This article examines how builders and users contested the cultural, political, and social mission and meaning of the Hà Nội Central Library [Bibliothèque centrale de Hanoi] from 1919 to 1941. I argue that the central library was not just a symbol of Western modernity, but a public space in which modern practices were defied and defined by Vietnamese students, urban readers, and administrators. Library readers freely accessed diverse print matter, practiced self-directed learning, and created a social space for study, research, and leisure. Through this historical study, I reveal how the library was a contested colonial institution and a formative space of urban social life.

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