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In Vietnam, private efforts to open community libraries resisted by legal regulations

Wednesday, June 26, 2019, 10:53 GMT+7
In Vietnam, private efforts to open community libraries resisted by legal regulations
Children read comic books at Duong Lieu Private Library in Hoai Duc District, Hanoi. Photo: Ba Hung / Tuoi Tre

There are a little more than 100 privately-owned libraries built to promote reading habits in rural areas in Vietnam, but many of them may fail to obtain official permission to remain open if a bill on library management, with many stringent requirements, becomes law.

Vietnam now has 102 private libraries, according to the agency in charge of library management under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Only 47 of these facilities are officially licensed as “a private library that serves the community.”

Vietnam is drafting a law on library management, which includes several requirements a library has to meet to be given this status.

But experts say many private libraries, founded by individuals who are disabled or needy farmers using books donated from across the country, will be unable to meet all the requirements for their libraries to be legally recognized by law.

Free reading rooms for all

Many private libraries that allow people in remote areas to access reading materials are run by individuals who themselves never had the opportunity to have a proper education.

Do Ha Cu, a resident in the northern city of Thai Binh, was born paralyzed, which prevented him from attending school.

Cu managed to learn to read and grew up a passionate reader.

As there were not many books available in his locality, Cu used to take to Facebook to call for book donations to quench his thirst for reading.

The man was later connected with Sach Hoa Nong Thon, a program that promotes reading in rural areas, and eventually came up with an idea of creating a corner to promote reading among local residents.

The Hi Vong (Hope) reading corner was founded in 2017 with an initial collection of 300 book titles, most of which were Cu’s own books.

Hi Vong now has over 4,000 book titles, serving some 600 frequent visitors.

Inspired by Cu, three other book corners run by people with disabilities were later founded in Thai Binh.

Similarly, Ha Duy Dat, a resident in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa, has been managing a private library where local students can gather after school for reading since 2012.

Dat’s reading space, located in rural Xuan Lai Commune, Tho Xuan District, is the only place in the locality where some 500 frequent readers of all ages can borrow and read books for free.

Strict requirements

Cu and Dat are doing what they could to help the community, but the draft law on library management would request that they meet certain requirements to be allowed to keep their private library running.

The requirements are meant to guarantee the quality and standard of privately-owned libraries that want to open their reading rooms to the public.

For instance, a library of that kind would be required to have more than 1,000 book titles and a minimum reading space that can accommodate at least ten people at a time.

Attendants at these libraries would also be required to be high school graduates who are trained in librarianship.

The bill is expected to be presented to the lawmaking National Assembly for approval in October.

If it becomes law, none of the above-mentioned libraries and many other similar reading rooms in rural areas throughout the country will be able to meet those requirements.

Most of these libraries run on donated books, so it is not easy for them to afford to buy more books to meet the 1,000-title requirement.

Similarly, not all reading rooms can have only high school graduate attendants at their venues, as most of their ‘staff’ are volunteers who are high and middle school students.

Even so, Vu Duong Thuy Nga, director of the library management agency under the culture ministry, said the requirements “had been greatly relaxed” and are now “easy to meet,” following many amendments to the draft law.

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