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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 103-175(WS)-E
Division Number: III
Professional Group: Mobile Libraries: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 175
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Memory of basic library systems (lines)

Hoang Van Dinh
Baria-Vung Tau Library
Vung Tau Town, Vietnam



Viet Nam is an agricultural country with 80% of population being farmers engaged in production of agricultural commodities. Part of the population is still living in poverty, unemployment and earning low incomes. The social structure is composed of large families causing considerable difficulties. Therefore, during the last 25 years the main duty of public libraries was to serve the agricultural and rural areas. Libraries have been researching and performing creative works by sending publications (i.e. magazines/ newspapers) to rural areas, strengthening and building new library systems in cultural hamlets, groups of cultural families and cultural gatherings at villages/wards and integrating farm libraries in villages, and establishing libraries for production groups and mobile libraries in local areas.

From practical experiences during 25 years of development of basic library systems, we have learnt and mastered plenty of good lessons. In reality it is the library activities which contributes to the cultural life of working classes in remote rural areas, justifying the demand for library activities by doing such small but useful works today.

In 1986, due to the tendency of reforming the entire country, the basic library system has turned into a new juncture of reform. It is the library personnel's duty and challenge to find solutions to problems, develop library plans, establish basic libraries and to send publications to serve people in rural areas.

Originating from specific conditions in local areas, the province's library has developed activities of two-year basic library of 1996-1997 and activities of three-year basic library of 1998-2000, in order to achieve a basic objective by strengthening and improving the quality of library activities in districts/towns developing basic library systems and rotating books among areas.

Time in and time out, for 25 years, sadness and happiness have united us together. The memory of basic libraries and library personnel's steps have engraved on the way of the countryside. What has been achieved is very limited compared with people's demand, while other things remain undone and require Baria - Vung Tau Province to research, think about and try harder with the hope of satisfying readers and society.

Our hope for the future is that the basic library system will be more widely opened so that everybody: family, factory, school, farming/forestry sites etc. will have books which will help readers have larger and wider view, that can allow them to adopt or relate to views about other parts of the world: Asia, Europe, Africa, America, Australia etc. Interestingly can you figure out what happens if in some day, you don't have books in your life?


30 April 1975 marked a great historic event to Vietnamese people: peace to the country, end of a disastrous war lasting 20 years, the whole population enjoyed national re-unification. From this time in the history of Viet Nam came into a new era of Independence - Freedom - Happiness and Re-construction.

Together with hard work to establish a new life after the liberation war, the public library systems in southern provinces and cities were established and among them was Vung Tau City, a temporarily occupied area during the war before 1975, and faced with all difficulties mainly shortage of office buildings, publications, personnel and means of operation etc...

Before 1975, there were almost no libraries in towns and rural areas because of lack investment in this field. Besides, the library is considered as something luxurious and strange to the majority of the working class. After the liberation day (30 April 1975) together with other cultural activities library systems were set up, but this was rather strange to many people. In order to solve the problem, much work was done behind the scene, quietly over the past 25 years. Consequently, there has been positive development in libraries bringing books to readers in rural areas. To achieve this goal, libraries have had many challenges -ups and downs in tears and smiles. Throughout these activities, we recalled and reminded ourselves of the goal of the work and the question we wanted to answer: How can we send publications/books or reading materials that cover science and knowledge to farmers in rural areas?

Viet Nam is an agricultural country with 80% of farmers who produce agricultural commodities. Part of the population is still living in poverty, unemployment and earning low incomes. The social structure is composed o large families causing considerable difficulties. Therefore, during the last 25 years the main duty of public libraries was to serve agriculture and rural area. Libraries have been researching and doing creative works by sending publications (i.e. magazines/newspapers) to rural areas, strengthening and building new library systems in cultural hamlets, groups of cultural families and cultural gatherings at villages/wards and integrating farm libraries with villages, and establishing libraries for production groups and mobile libraries in local areas.

1975-2000: In the recent 25 years, following the librarian, books have been available in towns/cities and rural areas, mountainous regions, rubber plantations. They crossed hundreds of nautical miles to "Con Dao" Island, on board Navy Ships, and as far as oilrigs. Despite the hardships, books have become good friends, spiritual food to wounded soldiers in hospital (Long Hai Convalescence Center) and Frontier Guards at "Ben Da", "Binh Chau", Phuoc Buu", Hon Cau" etc...[Geographic Destinations]. Because of the Department of Labor, War casualties and Social Affairs Re-education Program, books have been made available widely to help people to help themselves. They have also entered strict/venerable places to improve the objective of "Honest Life - Fair Religion" (i.e. the library at school of Buddhism at "Dai Tung Lam").

