The Long Beach library has the largest collection of Cambodian materials of any library in the United States.
Every book at the library written in Khmer goes through Sanghak Kan, a contractor who works for the United Cambodian Community in Long Beach. He came to the U.S. almost two years ago to be with family in Texas.
He later moved to Long Beach because it's home to the largest Cambodian population in the U.S.
He uses a special keyboard to enter each book into the library’s computer system. The Long Beach library system has about 4,500 Cambodian books.
“The language shows your identity, who you are,” said Kan.
Once the books have been put into the system, they are labeled and put away in the Cambodian section of the library. Being in the system means that books can be searched for by topic or title, even though the book is written totally in Khmer.
Many of the Khmer books the library has in its collection can’t be found online or in any bookstore in the country.
“I find it absolutely overwhelming. It makes me so happy to be able to get in touch with the community like this,” said Jennifer Songster, a librarian.
In December, Songster went to Cambodia to buy books. She spent nearly $15,000. Half went to buying books and half went to shipping them home.
Cataloging the Cambodian books means getting a clear picture of what the library has and organizing the collection according to the Dewey Decimal System.
It’s not only about the books, though.
Kan also comes back to the library on weekends to teach Khmer to children and adults.
There are speakers at every level among Long Beach’s 20,000 Cambodian residents.
“If you learn about the language you’re going to learn about your own root or your identity, who you are,” said Kan.
The grant funding for the cataloging project will end in August.