Impressions of Southeast Asian Libraries from papers presented at CONSAL XIV, April 20-23, 2009.

At the Conference
1. Vietnam – the Host Country
The Vietnamese Library Association (VLA) is very young, having only been established in 2006. Interesting to note is that association was founded at a conference that was also held in Hanoi (Pham, 2007).

The VLA members are working hard but finding that one of the problems they face is that they are now trying to perform the tasks that other institutions and organizations had been taking care of in the past. The other problems experienced are the lack of funds; and the very large geographic area which tends to make communication difficult.

“Setting an agenda for library development: the role of the Vietnamese Library Association” by Michael Robinson.

(Pham, T. K. (2007). Vietnam: Country Report: Annual report to CDNL. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from )

2. Cambodia
In Cambodia it was reported that there is no library school to train the librarians. In light of the findings of a recent study conducted by Tam, Harvey and Mills (2007) showing that the skills taught by one country may not be applicable outside of that country, this could be a serious cause for concern. The extremely low salaries and resources available to library staff don’t help to entice people into the profession either.

Factors making the work of the Hun Sen Library of the Royal University of Phnom Penh in teaching information literacy skills all that more important:

• the decimation of libraries by the Khmer Rouge regime; and
• a lack of a proper library system in the primary and secondary schools

“Providing information literacy skills training at tertiary education as mean to advocate the value and services of Library in Cambodia” by Wanna Net & Khiev Sopheaktra.

(Tam, L.W.H., Harvey, R., & Mills, J. (2007). How relevant are library and information science curricula outside their geographic domain? Education for Information, 25(2), 73-91. Retrieved May 27, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database)

3. Indonesia
The Indonesian Library Association (ILA) seems to have its own particular challenges to face – Indonesia actually consists of more than 17,000 islands with only about 5% of its population being Internet users.

The democratic government that was elected in 2004 has had an impact on the ILA itself, with members now striving to overcome the old style of leadership and working hard to improve the image of the profession.

The Indonesian experience also shows that political and social unrest resulting in things like structural damage, intermittent power supplies, and lack of government financial support; all have a negative impact on libraries.

“Reinventing Library Association: Indonesia’s experience and perspectives” by Faud Gani & Zulfikar Zen.

4. Laos
Like Cambodia, Laos has no library school of its own and has to rely on foreign training which may not be appropriate to the country’s needs. The situation in Laos could also be compared with places in Africa where the efforts to modernize the education system have tended to overlook the need for libraries to be modernized as well. This leaves the libraries with a lack of resources; be they physical, electronic, or human.

As in Africa, however, the librarians in Laos are doing all they can to serve their patrons as best they can.

“Developing strategies to encourage information literacy and implement dynamic library services: suggestions for Lao PDR” by Nicole Gaston.

5. Malaysia
From Malaysia we heard how supportive the government is of the librarians’ efforts to help alleviate poverty through knowledge acquisition in the rural areas.

In over 1,000 rural libraries, life long learning is promoted by:
• supplementing the information found in the school libraries;
• providing information for small businesses;
• providing information and on travel and health and more; and
• giving Internet training.

“Rural libraries as agents of social restructuring in Malaysia” by Raslin Abu Bakar & Salbiah Mohammad Yusoft.

6. Philippines
Librarianship only became a profession officially in the Philippines in the 90’s, when guidelines were implemented for the continuing professional education of library staff. Librarians needed to register when passing the Professional Regulation Commission examination, upon which they were issued with a license to practice. This registration used to be mandatory but this provided too many opportunities for librarians to be taken advantage of, so in 2000 it became voluntary. Now, ways need to be found to encourage library staff to register.

“Ensuring a continuing professional education (CPE) among registered librarians in the Philippines” by Elizabeth R. Peralejo.

7. Singapore
The smallest population, the highest number of Internet users, and one of the highest literacy rates are some of the reasons that Singapore is way ahead of many libraries in the 8 countries under study here.

In the presentation at the conference, the speaker spoke of how marketing with traditional and passive pamphlets is no longer enough for Singapore in this day and age. She then went on to showcase the sterling efforts being made in this area by the Singapore National Library.

“The Internet – challenges and opportunities for Southeast Asian libraries” by Sharon Koh.

8. Thailand.
The speaker from Thailand spoke of how the Sanamchandra Library at the Silpakorn University uses Web 2.0 in the form of:
• a staff blog;
• instant messaging for reference services;
• open source software;
• RSS feeds from the library website; and
• a wiki for sharing traditional Silpakorn stories.

“The journey to the next generation library” by Somkiat Chatchuenyot & Sompong Missata.

After Thoughts
After listening to presentations from people working with or in libraries in the Southeast Asian countries highlighted in this paper, I compiled a table with some of the facts from the latest version of the CIA World Factbook online.

I found it very interesting to compare how much of their gross domestic product each country was spending on education, and then looking at the population sizes alongside the literacy rates. Coming as I do from Africa, I was all the more interested to see that even the lowest literacy rate was way higher than most of the literacy rates found in Africa.

As a librarian who spends most of her working day finding information online, however, the percentage of Internet users in each of the Southeast Asian countries in this study was a little worrying. With very limited resources for purchasing library materials, even the chance of sharing information online is thereby curtailed.

Surfing around on one of these Southeast Asian libraries’ websites, I found that Internet access is offered for a small fee. My first thought was about all the wonderful databases from EBSCOhost, ProQuest and LexisNexis Academic, to name a few. But then my second thought was that these databases all provide mostly English information. And therein lies another problem – the majority of the people in this region do not speak English.

And to end off this sharing session, here are a few of the things I particularly noticed about Hanoi:
• the steering wheels of the cars are all on the wrong side;
• everyone hoots all the time but nobody takes any notice;
• the traffic looks absolutely chaotic but you can walk across any street quite safely;
• the city is very dusty and polluted but there is no litter;
• smoking is allowed inside the buildings;
• the food is almost as good as the food in Singapore; and
• many people likened Vietnam today with Singapore as it was 20 years ago.

Roundabout in Hanoi

All in all I really enjoyed my first time in Vietnam, and I would like to thank the Library Association of Singapore very much indeed for awarding me a sponsorship for my trip to the conference.

As shared by Debby Wegener,
Reference Librarian,
Temasek Polytechnic Library,
June 2008.