As said by Prof. D. O. Dapice, Institute for international Development of Harvard "None of Asian countries can grow economical without having established a development foundation in rural areas". Therefore, we have realized the basic library systems in two ways:

  • Set books to serve agricultural/rural areas; and to rubber plantations.

  • Continued network initiative to provide books to rural areas and islands.

In a simple way, we first sent books to the agricultural sector, supporting libraries of production groups in agricultural cooperatives, through disseminating information on agro-science and technology. The "Quyet Thang" Agricultural Cooperative (Long Huong Village - Baria Town), a typical example of agricultural producer for many years, and successful in planting rice and raising shrimps. The Province's library coordinated with that of "Chua Thanh" (District), presently the library of Baria Town, setting up an agricultural library with a framework of agricultural books in compliance with the cooperative's production. The site location of the library is at a cooperative member's (home), who holds a vast knowledge of agro-science and technology. The province and district have rotated the books for this library in each quarter. The technology of raising shrimps in brackish water received major attention from farmers who were faced with heavy losses since they used to produce by natural method "i.e. relying on nature". From this practical experience, the province's library in coordination with the Agriculture Department invited agricultural engineers from the Agriculture/Forestry University of Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau to talk about raising shrimp in brackish water in BariaVung Tau areas. After which good results have been achieved and shrimp raising has brought tens of million "Vndong" to cooperative members annually. Moreover, the most important point is that the cooperative has learnt how the process of shrimp raising in brackish water.

With this primary result, although seemingly somehow humble, we daringly proceeded to bring books to farmers in rural areas, by establishing in 1984 a self-help library as desired by a number of farmers in Long Hiep Hamlet, Long Dien Village Town, Long Dat District.

I personally met Mr. Ba Ri, the Group's Chief who is optimistic, open minded and knowledgeable. He said:

    "In order to become an effective producer, it is necessary to adopt scientific and technological methods, and the only way to improve raising animals and growing trees/plants is to learn from books and practical experiences. By so doing, we are able to improve people's knowledge and revitalize farming methods by providing more technology that is scientific for the majority of farmers."

It was then that this library was established with publications/books donated by people. In addition to primary advantages, the province's library and that of Long Dien town supported it by adding and circulating more publications. Besides agricultural publications, the library is equipped with academic/text-books for adults and even books for children's entertainment.

Why did the Group decide to set up a library in conditions of such difficulty? Answering the question he said,

    "The publications/books have helped us solve a lot of problems: selecting seed shrimp and fish farming in brackish water, insecticide... particularly through books and practical appliances of books, the group has step-by step succeeded in convincing elderly farmers who for a long time used to leave farming works to "natural methods" and superstition."

During the times of moving books to his Group, Mr. Tam Lam who is in charge of techniques also said:

    "It is thanks to Ba Ri who whenever he discovers interesting points in books, relays those point to farmers. Without his help we would have already lost all our crops merely because of some insects and worms."

While operating these libraries the memory that is retained in my mind is that of a tiny library in a peaceful rural area being changed and proceeding to better situation after the war years with gentle and honest farmers who are attracted by technology. Mr. Ba Ri's words still ring in my ears:

    "Books are necessary not only to our old farmers' class, but also to teenagers. I hope later there will be more interesting books not only for entertainment but also for improvement of young men's knowledge. The young men will be taught to have hope and to build their country".

"More books, come to farmers please!" is what said by Mr. Pham Duc Tuan, an excellent farmer in Tan Thanh District, Baria-Vung Tau Province who distinguished himself by being a presenter at a seminar of "Library serving agriculture and agricultural development" held by the Union of Libraries in Eastern and Southern most of Central Vietnam, in 1998. He revealed that books, newspapers and appliances of technical advances, practical experiences had helped him to become a farmer who could have raised chickens, earning from 100 million "VN dong" per year.

The Quyet Thang Agricultural Cooperative (Long Huang - Baria), Long Hiep Production Group (LongDien - Long Dat District) and the practical experiences gained by Mr. Duc Tuan (Tan Thanh District) have clearly shown the value of books/newspapers, as a source of information that has earned success through expanded growth in production. These practices, of widely developing library networks in rural areas, have taught us valuable lessons. Firstly, learning to develop programs to provide books to rural areas, by urging farmers' households to donate books to the libraries that have been established, and that are being housed or held by an experienced farmer who is knowledgeable of agricultural technology and loves books. Secondly, he is willing to distribute and lend books to other members of the agricultural cooperative. Finally, we have learnt developing libraries through agricultural clubs, farmers and gardeners associations that can disseminate documents or information about agricultural sciences/technology.

