Books for Rural Areas of Viet Nam

Country Profile: Viet Nam


86,116,559 (2008 estimate)

Official Language

Vietnamese (other common languages: Thái, Tày, Mường, Khmer, Chăm, Chinese, Nùng, H'Mông, French and English)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

94% (2006)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

94% (1995-2004)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2005)

Total: 90% Male: 94% Female: 87%


Programme Overview

Programme TitleBooks for Rural Areas of Viet Nam
Implementing OrganizationCentre for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development (CKACD)
Language of InstructionVietnamese
FundingThe programme uses a crowdfunding strategy to attract cash and in-kind contributions from various members of society, including Vietnamese people (living in the country and overseas), parents, members of clans, Catholics, businesses and civil society groups.
Programme PartnersMinistry of Education and Training; Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism;
local people’s committees; departments of education and training;
Association for Learning Promotion;
student associations; parishes; publishing houses and businesses;
parents‘ association.
Annual Programme CostsUSD 20,000 in 2015
Annual programme cost per learner: Costs vary across libraries depending on the number of books. On average, each library serves at least 50 readers, which renders the cost per reader low.
Date of Inception1997

Country Context

Viet Nam has made remarkable progress in education. Universal primary education was achieved in 2000 and universal secondary education has been achieved in some parts of the country. Educational institutions and centres have been established across the country in order to provide access to education, including in hard-to-reach areas. At the same time, education quality and equity have also improved, especially among ethnic minorities, disadvantaged families, girls and marginalized population. In terms of literacy levels, the number of people able to read and write has increased significantly: in 2013 the overall literacy rate was 98.06 per cent for young people and 94.51 per cent for adults (UIS, 2013). The government has made education one of the priorities: since 2007, the education budget has accounted for around 20 per cent of total government expenditures (MOET, 2014).

These achievements created a foothold for the government to commit to building a lifelong learning society by 2020. One of the targets set out was to promote a reading culture for all citizens. To achieve this, various initiatives have been launched through media, libraries, museums, community learning centres and cultural centres (Hossain, 2016). For example, national Book Day (April 21) was launched in 2014 to promote reading habits and the importance of reading books to increase knowledge and skills (VNN, 2014). A network of more than 11,900 community learning centres (CLCs) has been established across the country to promote lifelong learning through reading and social activities (Hossain, 2016). In addition, Viet Nam has developed a library system of 17,022 libraries and public reading rooms nationwide, including 59 privately owned libraries (MOCST, 2016), in order to increase access to books and other reading material and to encourage reading habits.

However, even though libraries and reading rooms are free and open to public for long hours, use of this service apprears to be low (Dinh, 2011). The Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism (MOCST) reported that between 2011 and 2015, when there was a dramatic increase in the total number of books available in all libraries (an increase of more than 6 million), the number of people accessing libraries’ services decreased by more than 1 million (MOCST, 2016). Moreover, according to a recent survey, besides textbooks, Vietnamese read on average less than one book a year (VNN, 2016). This concern is shared by educators: those in secondary schools report that their students have poor reading habits (Hossain, 2015). While there are many reasons for this slow improvement in the reading habits of the population, it is partly due to the limited possibilities for library staff to reach out to a broader population, due especially to the failure to take advantage of information and communication technology (Hossain, 2016). As a consequence, this confines library services to those who proactively seek out these resources and reduces the chances of the poor and disadvantaged population to access books (Dinh, 2011).

Programme Overview

Books for Rural Areas of Viet Nam began in 1997. In 2010, the Centre for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development (CKACD) was founded with the aim of expanding the initiative. It aimed to increase access to books and encourage reading habits by establishing a system of civil libraries where books can be accessed on a free-of-charge basis. These civil libraries are different from public libraries as they are funded by mobilising community resources and are managed by community members or volunteers. The programme seeks, in particular, to increase book availability and accessibility for readers in rural and mountainous areas who have fewer opportunities to read books. As well as providing access, it also organises group reading activities where readers can practice and strengthen their literacy skills.


