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  1. #1
    Utopian Expat Chittychangchang's Avatar
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    Nov 2013
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    Neilson Hayes Library Bangkok

    Stumbled upon this little treasure whilst walking around Bangkok some 15 years ago, it's still going strong today.

    Worth a read and visit if you're in the area,....

    Daily life in Bangkok was very different in 1869 when the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association was first founded. Most of what is now today’s modern city was then a lush network of swamps, khlongs and small settlements. Such would have been the case for the Silom (Windmill) area; Surawong Road itself was not to be built until later in 1897. At this time King Rama V was a young man, recently crowned and destined to lead Siam through many changes.
    Life for early Western residents could be harsh. Devastating epidemics were frequent. Western luxuries such as books were treasured items; a precious connection with home. Until the opening of the Suez Canal, freight from Europe or America could take six months or more to arrive in the Kingdom of Siam.
    Thirteen resourceful British and American women established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association in 1869, with the aim of circulating and sharing books. Initially staffed by volunteers and only open one day a week, by 1897 it was open every day (except Sunday) and a paid librarian was employed. Originally housed rent-free in various personal homes (and later in a chapel), by 1914 it was clear that a dedicated building was required. A plot of land in Surawong Road was purchased.
    Around this time, one of the most active Board members was Jennie Neilson. Danish by birth, she had lived in America and then entered Siam as a protestant missionary in 1881. Hearing that two suitable young American doctors were on their way to Bangkok, Jennie and a friend were said to have selected their respective future husbands prior to the gentlemen disembarking! Dr Thomas Heyward Hays became Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital. Jennie Neilson Hays served as President of the Library three times and was a mainstay of the organisation for twenty years.

    A letter sent in 1904 by the Crown Prince, later to become King Rama VI, to Dr Hays offers an intimate glimpse into communication between Thai royalty and expatriates during this period.

    Sadly Jennie passed away suddenly in 1920 – possibly as a result of cholera. Dr Hays chose to honour his wife by commissioning a new library to be built in her memory, using the plot of land purchased earlier. The result is our elegant neo-classical building; opened on 26 June, 1922.
    The Library thrived in its new and permanent home for many years, until a set-back in 1941 when the Japanese forces used it for billeting troops. More than 1,000 rare volumes were shipped to Japan during this time, along with precious architectural blueprints. Many books were subsequently returned, but some of the rarest books and blueprints are still missing.
    The Building

    Designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno, this harmonious, symmetrical building wisely incorporates practical features such as double walls to help keep the books well-ventilated and dry. It displays a wealth of classical features such as stucco decorative motifs, columns and teak fixtures and fittings. Numerous original details still survive; many are still in active daily use. The architectural highlight is a beautiful Italianate dome, once the imposing entrance and now a unique art gallery. At the time of its opening The Bangkok Times described the building as, “… a grand palace on a small scale”, and it remains so today.
    Mario Tamagno, in association with another Italian architect, Annibale Rigotti, also designed the prestigious Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall. An additional example of his work is Hua Lampong Railway Station, another impressive reminder of a past era.

    The building was awarded the status of “Historic Landmark” in 1986 by the Association of Siamese Architects. As one of the few remaining examples of secular period architecture in Bangkok, it is to be hoped that the building will always be treasured by both the Thai and expatriate communities.

    A major achievement was the installation of air-conditioning in 1999. This has greatly enhanced comfort and the sense of oasis from the heat and traffic outside.
    The Neilson Hays Library has become a much-loved Bangkok institution since its foundation in 1869. The library now houses approximately 17,000 books and magazines across many genres; the majority of which are available for members to borrow.
    Our diverse events: second hand book sales, concerts, children’s activities, art galleries and café are also popular features of the library.
    The elegant neo-classical building is not only the centrepiece of our library, but also a coveted venue for private events – including weddings, product launches, and corporate functions.

