10889 Woodleaf Lane, Great Falls, VA 22066


by Le-Huong Pham
Cataloger/Reference Librarian
Modesto Jr. College Library
435 College Avenue
Modesto, CA 95350


The Vietnam Library Education Project (VLEP) was organized under the leadership of Dr. Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, Library Inspector, Government Printing Office, and under sponsorship of the School of Library and Information Science, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Some Vietnamese librarians in the United States and Canada had formally and informally joined this Group in order to assist the VLEP on the development of library and information science in Vietnam.

In the summer of 1991, by the invitation of the Federation of Scientific and Technological Asociations of Ho Chi Minh City, Dr. Quynh-Hoa Nguyen and I went to Vietnam to make a fact-finding tour, visiting libraries of Ho Chi Minh City, Hue and Hanoi. Recognizing the lack of library science texts in Vietnamese language on the stacks of libraries especially library school's libraries, the VLEP members had decided to take action on helping Vietnam in the development of library and information science.

At the meeting in April 1992 in Washington, D.C., among members of the VELP and other interested parties, sponsored by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, and The Catholic University of America, School of Library and Information Science, decision was made to develop a plan to help Vietnam to improve their library and information management. The first task was the translation of the basic tool, The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science [the Glossary herein] into the Vietnamese language. Mr. Vinh-The Lam, Ms. Nga Thi Nguyen and Ms. Le-Huong Pham were charged to do the translation.

With the support of Dr. Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, Project Director, the former dean Dr. Deanna Marcum, and the present dean Dr. Elizabeth Aversa, of the School of Library and Information Science, Catholic University of America, the American Library Association which holds the copyright of the English version of the Glossary has granted its permission to let the VLEP Group translate the Glossary into the Vietnamese language free of charge on the royalty and other fees.


After a lengthy period of time, and with the help from other Vietnamese expatriates in the related fields who reside in the U.S.A., Canada, France, and Japan, the translators were able to do their task well. Mr. Vinh-The Lam was in charge of the translating the front matters of the Glossary, and letter A through D and letter R.; Ms. Le-Huong Pham was in charge of translating the letters E through Q and letter S. She also did the indexing from Vietnamese into English and took care of the refining of the final work; Ms. Nga Thi Nguyen was in charge of translating the letters T through Z.

The VLEP Group did not have any financial support from the School of Library and Information Science, Catholic University of America. However, Dr. Quynh-Hoa Nguyen had secured the financial support from The United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia in New York City which granted $3,000.00 to cover the cost of laying out the text in the Vietnamese language which was done by ABC Discount Printing in Costa Mesa, California.

Through their professional connections, Mr. Vinh-The Lam and Ms. Nga Thi Nguyen were able to get financial support from the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Vietnam (Montreal, Canada); The Asian-American Faculty Association, Staff and Alumni Association, University of Arizona; Dr. Anthony Vuturo, Associate Dean of Health Affairs, College of Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; Dr. Vu Tri Truong, President and CEO of SODEXEN (Laval Canada); especially Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Iserson, owners of the Galen Press, Tucson, AZ, who donated the cost of publishing the translated work and printing one thousand copies of the book; and Mr. Al Kelly and Data Reproductions, Inc, of Rochester Hills, Michigan who printed the work at its cost. My friends contributed some money to cover a part of the cost to ship books to Vietnam from San Francisco, California.

In January and February, 1996, before the Glossary was published, I started contacting Mr. Phan Gia Ben, Secretary of the Federation of Scientific and Technological Associations of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and later Dr. Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, director of VLEP, officially asked him for help in securing the clearance from Vietnamese authorities on the matter of censorship and customs, Mr. Nguyen The Duc, Director of the National Library of Vietnam in Hanoi to ask for help in distributing the Glossary in the northern part of the country.

The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science, Vietnamese version was published in May 1996. Six hundred copies were shipped by Data Reproductions, Inc. in Michigan to Modesto, California. Two hundred copies were sent to Ms. Nga Thi Nguyen in Tucson, Arizona for distribution to the related parties who had contributed to the work, and the rest were at the Galen Press Office for free distribution to the needy libraries. The Galen Press had a press release to the library community indicating that the publisher was willing to distribute the Glossary free of charge, by request of the libraries that serve Vietnamese readers all over the world. Two copies of the Glossary were sent immediately to The American Library Association to fulfill the Association's requirements on translating the Glossary.


In the summer of 1996 two of my relatives and I were planning to visit Vietnam, we agreed to bring 12 boxes of books [70 pounds per box] containing 500 copies of the Glossary to Ho Chi Minh City.

Upon our arrivals on the 30th of May and the 1st of June, 1996, Mr. Phan Gia Ben sent his staff to the Tan Son Nhat Airport to help to get clearance from Vietnamese Customs.

