In an age where getting things done quickly is important and being entertained at the touch of a button is de rigeuer, it’s far too easy to forget the simple pleasure of reading a good book. Can’t afford the latest releases? Try a library. There are plenty of well-stocked libraries in Bangkok, and most aren’t expensive to join. When you think of the hours of enjoyment reading can bring – and the knowledge you’ll acquire as part of the process – joining a library is a wise investment.
Neilson Hays Library: This library first opened its doors in 1869 to provide reading materials to English speakers in Bangkok. In 1922 Dr Hayward Hays gave the current library building to the non-profit organisation – now the oldest in the Kingdom – in memory of his wife, who had worked at the library for more than 25 years. In 1999 the library – a sanctuary among the hustle of the Surawongse area – became fully air-conditioned, and it now contains a collection of over 20,000 English-language volumes, which are added to monthly. There’s a wide range of literary and commercial fiction, non-fiction, and an excellent range of children’s books. Books can be borrowed for two to four weeks.
Central Library, Chulalongkorn University: Although it’s an academic library aimed at students and lecturers, the library of Thailand’s oldest university is also open to the public. With almost one million volumes lining its shelves, plus a huge collection of journals, CD-ROMs and audio-visual materials, it’s a phenomenal resource for all things academic in both Thai and English. There is some fiction, but the emphasis is definitely on the academic. Much of the catalogue is online (http://library.car.chula.ac.th/search/) making it easy to check for the types of books you like to read prior to heading there. Most books can be borrowed for three weeks.
AUA Library: The American University Alumni association began in 1924 when Thai students returning from abroad wanted to start a social club, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the non-profit AUA Language Centre was established, with the objective of promoting mutual understanding between Thais and Americans. The public library opened just over thirty years ago and contains mostly English-language fiction and non-fiction books, with an emphasis on university texts. The public is welcome to browse on their own for free. General information about the US is also available, as is a video library. Two books or videos can be borrowed for two weeks at a time. The library also contains a self-access centre, aimed at English-language learners, for which there is an extra charge.
Siam Society Library: The Siam Society’s library recently reopened for browsing only after a period of inventory-taking, but a date has yet to be set for borrowing to resume. The Society itself was established under Royal Patronage in 1904, as an organization devoted to those interested in the artistic, scientific, and cultural affairs of Thailand and her neighboring countries. The Society’s library, which opened in 1962, is located on the second and third floors of the Society’s new Chalerm Phrakiat Building, and it reflects this commitment to the region’s culture. It contains more than 20,000 volumes of books, around half of which are in Thai, and half in English. The public can browse, but membership of the Society is required for borrowing privileges, which allow four books to be taken home for one month.
British Council’s Information UK: The British Council’s Information UK section features a Resource Centre, which holds books, tapes and CD-ROMs on English language learning, contemporary British fiction and poetry, reference works on Britain and a collection of classical literature. There are also more than 60 British magazine and journal titles to browse through – or borrow for a week, if you’re a member – and a video library with more than 900 tapes, including BBC series and documentaries, and British films. You need to be a member to access the audio-visual equipment, or you can take the videos home for a week. Books can be borrowed for four weeks.
Neilson Hays Library
195 Surawongse Rd
Tel: 233 1731
Tues to Sat, 9.30 am to 4 pm
Sun, 9.30 am to 2 pm
Children/students: Bt1,300 baht
Senior citizens (over 65): Bt1,000
Half-year membership is also available.
Chulalongkorn Central Library
Phya Thai Road
Tel : 215-0871-3
Mon to Fri, 8 am to 9 pm
Sat, 9 am to 4 pm
Non-members: Bt20 per day for access only.
For membership: Bt2,000 refundable deposit, then Bt1,500 per year to borrow books.
Other university students: Bt2,000 deposit, then Bt800 to borrow books per year.
179 Rachadamri Rd
Tel: 252 8170 ext 4005
Mon to Fri, 9.30 am to 6 pm
Sat, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm
Self access centre is open Mon-Fri, 9,30am to 6 pm only
The self access centre costs Bt800 for non-students per six-week term, or Bt400 for students per six-week term.
Siam Society Library
131 Soi Asoke
Tel: 661 6470
Tues to Sat, 9 am to 5pm
Non-members: free access only.
Membership of the Siam Society costs Bt2,500 per year, and allows books to be borrowed.
Student membership is Bt500 per year.
British Council Library
254 Chulalongkorn 64
Siam Square, Phyathai Road
Tel : 652 5480 ext 507
Tues to Fri, 10 am to 7 pm
Sat to Mon, 10 am to 5 pm
Librarian available from Tues to Sat after midday only
Non-students: Bt1,100 for first year, then Bt1,000 per year
Students: Bt700 for first year, then Bt650 per year
British Council students: free