The Elastic Concept Of Libraries In Laos

The Language Project and Community Learning International, are helping shape a brighter future for the people of Laos through the creation of libraries uniquely geared towards the needs of their end users.

As one of the world’s poorest countries with the sad distinction – and lingering dangers – of also being the most heavily bombed country in the world, simply checking out a book from one’s local library in Laos isn’t as straightforward a process as in more prosperous and secure nations. In this mountainous and vastly rural backwater of merely a few million people, many Lao villages are in fact so remote they can only be accessed by boat. Still, the concept of making books and other essential tools for learning and documenting readily accessible via libraries is of utmost importance to tiny landlocked Laos. Here’s a look at two non-profit organizations, The Language Project and Community Learning International, and their good work helping shape a brighter future for the people of Laos through the creation of libraries uniquely geared towards the needs of their end users.

@My Library

The Language Project creates and supports libraries in Laos. At present TLP has five libraries ranging from a box of books in a village home to a large self-study resource centre in the heart of the charming UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang. Named @ My Library, this self-study resource centre offers more than books on loan. Of particular note, is @ My Library’s camera lending system which is used for educational purposes as well as to generate income for the centre. To participate, potential photographers (mostly young adults from Luang Prabang’s neighbouring villages) must first pass a basic photography course. After that, they’re allowed to borrow @ My Library’s cameras. Photos taken with the loaned cameras are displayed in the library and available for sale (generally to the many tourists passing through) with proceeds split between the photographer and the library. With so much of the available images of Laos the work of foreign photographers, it was refreshing to see what the locals found snap-worthy. With approximately a hundred or so young people taking advantage of @ My Library’s facilities on a daily basis, it’s heartening to see TLP’s focus on empowering locals through self-initiative being applied to such great effect.

Lao Photographers Project

Community Learning International does a remarkable job filling the education gap through the implementation of libraries as well. One especially nifty CLI concept is the Book Boat: a riverboat-cum-floating library visiting otherwise unreachable villages and thereby giving hundreds of children the only opportunity to read books written in the Lao language. CLI currently has two book boats which run along the Mekong and Ou Rivers. The sight of dozens of school-aged children racing to a riverbank to take their turn at reading is inspiring indeed. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough books for all interested, and children must return books after only an hour or so of reading. One way to deal with the shortage of books is to create “book bags” of donated books available to different villages on a rotating basis every few weeks.

Book boat

The resourceful commitment of The Language Project and Community Learning International demonstrates how the need for libraries can be met in developing countries. The popularity and shortfalls of these projects in Laos suggest just how necessary libraries truly are.

Reading books brought by Book Boat

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