On the 12th of June, 1996 I had a meeting with Mr. Phan Gia Ben and his associates to make a list of individuals and libraries in Vietnam in order to distribute the Glossary fairly and effectively. Mr. Nguyen The Duc contacted me by telephone and he agreed to distribute the Glossary to the libraries in northern Vietnam located above Hue. Mr. Phan Gia Ben did the distribution to the libraries from Hue down to the southern part of the country.


On the 20th of June, 1996 at 8:00 AM, Mr. Phan Gia Ben organized a meeting at his headquarters at 43 Nguyen Thong Street, Ho Chi Minh City. He invited me to come and give a talk on the library development especially on library technology and library automation; I also distributed the Glossary to the representatives of the libraries in the southern part of Vietnam

After introducing me to the audience, Mr. Phan Gia Ben talked about the cooperation between his Federation with the VLEP Group since 1991; he also mentioned about his efforts in securing the permission from the authorities at the Department of Culture and Information in Hanoi, the Censorship Office at Ho Chi Minh City, and the Customs Office at the Tan Son Nhat Airport, etc.

I thanked Mr. Phan Gia Ben and his Federation for their efforts to cooperate with the VLEP Group since 1991, especially this Summer in securing the permission from the government of Vietnam which allowed the VLEP Group to bring the Glossary home and distribute it free to the Vietnamese libraries. I also thanked the other Vietnamese authorities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for allowing the VLEP Group to import the Glossary to Vietnam.

I also talked about difficulties of the translators in choosing the Vietnamese terms while they were translating the Glossary because of the lack of Vietnamese terms in the field of Library Science, especially in the field of Computer Science which spreads rapidly into other fields. With the help from other Vietnamese colleagues who reside in the U.S.A. and other countries, the translators had overcome their difficulties and finished the work in February, 1996. A draft copy of some sections and the title page, and the verso of the title page were sent to The American Library Association for final approval.

We had a long talk and discussed the differences between the terms being used in the Glossary and the terms that are currently used in Vietnam. I mentioned about the efforts of the translators who were raised and educated in the southern part of the country, were trained in the United States, and later lived outside of Vietnam for a long period of time, and that somehow their language usage is a little bit different from the people who live in Vietnam, especially in North Vietnam.

The adaptation of Sino-Vietnamese for some terms in the book would not make the readers surprised when he/she reads the book because if he/she has background in the Chinese language and the Sino-Vietnamese language being used in Vietnam for so long that it became Vietnamized language in the Southern part of Vietnam. Some of other readers might not know the Sino-Vietnamese nor Chinese language therefore it would be a little bit difficult for them to understand some of the translated terms. But the translators hope that by reading the definition of the terms, the readers would recognize and understand the terms thoroughly


After the presentation, discussions about the development of libraries were opened. Questions were raised about the techniques of making CD-ROM for Vietnamese language e.g. scanning Vietnamese written language into the CD-ROM. This field is not my expertise therefore I only explained to the audience in general how it was made according to my limited knowledge.

The audience also wanted to know about library automation. I mentioned about the lack of standards in the library organization and development in Vietnam. I explained to them the importance of having some kind of standards in doing the automation with the experience my library in Modesto had gone through several years ago. All agreed that they need some standards on cataloging materials in order to have unique data to input into the national database for networking in the future. They suggested that Mr. Phan Gia Ben's Federation be a place for the professionals to have meetings and discuss about the library development of Vietnam, since there is no National Library Association which can lead them to improve their knowledge and development of library science in Vietnam.

Microcomputers and the CDS/ISIS Mini-Micro version program (Computerized Documentation System/Integrated Set of Information System) are being used in processing library materials in several libraries. However, some other libraries are still using card catalogs, with typed or hand- written cards.

The libraries in Vietnam had adopted the CDS-ISIS program, which was developed by UNESCO in the 1980's for Vietnam. According to the people who used this program, it is not good to process a mass file in comparison with the other programs applied in other countries, especially in the U.S.A. such as the OCLC program and its applications. The audience agreed to this comment but unless OCLC gets involved in the development of libraries in Vietnam with very low costs then the libraries could have afforded the costs and started involving themselves to apply high technology.


While waiting for the clearance, I visited the newly opened libraries in Ho Chi Minh City such as the Open University Library, the Graduate Library of National University of Ho Chi Minh City, and the Hung Vuong Semi-Private University. Being new libraries, they have the advantages of having some U.S.-trained graduates in the field of library science who are in charge of the libraries.

