Special Library Experience in Vietnam

Article excerpt

During the summer 1998, I had the opportunity to visit and work with staff of a special library in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Southeast Asia Institute library is a small library with holdings of roughly 40,000 volumes. Established in 1973, the institute is a government agency within the National Center for the Social Sciences that supports the research interests of government employees as well as other researchers interested in Southeast Asia. The library is housed among several small offices within one of the institute buildings. Two of the offices provide space for staff to make data entries and keep track of the journal subscriptions housed within the library. One room serves as a reference area.

The library collection provides information related to the culture, history, and geography of each of the nations in Southeast Asia. Although the library has something of an academic focus, its staff clearly meets the definition of "special librarian." The institute library supports the staff of the Southeast Asia Institute. Its users see it as a vital part of their overall mission providing information to all levels of the institute. Even though in a communist regime, most decisions are top down and there is a need for accurate information.

In addition to Director Cao Minh Chong, an historian, the library employs seven full-time staff members who assist visitors to the library as well as perform other functions. Unfortunately, none of the library staff have formal education or training in library science; however, they are eager to make the library a very pleasant place to visit. The employees are selected based on their knowledge of either a Southeast Asian native language, such as Khmer and Tagalog, or one of the so-called colonial languages. These include Dutch, French, and English. Despite the lack of library science education, the library staff are well-educated with strong backgrounds in social sciences and world events. Their language skills are valuable at the institute library since many of the monographs in the collection are written in languages other than Vietnamese. Many of the texts are in English, French, and Chinese. Many of the books are also in Russian since the former USSR was Vietnam's major donor for many years until the demise of the Soviet Union.

The research collection is housed in a locked area of the institute's basement. Unfortunately, this closed stacks policy makes it difficult to browse, but it makes it easier to control use of the collection which seems to be a serious issue in this communist governed country. The extreme heat and humidity typical of Vietnam is also cause for concern since this type of climate advances the deterioration of books. Currently, nothing is being done to preserve the collection. …