Neilson Hays Library: Dropping Knowledge on Bangkok

The latest publishers’ survey of Thailand revealed Thais read only two books per year and roughly 7 lines of text per day. Bangkok has an amazingly puny number of libraries for a city its size (and no KohSpot doesn’t count those comic book rental places on every soi). We’re not here to debate the inherent consequences of blatantly ignoring the need for more public libraries in Bangkok, but we will champion a venue like Neilson Hays Library as we feel it deserves some much-needed love.

The Neilson Hays Library is set in a lovable old 1921 building on Surawong Road next to the British Club; it is the epitome of old English character.  For example, this place is still rocking a card catalog. Although we often times discriminate people based on their attractiveness level we rarely have any prejudice when it comes to people keeping old school traditions. If you prefer to pull out index cards based on the Dewey Decimal system instead of tweeting what you had for breakfast, then KohSpot and the Neilson Hays Library welcomes you with open arms. The Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association was started in 1869 and has been going ever since, dubbed Neilson Hays after a particularly hard-working woman passed away in 1920.

Neilson Hays offers a pretty fair selection of English language books, magazines and newspapers. Unfortunately for Thais it offers no Thai-languagepublications, but there is no better way to practice your foreign language skills than reading the latest Twilight book in a foreign language, right?

Fronted by a beautiful garden courtyard and café, Neilson Hays is also an art gallery. Both the café and the rotunda inside the library feature exhibitions by local artists. The library is a non-profit, we reckon the oldest in Bangkok, so it is entirely sustained by membership fees and rental space for exhibitions. There is also a children’s area filled with bean bags and kids’ books and videos. It’s only after visting Neilson Hays Library that one realizes why it was rated the second most tranquil place in Bangkok

Peace and quiet has a price tag although marginal. It costs 100 baht for guests to spend the entire day at Neilson Hays, but just to walk around and look at the building is free. An annual membership for families is 3,300 baht while for adults it’s 2,500 baht. If you like to read and plan to go regularly, it’s not a bad investment and supports a good cause. As of this review, the library only had 520 members.

The café offers food from the kitchen of the British Club, and it’s also a winner. We sampled the duck breast with parmesan risotto (250 baht) and spinach ravioli in mushroom sauce (150 baht) and came away satisfied. The outdoor seating in the garden is recommended this time of year.

KohSpot is a starry-eyed idealist, and we believe many of Thailand’s problems could be eased with better access to education. Lacking that, libraries are a good start. Yes, Chulalongkorn and some of the other universities have decent libraries, but they’re not free and are meant to serve the students that enroll at their institutions. The National Library of Thailand is another resource, but it’s not entirely free either. And yes some temples offer tiny libraries as well, mostly filled with children’s books. While Neilson Hays isn’t free, it’s a good first step for Thailand to improve its educational resources offered to the public.  Well, until Yingluck comes through with her ‘an ipad for every child’ campaign promise.

Neilson Hays Library and Cafe
The library is hosting a used book sale Jan 28 and 29 from 9:30 am to 4 pm.
Location: 195 Surawong Road, right next to the British Club. A couple blocks west of Narathiwas Road.
Mass transit: BTS Chong Nonsi, then walk either 15 minutes or take a motosai.
Hours: 9:30 am-5 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Mondays
Phone: 02-233-1731

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