They organized their libraries according to the Anglo-American standards which did not exist when our VLEP Group members visited Vietnam in the summer of 1991. They use Dewey Decimal Classification and Library of Congress Subject Headings that are gradually translated into Vietnamese language upon request for the materials at hand. They use the CDS/ISIS program and gradually build up their collections. They have open stacks.

As a general rule, libraries in Vietnam have closed stacks; the patrons do not have access to the library materials directly like the libraries in the Western world. Books and other materials were arranged in different systems from the French regime to date. Pre-1975 in the northern part of the country, the Russian system's Biblioteka Bibliographia Klassifisia (the BBK Classification) was applied to organize the library materials. The library catalogs are divided into three categories: author catalog, title catalog and classed catalog. Library materials were shelved according to sizes, languages and also accession numbers within the BBK system. It was different from the Anglo-American system, using Dewey Decimal Classification and the adaptation of Sears List of Subject Headings or Library of Congress Subject Headings in the Vietnamese language, which was applied in the southern part of the country. After the reunification of the country in 1975, the libraries in South Vietnam had to convert their library organization systems into the current applications in the North and discontinued the usage of subject headings in their cataloging practice, except the School of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City which is still using the National Library of Medicine Classification and Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

Open stacks is a new concept to the Vietnamese librarians who guarded their library materials very closely. I mentioned about the education of library patrons on the usage of the materials in order to avoid the mutilation and the loss of library materials. I also urged the audience to use the subject headings and some classification schedules that applied subject oriented in organization of materials, whether it is Dewey Decimal Classification, Universal Decimal Classification or Library of Congress Classification, etc. in order to serve the library patrons more effectively. Doing so they will also take advantage of the existing systems in the Western world such as OCLC and also meet the international standards to adapt in the near future with the library world via Internet.

Visiting the libraries in Vietnam and talking to the librarians and other library personnel I noticed that they were confused with the concepts of using subject headings and keywords in cataloging and retrieving the data either from the card catalogs or from online database.

Reference collections like the ones in Western libraries do not exist in Vietnamese libraries except in newly opened ones. At the National Library in Hanoi, the so-called Reference room has several sets of foreign encyclopedias and few other materials. Half of the space is used for the United Nations documents and new arrival books that are displayed in closed glass cases. In contrast with the crowded main reading room, the Reference Room was almost empty with one patron and one staff member who were there at the time of my visit.

Visiting the former Van Hanh University Library where I used to serve and which has become a branch of the Pedagogy University Library, I was so disappointed to see its reference collection had vanished to the closed stacks in the upper level of the library.

On the 1st of July 1996, I brought three boxes of books (42 books each box) to Hanoi in an attempt to have Mr. Nguyen The Duc, Director of the National Library in Hanoi, distribute them to the libraries in the northern part of the country.

On the 11th of July 1996, I paid a visit to the National Library located at 31 Trang Thi Street, Hanoi. I had a meeting with Mr. Nguyen The Duc, the Library Director and his Associate Director, Mrs. Ha Thu Cuc whom I had met during my first visit at this library in the summer of 1991. I presented two copies of the Glossary to them, and also gave them a list of library names that I had compiled with Mr. Phan Gia Ben in June 1996 and asked Mr. Nguyen The Duc to revise it in order to have a complete list of libraries.

The National Library Director had shown me the plan for expanding the National Library behind the main building which has the main reading room and the card catalogs on the ground floor and the stacks on the upper level built by the French.

On the 15th July, 1996, I brought the rest of the books (114 copies) to the National Library and handed them to the Director of the library for distribution. Mr. Nguyen The Duc, Director of the National Library promised to distribute the Glossary fairly and effectively to the needy libraries in the northern part of the country.

Mr. Nguyen The Duc took me around the library to see the Technical Processing Department, the Data Processing Department, Book Exchange Department, the main Reading Room, and the Periodical Reading Room. I was impressed with the application of computers in this library. The Data Processing Department has about 5-7 micro computers. It is the database center for the whole public library system in the country. The Director mentioned that his main computer used as a server has a hard disk of 2 gigabytes; I suggested to him using a mainframe for his system. But, because of the financial situation, they could not afford the minicomputer, let alone the mainframe one. Knowing that the library building is an old one that was built by the French, therefore the electrical wiring is aged, and the air conditioner was turned off after the office hour, I also advised them to make backup copies of their data everyday and stored in different places rather than in the same room, to avoid troubles of loosing important files in case of fire, flood or of any other disasters.

They use a LAN for the National Library itself, and the WAN system for nationwide. They are not connected with the world via the Internet yet. Using e-mail in the country is limited to certain areas only. International e-mail has to go through several steps. For example, patrons in the South have to use a server in the South. Then the e-mail is transferred to the main server in Hanoi, then forwarded to a server in Australia to distribute to the other countries. World Wide Web does not yet exist in the libraries in Vietnam. The National Library currently has two U.S.-trained librarians who got their scholarships from Harvard-Yenching Institute; and one of them just came back from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts.

