Master of Library Science '73
THE END OF THE JOURNEY
University of Saskatchewan Library
In May 1973, I received my Master of Library Science (M.L.S.) from Syracuse University, School of Library Science and returned to Saigon, capital city of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), my home country. I could not know what the future would hold for me. Looking back, 32 years later, now I know how lucky I was. Moreover, I even know how the good luck was brought to me: Syracuse University School of Library Science (SUSLS) was behind it.
Developing Vietnamese Library Association
I came back to Saigon and started my job as Head Librarian at the University of Saigon’s Faculty of Pedagogy Library. Soon I was getting involved in the activities of the Vietnamese Library Association (VLA) and making friends with a group of U.S. library schools’ alumni. In January 1974, we ran for elections for several positions of the VLA’s Executive Committee. I was elected President of the VLA. The Vice-President was a graduate from University of Pittsburgh’s library school; and the Treasurer was a graduate from Kansas State Teachers’ College in Emporia. Together we devised a comprehensive program of activities and got funding from the Asia Foundation. We developed and implemented two free training programs for VLA members. We revived the Thu Vien Tap San (Library Journal), official organ of the VLA and published it as a quarterly. Between issues of the Library Journal, we maintained communications with membership through the 8-issue-a-year Newsletter. We organized, for the first time in the history of the VLA, a 5-day Summer Special Meeting at Van Hanh University. Important issues were settled at this Special Meeting, such as, form of personal name headings for Vietnamese authors, subdivisions for Dewey class numbers for Vietnamese History and Vietnamese Literature, and most important, a new Constitution and By-Laws for the VLA. The Summer Meeting was a big success. The VLA, almost overnight, was a big name in the capital city. Capitalizing on this, I ran for election for the National Council of Culture and Education, a national institution created by the Constitution and chaired by the Vice-President of the Republic of Vietnam. I was elected for a 4-year term. At the first plenary session of the Council I was elected Chairman of the Mass Education and Culture Committee of the Council. Van Hanh University, where the VLA was headquartered since the beginning of my presidency, agreed to establish the Library Science Department within the Faculty of Humanities and I was appointed Department Head. This was the first Library Science Department at the University-level in South Vietnam. Enrollment was very high at the first Fall Semester 1974. I taught Cataloging & Classification for this first group of students. Several members of the VLA Executive Committee, with ALA-accredited MLSs, were also teaching courses for the Library Science Department. I kept close contact with SUSLS, especially with my academic advisor, Professor Pauline Atherton (now Professor Emeritus Pauline Atherton Cochrane) during these two years, reporting all of these library developments in South Vietnam.
Surviving Six Painful Years
Everything seemed to be going as planned. And then came the fateful day of 30 April 1975. The South lost the war to the North and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) ceased to exist. Everything that we had been building for the South Vietnamese library community was lost forever. Many colleagues of mine from the VLA were able to get out of the country before the first tanks of the North Vietnamese armed forces came into the capital city of Saigon.I was not.For the next five years, from 1975 to 1980, the Communists let me keep my position as Head Librarian at the Faculty of Pedagogy Library; they made that decision because they did not have any professionally-trained librarians. I had to move very carefully through the daily management of the Library under the constant watch of my deputy librarian, who was a party member and, although without any library training, made all decisions for the Library. My personal life was hopeless and my professional life was irrelevant. Then some day in May 1979, I received a telegram from Professor Pauline Atherton, announcing that the SUSLS would try to get me out of the country. I was very moved by this act of compassion by Professor Atherton and the School. Suddenly I realized that this was not the end of the world, this was not the end of a meaningful life. But, at the same time, I was also very frightened since, during that time, any contact with foreigners, especially Americans, could have you end up in prison. I thought about it all night and the next morning I went to the Post Office and sent Professor Atherton a cable asking her and the SUSLS not to do anything but instead trying to contact my brother, Dr. Vinh-Te Lam, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This morale boost did not last very long. I hit the bottom in my life in July 1979. I lost My Mother when she had a massive stroke, and passed away after five days in coma. I had been living with My Mother since my Father’s death in 1947 when I was only 6 years old. I owed everything to her: my existence, my education, my sense of duty, my work ethics. Looking back, I vividly remember that I cried only twice during that whole period of time. The first time that I cried was at the hospital when I learned from the doctor at the Emergency Room that My Mother had a stroke and was already paralyzed for the whole left side of her body. I cried like a baby, probably for 20 minutes. I cried because I felt deeply that My Mother would not have a chance to survive, considering her old age (75) and the bad medical conditions in Vietnam at that time. Then during the five days in the hospital and the three days of the funeral I did not cry. I could not cry because I had to worry about so many things in order to provide My Mother with a decent funeral. The second time I cried was when we returned home after the cremation service was over. Observing our Buddhist tradition, we set up a small altar at home for My Mother so that we could offer food to her three times a days for the next forty-nine days. I sat in the living room, looked up to the picture of My Mother on the altar and I cried. This time I cried in silence, no sound was getting out. Now I know why: the feeling of real loss was finally set in, the pain was so overwhelming, and I was so alone in all of this.
Rebuilding Life in Canada
After My Mother’s death, I received sponsoring papers from my brother and filed an application for exit visas for my family with Vietnamese authorities. After two years, we were allowed to go to Canada. My family —myself, my wife, and our two sons, Dung, 17, and Trung, 5 --- arrived at Mirabel Airport in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in the afternoon of 23 September 1981. My brother rented a two-bedroom apartment and provided food and clothing for us. I landed a physical job in a warehouse with a wage of 4.25 dollars/hour, working from 4:00 p.m. to midnight. One morning I received a phone call from Professor Atherton. I cannot describe how happy I was when I heard her voice again for the first time since 1973. She encouraged me to go back to Library School for a Cataloging refreshing course since I was trained for AACR1, which had already been replaced by a totally new AACR2. I told her that I would love to do that but I did not have any money to pay for the tuition. Professor Atherton told me that she had already taken care of this and asked me to go see the Dean of the Library School at McGill University the next morning. Thus I was able to take the Cataloging Course with professor John Leidi for the next four months at McGill University. This was quite a challenge for me: I was already 40 years old, and I had a full-time physically-demanding job.
