In Hung Phung’s dream world, he would own a large building in Vietnam, turn it into a library and fill it with books. He would dedicate his entire life to his library, even without any compensation. That’s how important this dream is, he says. 

“I have had a love for reading since I was very young,” said Phung, a Master of Library and Information Science student at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. “I believe my purpose in life is the dedication to the library field and the growth of the local library network in Vietnam. I have plans to become one of the trailblazers in Vietnam in the field of community libraries.”

Phung is originally from Hanoi, Vietnam, and is studying at Syracuse as a Fulbright scholar. He is the second Vietnamese student in the 30-year history of the Vietnam Fulbright Scholarship to study library science. Since 2013, he has been working as an amateur, self-taught librarian but decided in 2021 that he wanted to become an expert in the field and study in the U.S.

“I fell in love with Syracuse the first time I saw the campus, which is why Syracuse was at the top of my list when I applied for the Fulbright program,” he said. “The campus is much more beautiful than the images I searched before moving here.”

So far, Phung has enjoyed exploring Syracuse’s campus and getting out in nature, even during the cold winter months. 

Back home in Vietnam, Phung is known as the “backbone of Vietnam’s community library network,” but he would like to do more. In 2013, he launched Duonglieu Library, a private library he opened in his living room as a free space for neighborhood children to enjoy books. 

“Not many people came to read. We welcomed just a few kids, and they came just out of their curiosity,” he said. “People in my community did not understand why I would volunteer my time at the library. They wondered if I benefitted somehow financially. Moreover, my family was not pleased with me since I was not showing any success in my education. They assumed that I should look for a job after graduating, earn some money and support my family.”

Undeterred, Phung began learning more about how to run a library by searching the internet, reading children’s psychology books, talking to kids and searching other libraries’ websites for information. In 2014, he rebranded Duonglieu Library’s design twice and reconstructed and redecorated the library.

“I called for support from our community. I showed them the overall vision for our library and shared what we lacked and what we hoped to do,” he said. “Through this open communication, local people began to understand what I was doing.”

With help from volunteers, he began holding events focused on soft skills, English classes, science competitions and more. 

“As a result of these concerted efforts, 3,000 children came to us as readers and participants,” Phung said. “Adults trusted us, which was demonstrated by the fact that all our expenses were paid through the contributions of the entire community, and we had key members to maintain the library.”

In 2019, he founded Local Bookable, a non-profit organization that supports other private and community libraries in Vietnam. He also created the Vietnam Local Library Network, which now has more than 30 member libraries in Vietnam. 

“My team and I have supported many other like-minded people to build the capacity of libraries throughout the country. I have countless numbers of people and libraries who continually contact me for support,” he said. “I love reading, I love libraries and I love children. Being a librarian is my lifelong dream job.”