Bringing reading culture to Vietnam’s youth
With outlets both in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City, the Youth Culture Library is all about bringing rare and interesting literature to a whole new audience.
“We’re not trying to exclude anyone,” says co-founder Tom Sanders. “We are trying to figure out a way to get the collection into people’s hands — it deserves to be seen and read.”
The Youth Culture Library story began in a Saigon flat, with two literary enthusiasts and a ticket to Hanoi. Co-founders Ed Weinberg and Tom Sanders met shortly before Ed moved cities, and the two became friends.
“He had this wonderful collection of zines and other literature, and he hated to leave it sitting around in boxes,” Tom says. “Ed told me about his idea for a library. I was so excited — it was exactly the kind of worthwhile project I was looking for.”
According to Tom, Ed already had the Youth Culture Library concept almost ready to launch when they met. “Ed had all the contacts, the collection, even some artwork ready to work with,” says Tom. “He just hadn’t taken the final steps.”
Now up and running, the Youth Culture Library is going from strength to strength as more people discover it. “So far we’ve held events at Piu Piu, Chao Gallery and at M2C cafe,” says Tom. “We’ve hosted collaborative writing, comic jams, poetry performances, and so many lovely, talented people here have given their time and creativity to help us define our distinct aesthetic.”
The Library is catalogued and collated online, with a Youth Culture Library sticker on every spine. “Ed had a Youth Culture Library stamp handmade in Hong Kong,” Tom says. “So we’ve stamped every book too.”
The collection comprises a vibrant mix of zines, black and white punk, graphic novels, serialised graphic novels, hardback printed books, doodles and arts books. People are free to read the materials on site, but aren’t allowed to take them home.
The Youth Culture Library is displayed in three different places — Chao Art Hostel and M2C cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, and from next month, Ed’s collection in Hanoi. “We choose our spaces and allocate our collection to those spaces carefully,” says Tom. “Different people engage with different literature, different art, different atmospheres, so we organise the collection to fit in with every venue and with the people who would hang out there.”
A free collection, the Youth Culture Library has no other aim than to share contemporary literature with Vietnam. This includes a range of literature such as works on sustainable design, a photography library and a travel library. One of the major components of the collection is the zine.
The zine medium is known for being broad, more like a visual artform than a set literary genre, which makes it accessible to a wide range of people. “Anyone can write or read a zine, and each zine is different,” Tom explains. “They make no attempt to contextualise anything for the reader — you just pick it up and start turning. Something will grab your attention and then, in that moment, you will engage with it.”
Despite this, there is no escaping the fact that zine culture comes from a punk and DIY aesthetic. One of the biggest challenges the library faces is finding that thin line between zine culture and Vietnamese social norms. “The idea behind zine as an artform is something we are determined to hold onto,” Tom says. “At the same time we want to make it accessible to everyone.”
Tom and Ed see the Youth Culture Library as a way to encourage creativity, but also as a way of encouraging a Vietnamese audience to interact more with the English language. “One great thing about this project is how it gets young people engaging with English through art,” says Tom. “We want to share our collection with Vietnamese students who wouldn’t see this kind of stuff otherwise.”
Recently launched, the Youth Culture Library is at the beginning of its journey. “Our first objective is to keep sourcing interesting, varied spaces to curate our collection,” Tom says. Working with designer Joseph Laity who will do all the visuals, the two co-founders will also be running a number of workshops in each venue, designed to encourage engagement with the collection. “We want to reach a real wide range of people,” Tom says. “At the end of the day the library is and always will be free, and any money we make from workshops goes straight back into growing the project.”
The collections are at Chao Downtown, 121/61 Le Thi Rieng, Q1, HCMC and M2C, 44B Ly Tu Trong, Q1, HCMC. At the end of this month the main collection will move to Saigon Outcast, 188 Nguyen Van Huong, Q2, HCMC. Hanoi’s library will be opening in December. For more information click on facebook.com/youthculturelibrary
Photos by Bao Zoan