Toward the end of the Semester, I landed my first professional job in Canada at Agriculture Canada Departmental Library as a Team Leader of a Serials Conversion Project. The work was contracted with an employment agency, Sharon Professional Services in Ottawa. Here again I felt totally indebted to the SUSLS. This was how it happened. As soon as I came to Canada, my three teachers at SUSLS, Professor Pauline Atherton, Professor Marta Dosa, and Professor Antje Lemke, wrote wonderful letters of reference for me. Thanks to these letters of reference I was given the job at Agriculture Canada.
After two years in Ottawa, in August 1984, I landed a new full-time and permanent job as a Cataloger at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ontario. After nine months on the job, I applied, got the interview and was offered the position of Manager, Online Catalogue at CCOHS. I continued to work at various management positions at CCOHS until 1992. From 1992-1997 I was holding different positions within the Ontario Provincial Government in Toronto. While working at the Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Library, I got news of the opening of the position of Head, Cataloguing Department at the University of Saskatchewan Library, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I sent my application, got the interview on June 2, 1997 and was offered the job at the level of Librarian III at end of July 1997. My wife and I moved to Saskatoon (our two sons were now old enough to take care of themselves: Dung was 33 and Trung 21) and I started my job on September 2nd, 1997. After a three-year probation, I got my tenure in July 2000 and was promoted to Head, Technical Services Division, which oversaw both Cataloging and Acquisitions Departments. In 2002, I was promoted to Librarian IV (top rank) and the following year was granted a one-year Sabbatical Leave. After my Sabbatical Leave ended on July 1st, 2004, I stepped down from my two my positions as Head of Cataloging Department and Head of Technical Services Division to work as a Senior Original Cataloguer. I am planning to take early retirement.
Renewing Help for Vietnamese Library Community
Beginning in 1990, the Vietnamese leadership implemented political and economic changes and invited the international community to come and help Vietnam. My former VLA colleagues contacted me and we formed The Vietnam Library Education Project under the leadership of Dr. Quynh Hoa Nguyen and under the sponsorship of the School of Library and Information Science of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. We decided to translate the Glossary of Library and Information Science, 1983 edition into Vietnamese. I did the translation with two former VLA colleagues: Ms Le-Huong Pham, of Modesto Junior College Library, and Ms. Nga Nguyen, of Arizona Health Science Library. The translation was done in 1994. After a successful fund-raising campaign in 1995 , 2000 copies of this translation were printed, shipped to Vietnam and distributed free to the Vietnamese library community in Summer 1996. After the untimely death of Dr. Nguyen, we created a new non-profit foundation called The Library Education and Assistance Foundation for Vietnam , or LEAF-VN whose mission is “to help the Vietnamese people achieve excellence in education by providing assistance in developments of the country's library systems and services.” LEAF-VN decided to continue the translation program of The Vietnam Library Education Project. This time we decided to translate The Concise AACR2 by Michael Gorman, 1988 edition into Vietnamese. Again I undertook this translation project with Ms. Pham. This new translation project was until underway when I was invited to present a paper at the 10th International Conference on New Information Technology (NIT ’98) in Hanoi. In March 1998, I went back to Vietnam for the first time since I left for Canada in 1981. The paper that I presented at the NIT ’98 was entitled: “Library Development in Vietnam : Urgent Needs for Standardization” in which I urged the Vietnamese library community to adopt AACR2, MARC, Dewey Classification and Library of Congress Subject Headings. After the Conference, I wrote two other papers also on library development issues for Vietnam: 1) “Issues in Library Development for Vietnam”, Asian Libraries, v. 8, no. 10 (Dec. 1999), p. 371-379; and, 2) “A National Library Association for Vietnam”, New Library World, v. 102, no. 1166/1167 (July 2001), p. 278-282. The translation of the Concise AACR2 was done by end of 1999. Unlike in the case of the Glossary, this time we decided to add an Illustration Part to the translation in order to help the users in their application of the cataloging rules. Moreover, we had the translation reviewed by the staff of the National Library of Vietnam (NLV) The NLV Director wrote the Foreword for the translation. After another successful fund-raising campaign, 1,800 copies of the translated Concise AACR2 were printed and distributed free to the Vietnamese libraries. Last summer, Ms. Le-Huong Pham, my co-translator of The Concise AACR2, went to Vietnam and provided two train-the-trainers workshops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. AACR2 is now the standard cataloging code in Vietnam. Recently I was invited by the NLV in Hanoi and the National University of Ho Chi Minh City’s Graduate Library to come to Vietnam and provide two one-day seminars on new library developments in North American academic libraries in both locations. I have accepted their invitations and will be in Vietnam in July 2005.
An old Vietnamese saying affirms: Happiness does not come in double;misfortune does not come alone. I tend to think that My Real Come-Alone Happiness or, in other words, My Unique Luck, was my two-year study at SUSLS. Without this wonderful opportunity I could not have accomplished my pre-1975 work in South Vietnam as well as my post-1990 work for the reunified Vietnam. Without the support of my wonderful SUSLS teachers, Professors Atherton, Dosa, and Lemke, I could not have rebuilt my new professional life in Canada. I now enter the ‘Sunset of My Life’, absolutely proud of being educated by SUSLS and totally grateful of the life-long baggage provided by my respected and beloved SUSLS teachers.
7 March 2005