Go: National Library of Cambodia

Force ties for a time. Ideas bind forever

As a die-hard lover of books and libraries, I've been wanting to visit the National Library of Cambodia for quite some time.  It's also been on my to do list as one of the Jewels of Phnom Penh (I am trying to get to all of them - very, very slowly). Unfortunately, for me, visiting the National Library is easier said than done - it's open Monday to Friday, from 8am-11am, and 2pm-5pm - not particularly convenient for those of us with jobs.

But the other day, I finally did it.  The Library is housed in a lovely, well-maintained colonial building.  Right next door to the equally beautiful Hotel Le Royal.

The outside has been carefully restored (by students of the School of Fine Arts, I believe).  And includes intricate decorations and friezes.

There's the French quote above, and it's Cambodian equivalent.​​​​​​  The Cambodian version sits above the door to the souvenir shop, which I doubt ever opens.

Another Cambodian piece, on the other side of the building, holds a much simpler message: look; learn.

Inside, the building is still grand, but somewhat less ornate.  Although there are some more friezes, and some lovely wooden furniture.

A few students from the University across the road sit at long tables and endure reprimanding stares from the staff if they get too loud.  I enjoyed flicking through some of the books in the reference library, checking out where the book had come from. Some were stamped as donations from the National Libraries of other countries or from Embassies, a couple had the mark "US Army Salvage" stamped heavily inside.  A few new volumes hid among an array of outdated encyclopaedias.

There is a small lending library, which a foreigner can join for $10 per year (if I remember right) and Cambodians can join for a much more modest sum.  The collection includes books in Khmer, English and French, and to be honest, the book-lover in me was tempted, but the problem is the Library is just too out of the way for me and the opening times too inconvenient.  But I enjoyed perusing the dusty shelves with a mix of books and disused typewriters and office furniture.

I think my favourite thing in the whole room was these beautiful old catalogue boxes (do they have a proper name?).  Oh, what I wouldn't give to take one of these babies home.

I asked whether they were still used (given the state of the rest of the library, I honestly wasn't sure).  But, no, they've been replaced by a catalogue, which is also online.  Everything in the catalogue is in the library, I'm told. When I request a couple of books, the librarian says she'll bring them if she sees them.  I'm not very hopeful, but 10 minutes later she appears with one of the two requests.

I chatted to her for a while about the woes of the library.  I'm told that the contents of a large box on counter marked "Donations" are used to fix the photocopier and the like.  "Not for books?", I ask.  No, the only books are donations, she tells me sadly, it's not like libraries in your country.  No, indeed, it's not.

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  1. Hello, for foreigners, is there any fee to go inside the library if we just want to see it? :) Hoping to see this too!

    1. No, there's no fee to go inside and look around. The only thing that costs is if you'd like to become a member so that you can borrow books.

      I hope you get a chance to take a look : )


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