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Khmer Civilization and Tradition (in English)Posted: 2009-10-01 22:37:36   Replies: 0
Cambodia Libraries (1)

Libraries, like all other cultural institutions in Cambodia, suffered gravely from neglect during the political, social and economic upheaval of the 1970s and have largely been rebuilt from nothing in the period from 1980 onwards. Since the 1993 elections there has been a dramatic increase in the number of libraries, as well as the number of young Cambodians using them regularly. In addition, technology is now ensuring that even people in remote parts of Cambodia can have free access to information.

OVERVIEW
Library development in Cambodia has been constrained by a number of factors, the most fundamental of which is that Cambodian society lacks a tradition of reading. In the past, history and traditional stories tended to be shared and passed on through dance, music and art.
Libraries in Cambodia developed from two streams: the repositories of palm-leaf manuscripts containing Buddhist scriptures and religious writings that were preserved in the countrys numerous wats, and the colonial-era document archives that were established during the French protectorate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. University libraries had smaller collections, mostly French and English language publications, some of which survive from the pre-1975 period. Khmer-language materials from pre-war years at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) consisted largely of cours, handwritten teaching notes which were bound and used for revision purposes. Many of these cours were revised and reproduced during the 1980s and used heavily in the absence of regular texts.
In the past most of the publishing was of religious books disseminated by the Buddhist Institute, which prior to 1975 had a network of libraries based in provincial wats. Even today most libraries in government departments and educational institutions do not have money for the purchase of books. Funding, when it has been available, has come from overseas sources.

National Library
The National Library of Cambodia was established by the French colonial administration on 24 December 1924, with an initial collection of just 2,879 books, mainly in French. At the time it was known as the Bibliotheque Centrale and constituted part of the French colonial government's Directorate of Archives and Libraries of Indochina.
During the French colonial period the National Library was used mostly by officials and visiting French scholars, and the collection was on closed access. Not until the 1950s were the first books in Khmer added to its collection. The first Khmer Director, Mr Pach Chhoeun, was appointed in 1951.
After independence in 1954 there took place a steady growth in Cambodian publishing, which was reflected in the increased number of Khmer language books in the National Library. By 1975 a sizeable collection had been amassed, but much of this was dispersed around the city during the subsequent years of turmoil and neglect.
Of the 40 staff at the National Library in April 1975, only six survived to return in 1979. Most suffered the fate of many of the countrys intellectuals - death by torture or starvation. The library itself was used to store food and cooking utensils and the gardens used to raise pigs.
Since 1980 the National Library has been re-established with the assistance of various overseas governments and agencies. Managed by the Directorate of Cultural Publications and Reading of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the National Library is currently staffed by 26 people.
Today the National Library of Cambodia falls under the overall management of the Directorate of Cultural Publications and Reading of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, which has responsibility for encouraging and promoting literacy and reading throughout the country and providing the necessary support services (publishing, libraries) for this development.
The National Library currently holds some 103,635 copies in various languages (Khmer, French, English, Russian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai); special collections comprise 8,327 national documents, including documents published in French between 1925 and 1970, plus some books and documents published in the Khmer language dating from the years 1955-1975.
There is also a special collection of 710 sastra or palm leaf manuscripts, which are available on microfilm. An exhibition of book plates has been created from the library's collection of colonial-era periodicals, magazines and books; this is permanently on view in the Librarys periodicals room.
Unfortunately over the last 20 years the library has experienced mixed fortunes and has been unable to regain its former prominence in the community. In 2002 part of the ceiling of the 80-year old building collapsed inwards, prompting a long period of closure for repairs and renovations. Since March 2004 the library has been open to the public again at a 2,000 Riel charge to Cambodians. However further development is constrained by lack of funding for purchasing books and other resources, and library staff salaries, in common with those of other civil servants, fall far below the poverty line.

Buddhist Institute Library
The Buddhist Institute was established in 1930, but had its genesis in the Cambodian Library, founded by King Sisowath in 1921. From 1925 this was known as the Royal Library. The objective of the Buddhist Institute was, and remains, the study and research of Theravada Buddhism.
Before 1975 the library held over 40,000 volumes in Khmer, French, English, Thai, Burmese, Lao and Sinhalese. Unfortunately much of this collection was lost in the devastation of 1975-79.
In 1980 remnants of the collection (mostly multiple copies of Buddhist Institute publications) were sent to the National Library. Then in 1992 the Buddhist Institute was re-established and began to receive assistance from overseas.
With its new collection - which focuses on the fields of religion and philosophy, literature and linguistics, social sciences, history and art the Buddhist Institute Library is now once more one of the prominent libraries in Cambodia.
Over the past few years many of the earlier Buddhist Institute publications, including the 110-volume Tripitaka (Buddhist Bible) and the monthly journal Kambuja Suriya (first published in 1926), have been reissued and copies distributed to libraries and pagodas throughout the country.
The Buddhist Institute now has an active publications programme and operates its own printing house.

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