In the past 25 years, librarians' routes have been widely opened in the countryside. Districts/towns' libraries have been set up and put into permanent operation. Visitors will be surprised by "Con Dao" (Island) a place known as "hell on earth" where Vietnamese patriots were kept and tortured - now becomes a cultural island with famous history, and a cultural ecological tourist destination attracting visitors from Viet Nam and foreign countries.

Books have been available there since the day of liberation in 1975. At present, "Con Dao" Island has its own post office, TV Station, children's house, school, club and a library with more than 10,000 books. The "Con Dao" (Island) library, a well-known address which is a community cultural destination of the islanders, demonstrates a new way of living, allowing people to show their hope for their bright future. It wouldn't be a coincidence when Star Cruise Tourist Operators (Australian) choose "Con Dao" as the tourist destination for their global Super-Star cruiser, with a capacity of 1,200 passengers, to drop at the island once a week. They have found that "Con Dao" is a splendid destination painted in blood and tears of many generations of Vietnamese convicts who loved peace and freedom.

Please visit "Con Dao" Island's library at least once.

Continuing the networks of providing books to rural areas and islands, is the system of book provision to the Frontier Guards' posts realized in the recent years by a contract between the province's library and the Frontier Guards Headquarters. In addition to the publications provided by the central military library ever year, the provincial library periodically supplies publications through Frontier Guards' central library to serve the soldiers. It is only by coming to the Frontier Guards Post that we were able to see how eager for the books the soldiers are. This is seen in their reception of the publications. It is the joint policy of military and cultural authorities to set up cultural facilities for improving spiritual life of soldiers, hoping that this policy will be further and further developed.

Libraries serving agricultural sector in rural areas, islands and Frontier Guards all over Baria-Vung Tau have experienced difficulties, successes and failures. What we recall is that although our contribution is so humble, it is useful, and brings about happiness to everybody from all walks of life. These are greatly valuable gifts to us.

Books serving rubber plantation workers and industry include various fields, and we can see more typical workers and new way of working described in them, however, not all good things are gold and run smoothly all the time. We have come to some rubber plantations, going on laterite roads, dirty in sunshine and muddy in rain, seeing immense plantations running as far as the horizon. What impressed me were rubber plantations in remote areas of Hoa Binh, Cu Bi, Xa Bang, etc... where thousands of workers were working very hard to tap sap from rubber trees, enriching the country.

In the recent years in the area of Rubber Company of Ba Ria, a library system has been set up. It includes the Company's central library, four libraries for rubber plantations, eight reading rooms for the various sections and enterprises and tens of book "wards" for the production units located five km from plantations head office. These libraries have contributed to the improvement of cultural activities and workers' spiritual life, sharing in the socio-economic growth of rural areas/rubber plantations. We recall in the past our libraries were located in thatch houses with dirt walls, but now the libraries are housed in large buildings. At the beginning the establishment of a central library of the Company includes two parts: in-place service and development of a basic network with a mobile book ward.

Short term training courses for librarians of central libraries and plantations are operated. After the plantation libraries were set up, book "wards" were gradually developed for the other production units. Coordinating with the provincial library, publications are rotated to serve readers as a mobile library. In 1997, four libraries on the plantations of Hoa Binh, Cu Bi, Xa Bang and Binh Ba were built and renovated at a cost of hundred million "VN Dong". Presently, upon coming to plantations, people can be proud of their libraries: a cultural destination. As said by Ho Thanh, a worker in Hoa Binh Plantation: "After my hard work I like going to the library building where there is the sign saying "library" - which allows me to feel peaceful..."

A typical excellent activity of the library at Ba Ria Rubber Company and of the Baria - Vung Tau library is the library of Hoa Binh Rubber Plantation, which is situated in the Hoa Binh Village, Xuyen Moc District, Baria - Vung Tau Province. The library was honored to have received numerous national cultural delegations, leaders of the Ministry of Culture and officers who visited and worked for. In the past 19 years, the growth of Hoa Binh Rubber Plantation Library has closely followed the librarian's steps and the move to mobile library during which the librarian was jokingly known as "Red-skinned man" since he was fully covered with laterite dirt on the way to the plantation.

In 1981, among rubble of fallen trees in the jungle, at the head office of the plantation, a humble reading room was erected with some hundred books, but now there is a big library in a sophisticated building constructed by the Company in 1997. It is 120-sq. m. large fully equipped with technical instruments of a library. The library becomes a gathering point for workers after work. It now has 2,532 book entries , 10 kinds of magazines/newspapers, and in charge of the library is a medium ranking librarian who has been trained in library skills and earns an average of VND 800,000 per month.

