A colourful new children’s library at the Center for Khmer Studies is now open for the kids of Siem Reap to enjoy.
Krisna Uk, who took over directorship of CKS in January this year, explained that the library has very much been a joint project between CKS and children at the neighbouring Wat Damnak Primary School.
“We asked the children between the ages of 8 and 12 how they would imagine their dream library, such as what sort of books they’d like and what sort of activities they imagined doing in the library.
“We also asked them to draw their dream library and we got 80 responses. So the bright colours used in the decoration and the type of furniture we bought are the things they really wanted to see. It meant the children really participated in making the library.”
And some of the children certainly had high hope for the activities available in the library. Uk said, “We had kids, especially the boys, saying they’d like to learn how to ski, for example. But other ideas were a bit easier for us to implement, such as wanting to know how to draw or how to make puppets.”
The books in the library have all been selected to encourage children to read. As Uk explained, reading is something relatively new to Cambodia.
“In the 1950s and 60s it was related to an elite part of society who had received education in the French system, and the rest of the population was heavily reliant on the pagoda and monks for reading. So we are hoping that little by little children will start a new reading culture, and it can be reading any kind of books. We have a lot of stories about ghosts as they love that. The library is also teaching them how to use, look after and share books, which is a kind of civic education too.”
The library also has benefits for the wider work that the Center for Khmer Studies does and its perception amongst residents of Siem Reap. Uk said, “The children’s library is great for CKS. We built our reputation as an academic institution because we work with scholars, but now we are showing that we cater for the younger segment of the population too.”
It is hoped that the presence of younger readers will encourage more locals to visit the main library, reading room and regular lecture series.
At present the children’s library is only open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, but Uk is hoping that soon they will be able to have more sessions.
“Our librarians are quite busy at the moment as we are changing our cataloguing system so we can integrate with World Cat – the world’s largest library catalogue – and this is taking time,” she said. “But we are trying to get some interns to cover more sessions.”
“I’d like it to be a resource for primary schools and for teachers to know that there is a library that they can use. It’s been very popular so far and the kids are delighted.”