In countries that have been able to accumulate books and archives throughout the centuries, the publication of a catalog on their national library collection might not be noteworthy.
But Cambodia’s National Library was used as a kitchen during the Khmer Rouge regime, said Princess Sisowath Ritarac. The portion of its collection that was spared included rare books and manuscripts left to rot on the floor. What survived were unique documents on Cambodia dating back to the late 1800s, when the country was a French colony, said Sisowath Ritarac, a consultant at the library.
Since most Royal Chronicles manuscripts kept in Cambodia were destroyed in the 1970s and 1980s, the library collection has become an important source of information on Cambodia before the war. The French-language collection has been inventoried and recorded on computer using a grant from France and the Francophonie, an organization of countries sharing French linguistic and cultural heritages.
But more money is needed, Sisowath Ritarac said. The library’s computers are so old that some records were lost and the work had to be redone.
After reading comments left in the suggestion book at the library, Sisowath Ritarac said she realized students need easy-to-use tools to explore the library collection so they can learn about their history.
A gala fund-raiser is planned from 6 to 10 pm Friday at the library. The event is organized by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in cooperation with the Rotary Club of Cambodia and the National Library of Cambodia Foundation, which was created by Sisowath Ritarac. Major contributors include Sunway Hotel, Northbridge International School and the French Cultural Center.
When completed, the 1,000-page catalog will be designed to help Cambodian students conduct research, said Bertrand de Petigny, owner of Le Bistrot restaurant and a member of the library foundation. Not only will there be a summary of each book, there also will be a photo of its cover and its table of contents in French and in Khmer, he said.
The catalog will include a CD-ROM and a section explaining how to use the CD for research. The catalog should be ready within a year, and will be available to libraries around the country, said Sisowath Ritarac. There are also plans make it accessible on the Internet, said de Petigny.
Tickets are $40 per person. For information, contact Le Bistro or the Sunway Hotel.