In addition to its service at the head office of the plantation, the library is responsible for developing book "wards" and to circulate books among sub-libraries. So far, there have been five book wards in production Units 2, 3, 4, 5, in which Unit 2 has a new reading room built from the fund raised by the workers. Each unit's book ward has from 300 entries of books and 150 entries for circulation. Managing the book ward is a job level of the labor union whose skill is suitable to library activities and is paid VND 100,000/120,000 per month in addition to original salary. The unit's book ward is further equipped with magazines/newspapers donated by groups and units for common use.

The activities of the units' book wards are not coincident but they originate from the leadership of the Company's Labor Union and from the workers through the annual Worker Conference. All this is in line with the view of the motto: "All for production", "Let's serve for the benefit of workers", although nowadays activities of Hoa Binh Plantation library haven't caught up with the reading requirements of workers, they have really contributed to the cultural life of workers and people in distant rural areas and proved that the activities of the library are necessary.

From practical experiences, we have learned much about organization and operation of a rubber plantation's library. From the specific job of rubber workers which is both agricultural and industrial, most rubber workers live far away from central or populated areas, their families are rather large and poorly educated while the quality of their skill and product is also a decisive factor, so the requirement for self-teaching and cultural benefits have become real and should be satisfied. In an attempt to develop a creative working movement, a healthy cultural environment, it is necessary to set up structures to accommodate cultural and sportive activities to improve people's knowledge and to eliminate shortage of information.

Firstly it is to introduce library activities to the resolution of workers' annual congress. On this basis, step-by-step, we invest funds to establish facilities, publications, train personnel and develop basic networks of book wards and reading rooms.

Library personnel must be from the production circle, love their career, like reading magazine/newspapers, know how to operate the circulation of materials, how to motivate workers, and are professionally trained. It will also be regularly interested in financial regime such as salary, bonus, over time payment to librarians or to personnel who concurrently take charge of library. In their good and stable spiritual and material life, the librarian will be closely linked with his work and do his job more efficiently.

The library activity must originate from genuine aspiration and true requirements of workers. From the specific work of rubber career, we set up an operational plan in a way suitable to workers and create favorable conditions to allow readers to come to library. The operational hours must be flexible and seasonal, and the publications must be suitable to the majority of workers.

Maintenance and development of library: It is essential to invest in library. However, first of all, the library must prove itself by its activities that bring about good social impact upon the community by magazines/newspapers. That is knowledge and education of workers given to them by books. An idea of improving technology, a new industrial process, a nice behavior, a good word, shall gradually minimize bad practice and superstition.

In 1986, Viet Nam started a total reform of the country with new management policies for socio-economic growth the impact of which has caused increasing production and released creative and potential working capacity. With 15 years of reform achievements, the country has escaped from a long crisis and entered a new era of development which is a period of boosting up industrialization and modernization to achieve the objective of "wealthy people, powerful nation, civilized and equal society." In new conditions with numerous advantages together with challenges, the library achievements of Viet Nam in general, and Baria - Vung Tau Province in particular, have actively contributed to the national reform. With such a sense of happiness arises in me.

Planning for direction of development of local library: It is a challenge and also a requirement to the library personnel of Baria - Vung Tau Province to find solutions to problems of setting up basic library networks, sending books, magazines/newspapers to serve people in the new era, when district/town library networks are operating in a limited level, and village/ward libraries came into deadlock and completely collapsed in early 1990 in all over the province.

Baria - Vung Tau Province was activated in 1991, its area covers more than 2,000 sq. km. And has a population of 750,000 inhabitants. It is a region rich in many sectors: oil/gas, sea product, seaport and travel. Situated in Southern key economic area (including Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Baria Vung-Tau and Binh Duong), it has a high rate of economic development (GDP). Baria Vung-Tau is proving to be successful with the support of a rather large number of scientific/technological personnel and workers comparable to its population. It has 6,000 people graduating from universities/colleges and above, among them are 50 Doctoral and Masters degree holders. After 15 years of reform, these Doctoral and Masters degree holders have completed nearly 220 scientific and technological subjects at national and provincial levels, among the subjects were 80 basic research and scientific subjects, 93 industrial processing research and a number of production projects... typically speaking, we should notice Vietsopetro J.V. Enterprise as employing the largest group of scientific/industrial personnel including 1,400 people with university and college levels - 29 Doctoral degree holders (excluding large groups of expatriate experts).

