The government's mobile library van has been garaged in central Phnom Penh for more
than two months, stranded by a lack of petrol.
The library typically serves primary schools and wats across Dangkor, Meanchey and
Russey Keo districts, providing books to students, monks and city dwellers, but a
shortage of gasoline has stopped the wheels, and the pages, turning since June.
Hun Sarin, director of the Department of Books and Reading, says the Ministry of
Culture and Fine Art is responsible for providing gasoline for the van every month.
"I do not know what the problem is inside the ministry now," Sarin said
August 2. "I have just called the ministry this morning to ask for diesel; if
they do not have gasoline, we can sell the diesel to buy gasoline."
"They said they will see," Sarin said of the ministry's response, but as
of August 11 the mobile library remained garaged.
Khuon Chamroeun, deputy director of the Department of Books and Reading, said the
truck used to be greeted by hundreds of students as well as monks and other citizens
whenever it traveled to the suburbs.
While schools often have their own libraries, aside from the classroom texts many
of them lack books and periodicals, Cham-roeun said.
The mobile library, however, is filled with books on subjects as diverse as fairy
tales, history and entertainment, as well as journals and magazines. Before running
out of gas, the library travelled between the three Phnom Penh districts every weekday.
The French government donated the truck and some of the first books in 1995; Queen
Monineath and the German government provided the rest of the books and magazines.
France also pays a monthly bonus to supplement the salaries of the four Cambodian
civil servants in the Department of Books and Reading.
Through this and other initiatives, libraries have been making a gradual comeback
since the Khmer Rouge years.
According to Chamroeun, a report released in 2003 said there were now 60 libraries
and 25 document centers throughout Cambodia, most of them in Phnom Penh.
But Khlot Vibolla, director of the National Library near Wat Phnom, says a more recent
survey, which has not been completed yet, points to at least 80 libraries in Phnom
The National Library contains about 100,000 books in Khmer, English, French and German,
said Vibolla. About 20,000 of these are books that survived the Pol Pot regime. Most
of the books relate to culture, religion and history.
The National Library was closed in 2002 after part of the ceiling collapsed, but
reopened early last year. It now caters to college students, civil servants and foreign
researchers, with 2,750 people visiting in the first six months of 2005, Vibolla
Other modern, air-conditioned libraries in Phnom Penh include the Hun Sen Library
at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the Senate Library at the Senate, the Buddhism
Library at the Buddhist Institute, and the library of the Cambodia Development Resource
About 500 people visit the Hun Sen Library daily, while the Senate Library and the
CDRI library each receive about 50 visitors per day.