    The library is run by a small team of staff, supported by a volunteer Library Association Board and a hard working team of volunteers (Friends of the Neilson Hays Library). We are the oldest not-for-profit organisation in Thailand and warmly welcome financial assistance with our endeavours from both the corporate sector and the community.


    We envision the Library as an inclusive cultural center for our community. A place that welcomes people of all backgrounds to come together and engage in conversations about literature and the arts.

    Our core activity is the serve as a book repository that inspires a passion for the magic of books. But along with the love of reading and writing, we are dedicated to providing resources and programs for audiences who believe in the nurturing and healing power of the arts in general.
    Library Association Board

    The Neilson Hays Library Association Board is responsible for the management of the Neilson Hays Library, including: maintenance, the selection of books for the collection, and the employment and supervision of all personnel. The Board meets on a monthly basis, with an Annual General Meeting held in the first quarter of every year.
    Following Dr Hays’ wishes, the Board is constitutionally comprised of twelve ladies. However we very much welcome and value our male volunteers, members and Friends of the Library. There are many opportunities for all of our members to get involved.
    Officers of the Association Board include:

    • President
    • Vice President
    • Secretary
    • Treasurer
    • Galleries Curator
    • Library Systems Coordinator
    • Book Buying Coordinator
    • Children’s Programs Coordinator
    • Adult Programs Coordinator
    • Volunteer Coordinator
    • Communications Coordinator
    • Membership Coordinator
    • Marketing Coordinator

    Friends of the Neilson Hays Library

    “I love books and reading and for many years I have been volunteering and working in various libraries. I love the old style of the Neilson Hays Library, the friendly staff and the feeling you get when you enter this quiet place in a busy city like Bangkok.” Maike, volunteer
    The Neilson Hays Library is fortunate to have a dedicated team of volunteers who generously give their time to assist in the operations of the library. Volunteers are needed throughout the year in roles such as:

    • Assisting with second-hand book sale events (sorting, pricing, cashiering)
    • Cataloguing of books
    • Assisting at children’s events
    • Reading at Children’s Story Time
    • Planning and assisting at adult’s events and fundraisers
    • Leading and assisting with school visits
    • Preparing press releases and newsletter coordination
    • Assisting with social media and website updates

    Members of the library and the wider community are warmly encouraged to volunteer with the library. Please submit a Volunteer Expression of Interest Form and we will be in touch with you shortly.


    Stunning and accessible work by diverse artists of many nationalities are featured at the two Neilson Hays galleries. Artistic media include paintings, photography, textiles and ceramics. Many art-works are offered for sale during the exhibitions.
    The Neilson Hays Library offers two distinct spaces for artists wishing to display their work: the Rotunda Gallery and the Garden Cafe Gallery.
    Look for monthly notice of Artist’s Receptions on our Events Calendar. Please join these complimentary events and meet the artist.
    Rotunda Gallery

    This is an elegant domed room, originally the imposing entrance to the Library. The circular floor is tiled in original teak and the walls feature neo-classical decorative stucco.
    Modern art creates a particularly stunning contrast within this classical setting. The Gallery Curator (email can advise exhibiting artists how to make the most of this unique space.
    Garden Café Gallery

    The bright and airy modern Garden Café Gallery doubles as a busy cafe. With a long white exhibition wall, the gallery offers contemporary and uncomplicated space. The shady garden can be used to display durable outdoor art. The Gallery Curator can advise exhibiting artists how to use this venue most effectively.

  2. #2
    ความรู้ลึกลับ HuangLao's Avatar
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    Jun 2017
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    Excellent presentation, Chitty....

    The history of this astonishing facility is quietly reflective of the subtle influence - socially, politically, and economically - that the British had on Siam throughout King Mongkut's and King Chulalongkorn's respective reigns.


  3. #3
    Thailand Expat reinvented's Avatar
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    Nov 2005
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    Yesterday @ 12:10 PM
    top of soi 2
    It is very pleasant and hopefully will see more use as the river area becomes more popular.
    at present not the easiest are to access

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