While in the main reading room, I had notice the room was crowded. Mr. Nguyen The Duc mentioned that the room is being used very heavily by the senior students and researchers everyday. The old wooden catalogs at the entrance of the main reading room and book shelves there since the French time are still being used. There is no central air conditioning and that makes it harder for the patrons to study; it is more difficult for the preservation of library materials in the tropical zone like Vietnam.

The Periodical room was also crowded. Periodicals in the whole country are shipped to the National Library by surface mail. The Library also imports some foreign periodicals. There is no index to the periodical literature for Vietnamese periodicals.

Visiting the Book Exchange Department, I was presented some books on Vietnamese culture. In exchange I had promised to send a copy of the ALA Dictionary of Library and Information Science, English version to the National Library since there is no such copy in their stacks. Returning to the United States, after contacting the Sale Office of the ALA in Chicago, I found out that the Glossary, English version was out of print. Because my own copy is in bad shape, Mr. Vinh-The Lam, who is one of the three translators, agreed to donate his own copy to me and I had forwarded it to the National Library as a gift from the VLEP Group.

On the 19th of July, 1996, I left Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City. On the 23rd of July, 1996, Ms. Dao Hoang Thuy, Vice-chairperson of Ho Chi Minh City's Library Association, who also is the Head of Library Science Department of University of Ho Chi Minh City, arranged a meeting for me with the President of this Association and their members at their headquarters located at 210 Vo Thi Sau Street, Ho Chi Minh City. Again, the discussion was around the library development for Vietnam; the usage of subject headings; and the difference between keywords and subject headings in retrieving materials for library users. Ms. Dao Hoang Thuy donated to me a copy of the Cataloging Manual According to ISBD Format for the Library Catalog compiled by The Cataloging Department, National Library of Vietnam for my reference usage.

After returning to the United States, I sent them some materials on subject headings. I also learned that in April 1997, the Harvard-Yenching Institute will organize a Seminar on Subject Analysis and Classification in Hanoi for the Vietnamese library directors and catalogers. I hope that the Library Association of Ho Chi Minh City will play an important role in the future for the development of libraries in Vietnam and later on it will become an active member of the future Vietnam National Library Association.


Libraries in Vietnam are trying to improve their organization of materials and applying modern technology into the field of library and information science, but they have a long way to go to compare with the neighboring countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. They still lack of automated online circulation systems, interlibrary loan systems, let alone a fully developed library network for the whole country.

It is suggested that cataloging rules be standardized and their applications be adopted into the cataloging practice for the whole country.

It is also suggested that a fully developed reference collection be organized in every library in Vietnam for the free browsing and use of the library materials by the users for their in depth researches; open stacks are also suggested to provide free access to materials in order to facilitate the library patrons in meeting their own needs in their educational and recreational readings.

A lot of Vietnamese periodicals have been published and stored in all libraries in the country, but there is not an indexing service to provide the index like the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature that helps library researchers to find valuable articles in the past and current magazines and newspapers. According to my knowledge, there is no firm, nor librarian who knows the field of indexing in order to start this kind of tedious and complex job.

Since the development of the Western libraries are well in advance, it is feasible to adopt the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, current edition and also the adaptation of the subject oriented classification systems such as the Dewey Decimal Classification [for small or medium size libraries] or even Library of Congress Classification [for larger libraries] and the Library of Congress Subject Headings or Sears List of Subject Headings in organizing the library materials in order to take full advantages of the current large library databases in the Western world such as the OCLC databases, which already have application for Vietnamese language and its services are already extended to Asia. With the explosion of the internet usage, and unless Vietnam opens its door to the world cyberspace, then the cataloging practice via Internet that OCLC already provided would be very cost effective for the low budget libraries in Vietnam.

The development of libraries in Vietnam could not be materialized if the training of librarians to learn the new techniques and to meet international standards does not come from the Western countries such as the United States, Australia, Great Britain, etc. In the early 1990's there are only a few librarians who had some training in the Western countries. I hope that with help from the American Library Association, The Australian Library Association, the Library Association [of Great Britain], and Library schools who can sponsor a great number of librarians from Vietnam to come and study in library schools in their well developed countries, the development of the Vietnamese libraries will be well done and they will be ready to enter the twenty-first century.

(1) Reprinted from Ben Vung = Sustainability = Durabilité 1:4 (November 1996) p. 8-10 and 1:5 (May 1997) p. 10-12, with permission from the publisher: The Foundation for Sustainable Development in Vietnam (http://www.accent.net/levansy/)

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