Since its inception, the programme has operated in Viet Nam and developed in two phases: the first phase (10 years) was focused on methodology development while the second phase (nine years) has focused on implementation. The methodology development phase (1997–2007) was aimed at understanding the challenges involved in increasing accessibility to books for rural people and the disadvantaged as well as building knowledge of their reading interests. This phase also involved developing understanding of the operation of the existing government-led library system, as well as devising strategies for policy advocacy, from grassroots to ministerial levels, and for raising social awareness of the importance of reading books and the role of civil libraries. The implementation phase has applied lessons learned in the first phase in order to develop a system of civil libraries, aiming at improving their effectiveness in reaching out to people.

Since the first library of the programme was built in 2007, in Ha Tinh province in Viet Nam, the number of libraries has reached more than 9,000.

Aims and Objectives

The programme envisages providing equal access to educational opportunities for all and developing a strong reading culture for Vietnamese people. In establishing more accessible civil libraries, it aims to:

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The programme targets readers of all ages. Thus far, it has provided access to reading material for readers aged from 2 and 75 years, particularly those living in rural and mountainous areas. To serve this purpose, five different library models have been developed to best serve different beneficiary groups:


By providing differentiated services to diverse beneficiary groups, the programme improves the relevance of reading materials as well as accessibility to libraries. In addition, interactive reading activities are often organized to increase the frequency of interaction between readers and books and among readers. This kind of activities is traditionally absent in public and school libraries in Viet Nam. Readers are encouraged to spend 15–30 minutes per day at school and 30–60 minutes at home reading books. At school, students are also encouraged to attend group activities that strengthen reading comprehension, such as book presentation/discussion and book reading competition.

Library Content

For each type of library, there is a recommended list of books relevant to its target group of readers. These lists are compiled from recommendations by teachers, students, books donors, and book companies partnered with the programme. For example, clan libraries focus on books with content on healthcare, agriculture, law, civic education and literature. Parent-funded libraries pay more attention to class subjects such as social and natural sciences, history and English. The proposed lists can be modified to suit the needs of readers.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The operation of these libraries has relied mostly on volunteers who are school principals, teachers, librarians, students, and members of clans. They support the establishment and management of the libraries as well as the organization of reading activities and events.

Once a library is established, CKACD provides training for the members of the community who will be in charge of managing it. For libraries in schools, principals, teachers, librarians and students (usually class monitors) receive the training. The training in library management at local level is conducted in the form of on-site training or via phone call/email by volunteers who have been trained by CKACD. This training uses simple methods such as hands-on activities and collaborative teamwork. The training curriculum includes:

  1. strategies on how to mobilise local contribution (both cash and in-kind) to building libraries;
  2. techniques to manage libraries;
  3. methods to organise reading promotion activities for students, villagers and disadvantaged groups.

In the coming years, the programme plans to create guidelines based on good practice among schools, which will be shared with all stakeholders.


Enrolment of Readers

Interested readers can borrow books from any library that is accessible to them without having to register for a library card. Each library has a notebook to record lending and returning activities. Readers write down the names of the books they borrow together with a date and signature. The founder of the programme reports that this simplified procedure makes it more convenient for readers to visit libraries and increases the chances they will take out books.

At school, the same borrowing process is applied, i.e students’ names are recorded to monitor their activities. This is done by core students with the help of the school librarian. To promote reading habits, each class will give recognition to students who have read the most weekly/monthly. Extra activities are organised to improve reading skills and understanding of the books.

Based on reading activities records, the programme tries to identify characteristics of readers at each location, e.g. what kind of books they read, how many books each reader reads per year. This information is used to improve the service of the libraries. The programme is also cooperating with schools to better evaluate the operation of the libraries as well as the needs of students.

