annual governing board meetings. “Moreover, through the graduate program I took, I learned and obtained qualification as a professional librarian,” Widharto said. “Though I don’t have any agricultural or biological background, my daily activities in providing the information needs of our scientists, especially for their agricultural and its related field activities, has improved my professional performance. It was learning by doing that enabled me to understand terminologies in agriculture and biology as well. The knowledge and experiences attracted me to learn more and more to be a Professional librarian.”

The BIOTROP library has a seating capacity for 40 readers and it can provide up-to-date references and learning resources, both print and non-print media, on the tropical agriculture. Currently, the library holdings consisted of 16,250 titles of books and bound journals, 364 serial titles, 2,100 internal reports, and 9,200 reprints/special files on specific subject areas. The material is acquired from a variety of sources; 80-percent of the books collected are in English.

“SEAMEO BIOTROP and Bogor Agricultural University library,” Widharto said, “are libraries of a growing institution in the field of biology in Bogor where local and international agricultural research centers are situated. Even though they are not as sophisticated as those available in the U.S., these libraries have been connected to online services where staff and students may retrieve the information they need.”

Last October, the public affairs section of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta provided funding support to enable both faculty and students of BAU to access the citation index of the ISIKnowledge, published by Thomson.

While the steady growth of networking is good news, Widharto says the scarcity of skilled workers to design, install, and manage a network is “a stark reality to be addressed. This dearth of skilled manpower in network design and implementation is a serious problem for the pace of development.”


Widharto explained that to ensure successful implementation of all the proposed programs, greater institutional participation is required. Progress has been a collaborative effort among the networks built by Widharto and his colleagues.

“The economic crisis affecting Indonesia has forced the government to reexamine economic policies and priorities that have made a major impact upon institutional budgets, including those for library development. The decrease in the national budget has seriously hampered library development in Indonesia, particularly in providing current information in science and technology. Thus, no library in Indonesia can meet all needs and at the same time be cost effective,” he said.

“Growing awareness of this fact is encouraging many libraries and information services to seek collaboration on an increasing scale. Thus, networking is important to improve our capability to provide [for] the informational needs of our users. This sharing of resources is a practical way of utilizing available resources to meet the increasing demands for further information. Information networks offer advantages such as better utilization of existing yet scarce resources, making a larger base of knowledge available to serve local needs, increase the capacity to reach a greater number of users, and do so at greater economy and efficiency of operation.”

Part of this outreach and network efforts has included his involvement with SLA. Widharto has been a member since 2000, one of four who work and reside in Indonesia. He said that he would never have dreamed that someday he would become an active member of SLA.

“Even the name of SLA never came to my ears,” Widharto said. “As a special librarian from a developing country, I only learned about a few library associations.” But between November 1999 and July 2000, Widharto was a grantee of the ASIA Fellow Program, which was funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by the International Institute of Education, in cooperation with the Council of International Exchange Scholars.

“This enabled me to do special internship work at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines,” he said. “As part of my research program, I had to make some library visits to some institutions in Metro Manila, such as the Asian Development Bank.” The bank’s chief librarian, Sharon E. Henry, gave him a printed advertisement for the Global 2000 Conference that was scheduled for later that year Brighton, U.K.

“As a grantee with full conference payment, I was allowed a one-year free membership to SLA. Of course, as a member, I was allowed to access the SLA home page and receive a free Information Outlook, and other current information circulated among members. Realizing the importance and benefits of SLA members, when my membership was terminated, I approached Sue O’Neill Johnson, the past president of SLA’s Washington, D.C., chapter, who initiated the Twinning Project. With the assistance of Rita Reisman, the SLA New Jersey Chapter accepted me and provided funding support to extend my membership up to now. The New Jersey Chapter even provided funding support to enable me to travel and attend the 2005 SLA Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada.”

Today, Widharto remains a member of the SLA New Jersey Chapter thanks largely to the success of the Twinning Project, under which chapters and divisions provide ongoing assistance to information professionals in developing countries by sponsoring their membership in SLA.

Widharto also is part of the International Information Exchange Caucus, which has more than 125 members.

“The experience and knowledge I have learned has enabled me to communicate well with people that have different education backgrounds, as well as to share and discuss with colleagues and librarians locally or internationally,” Widharto said. “I love this job very much, becoming a special librarian. I have been able to convince international funding agencies to provide support of my travels all over the world, and to meet and establish a network with colleagues and members of SLA. I sometimes wonder what other career path I might have taken, but I am satisfied being a special librarian.”

Forrest Glenn Spencer is a Virginia-based information retrieval consultant, PR distributor, and writer. He is also the editor of The Google Government Report and the GGReportblog.com. He can be reached at fgspencer@gmail.com.

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