Libraries of modernization: American books in South Vietnam, 1946-1964
Scarpati, Casey Michael
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With the United States Information Service (USIS) Saigon’s creation in 1946, the United States had a medium with which to transport American culture into Vietnam. Origins of the American effort to transport books abroad to influence other countries extend back to WWII. Like other USIS posts, the Saigon branch relied on film, exhibitions, radio, and books to influence South Vietnamese. Partnering with the American Friends of Vietnam (AFV) and Asia Foundation, the USIS Saigon and the United States Information Agency (USIA) coordinated in the transportation of American books to the American Library in Saigon and the universities of Hue and Saigon. By transporting American books to South Vietnam, the United States promoted its ideas and modernization in the region. USIS Saigon rarely considered Vietnamese cultural preferences in their activities. In transporting books to South Vietnam, the information agency prioritized ideas rather than accessibility; American leaders rather than South Vietnamese ones; and American democracy instead of President Diem’s Personalism. USIS Saigon readership surveys paralleled this trend and projected optimism rather than offering a critical appraisal of cultural activities.