CKACD is continuously developing new initiatives to reach out to new readers and promote reading. For example, one initiative is an event that promotes an intergerational approach to reading by encouraging parents and grandparents to read books with their children and grandchildren. Another initiative is a reading contest among clans.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The programme has been evaluated by CKACD every year. These evaluations have helped improve the libraries’ offers in order to better serve the readers as well as to collect lessons learned and provide evidence for the replication of libraries and policy advocacy.

Quantitative methods (e.g. using records from reading activities to calculate reading rates) and qualitative methods (e.g. interviewing readers) have been used to improve the effectiveness of the programme.

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

In 2007, the first clan library was built to serve more than 100 members of one clan and other villagers. Since then, the number of libraries has grown to 9,000, serving approximately 400,000 readers nationwide. The last three years in particular have witnessed a remarkable development period of the programme. Geographically, these libraries are present in more than one-third of all provinces in Viet Nam, reaching students, families, clans, parishes and marginalized communities from diverse backgrounds, according to their specific needs.

In certain schools where the programme has been implemented, based on a self-evaluation report, there has been a significant increase in the number of books each person in the community reads per month/year (10 to 20 times higher than what was recorded in baseline data). Readers also have opportunities to practise reading skills with their children, members of their clans and peers. This helps them retain their skills by further practising them.

A figure recorded by the programme shows that more than 100,000 parents in rural areas have engaged in building libraries in classrooms, which represents a positive sign of shifting attitude among communities towards ensuring their children have opportunities to read books. There have been instances when the readers took initiatives to contribute to creating awareness about books and establishing libraries to benefit their community.

The programme’s future plan is to continue expanding its civil library system to more than 300,000 libraries offering reading opportunities to people in rural areas by 2020. Through social effect and experience gained from existing activities, it has also paved the way for the establishment of 200 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) clubs in the upcoming years, which encourage reading about related STEM topics. At the same time, a national reading culture promotion policy is being drafted for consideration by the government.


I was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta. I had always felt hopeless until the day I found and read the book Overcoming destiny at the Hoang Clan Library. This book helped me realize the effort of people with disabilities to overcome challenges. Since then, instead of being worried and sad, I have tried to study better.
Hoang Thi Nhan, student at An Duc secondary school.
Since the classroom libraries programme implemented in An Duc school, I have seen more students read books and borrow them to read at home. I feel sad for thousands of my former students in the past 30 years who lacked the same opportunity. For that reason, I will work with the Books for Rural Areas in Viet Nam programme unconditionally (without stipend).
Ms. Duong Le Nga, former chairwoman of Youth Pioneers Union at An Duc secondary school.


Lessons Learned


The programme’s significant contributions to society have been recognized at national and local levels.

The programme has received attention from the media as well as support from numerous individuals, organizations and publishing houses. It has also received support from the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), MOCST and other local government entities who support the implementation and expansion the programme. For example, in 2009, MOCST decided to replicate the clan library model and, in 2015, MOET decided to replicate the parent-funded library model, both on a nationwide scale. These are particularly important legal frameworks for the programme to develop sustainably in the long-term.

The crowd-funding strategy allows resources to be mobilized from grassroots level. It increases a sense of sharing social responsibility as well as the programme’s independence from foreign aid and government budgets. In some cases, members of clans or parishes donate books, which lowers the operation cost of these libraries. So far, these libraries have operated at a very low cost. In addition to a typical establishment cost of US $100–200, US $15 may be added to purchase more books anually. They are also highly effective. The high numbers of books read per reader have been recognized by MOET and MOCST. Pursuing this strategy, it is expected that the programme will expand to more provinces and serve 20 million Vietnamese readers in its long-term plan.



Nguyen Quang Thach
Director of Centre for Knowledge Assistance and Community Development
No.7, Path 445/10, Lane 445, Lac Long Quan Street, Tay Ho District,
Viet Nam
Tel: +84 912 188 644