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Libraries call for help to boost reading habits

Update: May, 24/2009 - 00:00

Libraries call for help to boost reading habits

(25-05-2009)

by Khanh Linh

Readers browse at Hai Duong Province’s Tam Thanh private library. — VNA/VNS Photo Ngoc Long

HAI DUONG — In the expansive front yard of a beautiful villa in the Cong Hoa Commune in Kim Thanh District, 18 people of all ages gather around a large wooden table with piles of books. They are too busy reading to talk.

Since its establishment about four years ago amid paddy fields and small brick houses, the Tam Thanh private library, stocked with nearly 6,800 books and more than 400 newspapers and magazines, has welcomed more than 20 book lovers daily free of charge.

With regular opening hours and simple borrowing procedures, the blue library has rekindled local residents’ reading habits and become a reliable alternative source of information for nearby residents.

Nguyen Thi Huyen, 40, often searches cook books for special recipes for family meals. "I like reading books on culinary art, arranging flowers and agriculture. I get tips for a healthy lifestyle and how to grow better crops, which is useful for me."

The library’s owner, former deputy prime minister Doan Duy Thanh, said he built the library at a cost of VND500 million (US$28,250) with the aim of improving knowledge among people in his homeland.

"New books and other publications, either purchased or given by kind-hearted people, arrive at the library every three months," said Thanh.

While the library has become a familiar address with local book lovers, the reading rooms in the commune’s cultural houses in Tuong Vu, Nai Khe and Thanh Nien villages are inaccessible.

"I have never heard about the reading rooms in our commune," Huyen said. "Like other villagers, I would have gone there for books, instead of buying our own, before Tam Thanh library was built."

Doan Huu Khuc, cell secretary in Tuong Vu Village, said the rooms were seldom open to the public, so few knew about them.

"The rooms have political and law books only and no librarian. I sometimes visit for reading materials but spend considerable time searching for it," said Khuc. "Readers can’t borrow books, which is annoying and inconvenient."

Doan Huu An , a representative of the commune’s People’s Committee, said it was ineffective, so few people went there for books.

"The reading rooms mainly serve local authorities in their research and are only open two afternoons per week after meetings," said An, who was unaware of the number of people who did seek books.

The commune vice chairman, Dao Quang Thanh, said of the annual VND15 million fund for cultural activities, books accounted for VND2 million and were mostly about politics and economics.

The same situation occurs in other provinces, including Hoa Binh, Binh Dinh and Ca Mau.

The Binh Dinh Province’s Library director, Vo Van Nhieng, said as many as 114 libraries established at grassroots levels no longer operated.

Several libraries were open for residents in other localities, said Nhieng.

"It’s undeniable the grassroots level libraries exist as the remains of the State-subsidised economy. Despite authorities’ efforts to upgrade facilities, it’s hard to say local residents have accessed them," said the Hoa Binh Province’s Library director Le Van Thai.

Statistics from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Library Department show there are about 7,000 libraries, 8,000 reading rooms and thousands of small-scale libraries in schools and universities nationwide.

"Large and modern libraries are mostly in urban areas but in rural and remote areas, where people have few opportunities to access information, they are poorly-equipped," said the department’s deputy chief Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai.

Speaking at a two-day conference on privately-owned libraries for communities, provincial representatives said finding ways to develop a reading model was a thorny problem.

Among 40 free privately-owned libraries throughout three regions, more than 30 per cent were poorly-equipped with simple facilities and a shortage of books, said Mai.

"All reading material is collected by owners and librarians don’t have experience, so out-of-date newspapers and magazines are often on display,"

Thai said adding on average, most modern libraries were restocked after six months.

"All open free to book lovers but to maintain their operations and ensure they have new publications, the owners must either seek financial support or charge fees if they want to develop their facilities."

Representatives decided there should be support so the libraries received new reading material and that librarians be trained to a more professional level.

"Public libraries should co-operate with private models to collect and rotate books and other publications and enhance information sources for both sides," said Ha Noi Library director Chu Ngoc Lam.

Mai said all proposals from the meeting would shortly be submitted to the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The development of private libraries was necessary and would boost reading habits among the entire population when the public system didn’t meet requirements nationwide, Mai said. —VNS

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