Sophea Chim and her 10-year-old daughter, Sophea Jessica Kan, left for Cambodia on January 8 with four suitcases.
When they returned to Long Beach 13 days later, they had five more bags.
But the extra burden was not due to souvenirs or gifts from Chim’s homeland. Instead, they brought back something more valuable: 500 books to add to the Khmer collection at the Mark Twain Neighborhood Branch of the Long Beach Public Library, 1401 E. Anaheim St., with grant funding library and technology services.
Khmer-language books are hard to find in the United States or buy online, said Long Beach senior librarian Jennifer Songster. Indeed, Songster has made his own trek to the Southeast Asian country to get his hands on some books.
In 2018, for example, she and another staff member traveled to Cambodia and returned with 1,300 books published in Khmer.
Chim, who works on the current grant-funded Khmer cataloging project, visited nine bookstores in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and used the Khmer search index on the Long Beach Public Library’s online catalog. to find titles to add to the city’s collection. . Previous book purchases were funded by the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library and the Long Beach Public Library Foundation.
“It’s amazing what Sophea brought back,” Songster said. “And it’s amazing that with the pandemic, Cambodian publishers are still going strong.”
Chim, a staff member of the United Cambodian Community of Long Beach and entrepreneur of the library, said the new additions include books on traditional music, Cambodian cuisine, picture books and modern and ancient Cambodian history. .
“I found everything I was looking for,” she said. “In Cambodia, we have different types of bookstores. You can find a variety of items such as office supplies, stationery, sports supplies and different types of books in different languages and there are different sizes of bookstores.
Chim – who was born, raised and educated in Cambodia for more than 30 years – was helped in her search by a list of book topics provided by the library. The library also conducted a survey among the Cambodian community to find out what kind of book topics they would like to have in the library.
Chim said her family loves to read.
“My spouse and I, day to day, do our best to create a loving reading habit for our children,” she said, “like story time at home and reading time in libraries.”
Long Beach is home to the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of the Southeast Asian country. The city’s public library now has a collection of over 5,000 books written in the Cambodian language. The Long Beach Public Library is also the first public library in the country to implement the Khmer search index feature.
“We are very pleased to add these books to the collection,” said Christine Hertzel, acting director of library services, in a press release. “The Mark Twain Neighborhood Library’s Khmer Collection provides resources that help Cambodian culture thrive in Long Beach. Thanks to Ms. Chim for her time and expertise in growing this collection.
Public libraries in Cambodia are different from libraries in this country, Chim said, because they don’t have many activities and different types of resources, only books.
“Therefore,” she said, “it’s not really a popular place for everyone.”
The new books are still in the cataloging stage, but will be available for viewing by mid-spring.
Library users can search Khmer literature directly by author, title or subject. The Khmer search index feature is available through the LBPL’s online catalog at longbeach.gov/library and can also be used in person inside the library.