In reference to the master plan in 2010, Baria Vung-Tau will have 9 industrial parks: My Xuan, Phu My I, Phu My II, Ngai Giao, Long Huong, Northern Vung Tau, Long Son, Phuoc Thang and Dong Xuyen. Also according to the master plan, in 2000, 7 of the above industrial park will be developed to accommodate some key factories: oil/gas, chemical, fertilizer, textile, leather, garment, steel manufacture, ship building/repair and electricity. Due to economic growth, an increase in working force is a reasonable requirement of the local aimed at estimating and providing publications, developing library networks to satisfy local demands. As estimated, on average each industrial park will need 8,000 to 10,000 employees: technicians: scientific and technological personnel will increase from 15,000 to 20,000 in 2000 to 2010.

Starting from the specific condition of the local area, and based on the operation of the state libraries and others such as: library networks of Rubber Company, and library networks of schools, of the Department of Education and Training, Frontier Guard Soldiers, and the other agencies... Baria Vung-Tau comprehensive library implemented basic library plan for two years 1996-1997, aiming at standardizing the management of library and professional skill in order to improve activities of local libraries. This program has achieved good results, creating changes in basic library's activities.

Fortunately, I got a chance to attend the 65th IFLA Conference in Bangkok, Thailand in 1999, which reported specialized subjects, and I discussed with my colleagues about mobile libraries of ASEAN countries by using trucks, trains and ships as mobile libraries. These used to be the problems I had been thinking of and now that they were opened up, they urged me to initiate mobile library scheme to convey books to the countryside.

Aimed at coping with new development of libraries in local areas and overcoming limitations of basic library activities in 1996-1997, with experiences we learned from friendly countries, Baria Vung-Tau provincial comprehensive library continued it's program of library operation for 3 years: 1998-2000 under orientation of Viet Nam public library network which is "to concentrate and strengthen the district/town library network and develop reading activities by socializing methods."

In order to realize the aims of the libraries' program the provincial library performs many basic comprehensive and suitable solutions by forming a steering committee for development of basic libraries, setting up book rotation schedules from the province to districts to serve readers on mobile basis, establishing mobile library teams operated by 3 team members and assigning a truck to transport publications to serve periodical book rotation among basic libraries.

There are 50/61 libraries/reading rooms of villages/wards that have been set up, providing beautiful flowers in the cultural garden of Baria Vung-Tau which reveal a really good policy of the local government in building a basic cultural life.

Circulation or rotating of books to serve people in rural areas is not quite a new method, because it has been a routine activity in the setting up a library. However, to effectively operate it, increasing rotation rates must practice a right performance. With experiences from the regional countries, the way to use trucks for mobile libraries, is right because at the present trains/tubes are not available in our locality.

Mobile library trucks have been in operation for a short period of time, since July 1999, and proved to be a favorable method of providing publications to basic libraries in the province. This showed that we had moved on in the right direction in this situation that through the rapid establishment of libraries/reading rooms. It also chased away suspicions though at the beginning days. Many theories and practices have been considered with regard to orientation of mobile libraries in future. The most important point is that rotation of books has been able to solve problems of book shortage that had been existing for long time. Economically speaking, the method has brought large benefits, saved expenses form buying magazines/newspapers while due to rotation, a book or a newspaper could be used by so many readers in various places. Opening diaries of mobile libraries, we saw a lot of words said by readers and librarians encouraging us: "I am really happy and impressed upon seeing the children passionately attracted by each page of books. We wish that these days and these minutes would never end", said Nguyen Hung, Chief of Suoi Nghe cultural section, "This is a new type of service which attracts a lot of readers, especially the students who live in rubber plantations and rural areas. How happy the readers would be if mobile libraries could return regularly". (Library of Hoa Binh rubber plantation).

Appraising a library doesn't mean how many rare and valuable books it has had, or how sophisticated and splendid it is, but how many readers have come and been served by the library. The development of basic library network is the efforts and the objectives of Vietnamese libraries, because people's demand for publications (i.e. books and newspapers) and for improving knowledge, is a real and considerable one which needs to be satisfied. However, one thing that shouldn't be missing is not to let them be a birdcage hung at the door of a dirty rich man for adornment or let them be withered and covered with spider web.

25 years have flitted away, the time, the rainy and dry seasons, sadness and happiness have united us together. Memories of local library networks with librarian's footsteps have boldly printed on all over our country's roads. What has been done are still rather little and what haven't been done urge Baria-Vung Tau library to research, think of and work harder if it is to satisfy social and reader's demand.

We hope that the local library network will be expanded more than it was before so that everybody, family, factory, forestry/agricultural farm will have enough books for reading.


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