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Ha Tay book lover founds village library (September 29, 2005)

Bookworm: Tran Van Chin arranges valuable books at his family library.
A literary-minded farmer in Ha Tay Province, who developed a passion for knowledge and collected thousands of books, decided to open his private library to local villagers, hoping they too would be enlightened and inspired.

Tran Van Chin is the owner of a successful private wooden-furniture company and lives in Dong Mai Commune, located south-west of Ha Noi about 10km from Ha Dong Township. One day he surprised everyone in his village when he decided to turn his house into a library.

Growing up in a poor and humble family in this remote hamlet, Chin developed a remarkable passion for books at an early age. He took on many odd jobs with the sole aim of saving money to buy and collect books.

Having inherited his family’s traditional craft of making carved wooden furniture with mother-of-pearl inlays, Chin opened a successful private workshop. Located in the well-known wooden-furniture handicraft village of Tu Son District, Bac Ninh Province, his business created jobs that provided stable income for dozens of local labourers.

Chin’s fascination with collecting books started in 1978, when he thoroughly read a scientific book given to him by the then Minister of Industry on a visit to the workshop. "It’s truly an interesting book," he said. "I learnt very much from that book." Chin believed the knowledge gained from the book gave him valuable lessons on being successful in his business. And as a way to thank the man who helped him, Chin hoped to share the power of knowledge with his fellow villagers.

One day all the employees were amazed when their boss announced that they should stop making chairs and tables and start building bookshelves instead. Dozens of beautiful bookshelves made of fine hardwood were assembled and moved to his house in Dong Phuc Hamlet.

Family library

The newly established family library was designed with two levels, simple high-ceilings, and spacious reading rooms. Two reading rooms were situated on the ground level of the house and others were set up on the first floor.

He explained the specialised scientific research reading room was neither for senior officials nor rich people, but has received young researchers and scientists gathering documents and looking up information, as well as readers who simply wanted to improve their knowledge.

Perusing the family library, people seem to be swept up in the world of books, in numerous different categories and sizes. Book lovers were able to speak like philosophers when they discussed stories from books. "Books I have bought are not only for me, but also for any readers," he said. The family library has grown to include over 3,000 volumes.

The opening day of the family library was in March this year. It was a major event in the village, and they received hundreds of readers from across the district, ranging from farmers to local authority officials to scientists. Pro Vu Khieu from Ha Noi visited the library and composed two verses of poetry to commemorate the opening and praise the owner’s contribution. He said he thought of the foundation of the library as being of "humane significance" and wrote: "Ong cha tich luy dieu nhan duc – Con chau xay cao dao thanh hien" (Forefathers treasured benevolence, and their offspring cultured ethics).

Old tomes: An elderly reader travels a great distance to visit Chin’s library. — VNS Photos Tan Linh
Initially Chin’s wife and children didn’t support his scheme, perhaps because they didn’t understand the significance of this contribution to the community. Eventually Chin persuaded his wife to take part in the project, and she volunteered to work as librarian.

At the family library books are arranged and catalogued in the same manner as in a State public library. Hot tea, boiling water and rustic tobacco are served free of charge.

The popular reading rooms include a public room and another catering for the elderly, where Chin hoped to provide a comfortable atmosphere with wooden plank beds in the specially designated room.

The public rooms house bookshelves stocked with various literary genres, ranging from literature and business to picture stories for children and self-help volumes for parents-to-be. The easy-going librarian is quite willing to answer any questions from readers, and help them find what they’re looking for.

Numerous magazines from all over the country are displayed in the popular reading room, and were donated by newspaper offices, said Chin. In the upstairs reading room he carefully arranged sets of scientific books on locked bookshelves. He placed sets of old chairs and tables to oblige readers who wanted to look at scientific research documents when they visited.

Chin presently owns thousands of scientific books, most of which are very old and rare. Holding-up 100-year-old books printed in Han (Chinese), Nom characters and Quoc ngu (Roman-scripted Vietnamese), I admired the book lover’s carefully preserved collection. These books, which seemed to keep the spirit of ancient characters alive, were printed on coarse paper carefully conserved by their owner.

Chin showed loving care with books printed with thousands of pages of this ancient paper. The folios felt as light as cotton as I carefully handled them.

He took down some old sets of books in French and Indian from a bookshelf always kept under lock and key, explaining he gathered the valuable texts on his visits abroad.

"Every time I see a rare or interesting book I buy it immediately," he said.

He showed me volumes from two other valuable sets, one inscribed with the autograph of author Tan Da-Nguyen Khac Hieu, another from a set of textbooks printed at the turn of the century. "No one else has a set," he said.

As I lifted the book with its gilt cover, I noticed each page was decorated like a picture frame. Chin said its cost was equivalent to one tonne of paddy rice, a huge sum for people in rural Viet Nam. For him, each book at the library is considered an antique.

Establishing a library for the people of his village was the dream of poorly-educated but high-minded farmer Tran Van Chin, who hoped poor villagers could change their lives, as he had, with books.

"No farmer can ride a bicycle to the district centre’s library after each farming day. Why not bring books to them, in their home-village?" he asks.

As for the future, Chin says he hopes local authorities will support him in building an even bigger library at his birthplace. — VNS

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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