Knowledge doesn’t only come from books, but also from our interactions with people around us. This awareness could be felt at C2O Library & Collabtive, Surabaya. Even though it is known as a library, C2O contains more than just books — there is a coworking space, a multipurpose area, and a communal kitchen, all of which were commonly used by visitors as a place to exchange ideas.

Article written by Nadia Maya Ardiani

Established in 2008, this independent library stemmed from Kathleen Azali's restlessness about the difficulty of accessing quality books in Indonesia, especially in Surabaya. At that time, the library was only open during working hours, when in fact many people needed to access it outside of that schedule — including Kathleen herself, who was then working full time. In addition, many libraries restricted entry based on appearance (for example, no shorts or sandals were allowed). From there came the idea of establishing a library. Kathleen put together the first collection of personal collections, family, friends, and student and journalist networks. From there the library, which was open until 9pm and on weekends, was built to accommodate those who need creative spaces like this outside of working hours.

Now the C2O collection had grown to around 7000 titles, covering various topics including history, culture, literature, comics & graphic novels, and art. There was also a special collection of the history of Surabaya & East Java, which was a response to the difficulty of getting books about Surabaya and East Java, even in this city itself. In addition, in line with the increasing demands on digital literacy and information technology related to social conditions, C2O had also developed special programs and collections related to the topics of privacy, digital security, gender, sexuality & technology, and industrial 4.0 employment. This was in line with the vision and mission of PERIN+1S, a registered not-for-profit under which C2O is run, to encourage collective learning, assembling, and sharing of information and technology.

Hang out for Learning

Although its main form was a library, C2O didn't intend to just be a book warehouse where people sat, read and went home without interacting. Its main mission was to create a safe space to study, work, and interact with various communities and the environment — a space to grow together.

"We share resources and facilities together. Books, space, friendship, knowledge, etc. Also sharing responsibilities with a spirit of solidarity and independence,” said Kathleen while serving Betmen, a cat resident of C2O and one of the visitors' favorite creatures. Affordable costs and a series of environmentally friendly policies were the main attraction. Although the location was in a premium location in the heart of Surabaya, the combination of a relaxed atmosphere, no “formal dress code”, and no charges for hanging out or reading showed C2O's efforts to reduce entry barriers and partitions between visitors. But we also have code of conduct to ensure that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background, do no harm, treat each other with respect, while also feeling safe and brave in this place. The sale of products, venue hire, and the use of co-working space by various companies and organizations also ensured C2O operations to continue.

These were some of the efforts to lower barriers of entry and facilitate access to available sources of knowledge - whether in the form of material such as books, or in the form of activities such as discussions, workshops, film screenings, exhibitions, etc. Especially now that there is less and less space willing to accommodate the holding of events critical to the current socio political conditions (e.g. events for LGBTIQ+ minorities).

By stimulating people to further explore existing sources of knowledge, C2O also introduced that literacy was not just a matter of technical ability to read and use technological devices. The ability to filter information and how to disseminate it also needed attention. Not to mention in the digital era like now, where technology was often only considered related to digital technology. Even though there were many non-digital technologies that were used for cooking, working, and surviving. This is related to the surrounding sociopolitical context, such as inequality of access for women and LGBTIQ+ people, class differences, etc. also very important to note.

To carry out the mission to broadcast literacy issues, so far C2O had done it through various training and exhibitions. In collaboration with various parties, one of which was the Tactical Tech Collective, PERIN+1S had held various public activities at C2O such as password management workshops, exhibitions on data privacy relations with business and political interests, to workshops detecting “fake news” circulating in collaboration with AJI (Alliance of Independent Journalists), Internews, and Google.

First Aid to Creativity

One of the demographics who frequently visit C2O was creative workers, including freelancers. Based on observations and research with various parties, where it was found that many workers did not even know their basic rights, Kathleen became increasingly convinced that there needed to be some kind of guidance for creative sector workers. Then the First Aid for Creativity (P3K) was compiled.

In collaboration with Domestic Science (UK) dan SINDIKASI (Media and Creative Workers Union for Democracy) and supported by British Council - DICE (Developing Inclusive and Creative Economies), P3K came in the form of websites and game cards, which covered various aspects that were deemed important to understand creative workers, ranging from normative rights as workers, making work contracts, negotiating prices, what if a diploma is withheld, available legal assistance, to internships and exposure issues.

Based on the discussions and research carried out for this project, which also involved several campuses and art collectives in Surabaya, things like this were never or very rarely discussed in the curriculum on campus. So it was no wonder creative workers were often crushed by market mechanisms without adequate protection. Not only was this guide useful for creative workers themselves, this guide could also be used by the government, the education and business sectors to build healthier, fairer and more humane businesses.

"For example, to respond to the pandemic, we created tips related to remote work during a pandemic, such as tips on choosing video conferencing applications and project management," added kat, who also works as a researcher and Program Manager in an Asia Pacific organization focusing on open & secure tech and digital rights. Interestingly, both PERIN+1S/C2O and Domestic Science agreed not to visit each other. On top of aiming to reduce the impact of carbon footprint on the environment, both organizations felt the urgent need to further explore online collaboration methods, one of which was through the open-source software collaboration platform, GitHub, and video conferencing -- they had both felt that this would be increasingly important in the future. With COVID-19 becoming “the new normal”, this project becomes even more timely and necessary.

Indeed, the existence of this P3K becomes even more critical now considering the number of job losses, furloughs, and dismantling of various protection during the pandemic. This way, at least youth workers, especially those from disadvantaged background with less negotiation power and access, can learn the basic of their rights in entering creative industries — and truly develop in a way that SINDIKASI called as a fair, humane and sustainable work ecosystem.