Organized Panel Session
This paper examines the development of the culture of library reading in colonial Vietnam as an everyday practice of Vietnamese modernity and sociability. Focused on the 1920’s and 1930’s Central Library Reading Room in Hanoi, this paper demonstrates the ways in which Vietnamese defied and defined the meaning of the library, creating a Vietnamese space of public sociability, self-learning, and global knowledge. It argues that the culture of library reading in colonial Indochina emerged from the negotiations and contestations between library builders and its users. Library administrators created extensive rules, policies, and methods of documentation to enforce a culture of public space, shared resources, and accountability. Many of these visions were built on concepts of the library as a ‘temple of European knowledge’ and an essential part of state documentation. However, the everyday use of the library reveals how Vietnamese students (the majority of the library users) re-envisioned the space and meaning of the library. The library provided readers with diverse literary, historical, scientific materials and the means to learn about current events around the world. Readers nalso used the space for socializing, studying, and working. Vietnamese readers repeatedly demanded improved library facilities and petitioned for fair access. Readers were not just consuming modernity, but practicing modernity through shared use of public space and access to different modes of communication. This critical analysis of both ‘builders and users’ of libraries contributes a dynamic understanding to studies on Vietnamese print culture and state policies on education and information access.