As readers from more than 100 countries mark World Book Day on 23 April, book lovers from across the RMIT community reflect on the status of books in Vietnam and role of the University’s Library in promoting reading.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to eradicate mù chữ (literally, blindness to letters) in Vietnam. Literacy rates in the country have been steadily increasing, with current estimates ranging from 94-97 per cent, depending on the source.
Yet, there are other measures of literacy on which Vietnam may be falling short. In 2016 it was estimated that an average Vietnamese person reads fewer than one book per year. Some believe lack of access is the main cause.
Doan Vu Nhu Quynh (Jenny), a Bachelor of Business (Management) student and President of the student group The Good Book Club, shared her concerns about the current reading culture in Vietnam.
"Vietnamese high school students should receive a lot more encouragement, facilities and books in all kinds of languages,” Jenny said. “I believe this is a weakness in many schools. My high school had very few books in the library.”
Students who end up studying at RMIT Vietnam discover a very different experience, one where the Library offers the resources and the encouragement to cultivate a strong reading habit.
“RMIT Vietnam Library aims to help create a ‘love of reading’ within its student community," said Ms Clare O'Dwyer, Head of Library Services and Student Academic Success. The Library pursues this goal through a host of programs, events and services aimed at increasing the accessibility of books.
One of those events was the Book Swap, co-hosted by The Good Book Club, celebrating World Book Day on 23 April. The event welcomed all students, alumni, and staff to “swap old books for new adventures.” In total nearly 1500 books were traded for both campuses. Additionally, the Library gave away nearly 100 best sellers to students.
Another helpful program at the Library is extensive reading. The program incorporates level-appropriate, or graded reader, books for English learners to build the habit of reading for both fluency and fun.
From December 2016 to July 2017, the program saw a dramatic 600 per cent increase in books borrowed by English students. On average, students in the program read over nine graded reader books every term (2.5 months). Students outside of the English program can also borrow a graded reader.
Easy access to the Library’s resources doesn’t end at graduation. The Library recently started a book delivery service for alumni. Former students living anywhere in Vietnam can have books delivered to their doorstep free of charge. More than one hundred books have been delivered since the inception of this service last year.
Of course, literacy skills encapsulate not only how much people read, but also how they engage with the books. Jenny noted, “In the past, my reading purpose used to be very simple. In recent years, as a university student, I have applied questioning and critical thinking into most reading materials."
An avid reader, Jenny says she reads more than ten books a year.
“Reading has given me inner strength and wisdom,” she concluded.
Story: Audrey Gray