Citizens of Jakarta do not like books. The city has a reading interest index of 0.001, according to the United Nations.

And this trend is prevalent across Asia. Singapore, for example, struggles to sustain an interest in reading. Only 44 percent read a novel a year, the National Arts Council found in 2015.

So how can governments encourage literacy, and the benefits of reading more than gifs and tweets? Jakarta combined citizens’ interest in social media and smartphones with an ambitious plan: digitising its library books and putting them free to borrow on an app with a built-in social experience.

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“We created this app to bring books close to the society”, says Indra Setiawan, CEO of Aksaramaya – the startup that was commissioned to build iJakarta. The app now stores 12,000 book titles from different genres, with more than 65,000 users – 90 percent of them active. The platform was launched in October last.

Users are required to first sign up to the digital library to gain access to all the e-books. The app has an in-built e-reader, and it operates like a physical library – there are regulations on how many books can be borrowed each time, the duration of book loans and the length of user memberships. E-books are also limited: users have to queue for the book if they are all on loan.

The platform also allows users to interact with one another through a chat function. They can share, recommend and review books they’ve read and foster a community through it.”We want to bring the message that reading is fun and enjoyable”, he says.

iJakarta’s tagline is to “read, create and share”, he continues. His team conducts workshops in schools to grow an interest in writing. According to Setiawan, the app has published some novels from high school students. “We want to encourage not only reading, but [also] writing, and you can publish it to iJakarta”, he adds.

Setiawan’s team just launched a new programme, called Reading Together. “The main objective of the programme is to initiate public participation to donate e-books to iJakarta”, he explains.

The Jakarta Government is using creative means to turn their citizens into bookworms. Online queues are 90,000 users long – a mean feat for a library without borders.

Now read: Libraries reinventing for a digital age