« previous adventure: Laos/Cambodia


Greetings colleagues,

February is now concluded, and with it, my visit to Vietnam.

Vietnam is in the midst of many efforts to upgrade and improve academic libraries. For example:

  • Many library directors who have received their MLIS training in western library schools (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, etc.) are bringing back ideas from those countries to adopt/implement in Vietnam.
  • Many libraries have received international grants/donations for new buildings and upgraded facilities (computer labs, etc.).
  • There has been an impressive effort in recent years to convert library collections to Dewey classification, from the old Russian-influenced system (less compatible internationally). Likewise, a big emphasis on implementing online catalogs has taken place.

However, Vietnam still has many library challenges as well:

  • Library and information science curriculum. According to many directors I interviewed, the curriculum in Vietnamese library schools is not addressing contemporary issues enough -- reference, user education, Web technology, etc. -- and thus, librarians are not well-prepared. Additionally, the current norm is that a master’s degree in library and information science cannot be granted unless a bachelor’s degree in the same was earned, preventing a lot of talented professionals with subject degrees from becoming librarians.
  • A lack of tradition of providing reference and instruction service. The old concept of libraries -- just repositories of books with librarians as merely caretakers -- has been pervasive, so even today, many libraries do not provide advanced reference assistance; rather, just simple catalog look-ups.
  • While impressive gains have been made automating catalogs, there have been no common software efforts. Many online catalogs have been created in-house with custom programs. Thus, efforts for a union catalog or resource sharing are difficult.
  • Vietnam shares the common problem with all of Southeast Asia of inadequate school libraries — either small rooms of textbooks, or no library at all. This means students arrive at universities will little library or research/skill foundation.

In time, I believe these challenges will be addressed.

While in Vietnam -- like in my other country visits -- I was invited to give training sessions to librarians on current trends and practices in U.S. libraries. I met with a gathering of more than 80 librarians in the Ho Chi Minh-city area -- organized by the U.S. Consulate, with whom I was coordinating. This was a great opportunity for U.S.-Vietnamese cross-cultural communication. I also met with the library staff at Vietnam National University, Humanities and Social Sciences, whom CSUF signed a memorandum of understanding with in 1999. Additionally, I was invited to attend the U.S. Embassy’s opening of a U.S. materials collection at a university in northern Vietnam (see the accompanying photo with Michael W. Marine, U.S. ambassador to Vietnam).
Before continuing to my next country, I will be making a brief detour back to Manila, Philippines, for the CONSAL XIII conference (Congress on Southeast Asia Libraries:

ttp://www.consal13.up.edu.ph/new/ ), where I have been invited to present my findings of my research. The conference draws an international audience from all 10 of the Southeast Asian countries, and beyond. In addition, the American Library Association's International Relations Roundtable, of which I am a member, has picked up on my travels and has me listed on their Web site: http://www.ala.org/ala/irrt/irrt.htm (see the box on the right).

I send my warm wishes to all of you.

From Asia,