Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Korean Public Library Experience

Many people were wondering how Korean libraries stack up to their American counterparts. Well, over the weekend I went to a local public library, the Nowon Digital Public Library in Northeastern Seoul to find out.

Like American libraries, Korean libraries will showcase local elementary school children's art. Here hangs a whole class, right above their colorful aquarium in the lobby floor.

Book shelving in the children's wing of the library. Very colorful and uniquely shaped bookcase layouts. One cannot say that their children's library is boring. 

Many of their shelves have curvy and squiggly shapes. Again, very appealing for the children that use the room.

A different view of the place. 

Korea is a culture like in most of eastern Asia in which shoes must be removed to enter homes, or any other type of room or business in which the wood-finished floor is used for sitting. Floors in Korea tend to be heated, using an ancient floor heating system called ondol, in which child patrons and their parents can sit cross-legged on the warm floor to read books. The floors tend to be extremely clean, often you will find library workers constantly wiping them with disinfectant, and thinking of tromping around with shoes on these floors is taboo.  

The facility is a 8-story building. In spite of the fact that this may make it sound like a huge library, it actually is not that large. The actual square footage per floor is only about 2,000 square feet of floor, and only two of those floors house stacks of books. The rest of the floors are devoted to multipurpose and multimedia activities, such as study rooms, digital media floor, and a multipurpose auditorium. One of the reasons for this is that Seoul is an incredibly crowded city. With more than 10 million people spread into 233 square miles (2/3s the land size of NYC), there is no choice but to build upward instead of out like many libraries in the U.S. 

Like most American public libraries, Korean libraries also use the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

However, (for the librarians and staff at SLFL and elsewhere nearby), Korean public libraries use Korean cuttering tables according to Korean letter scripts and local customs. 

In Korea, many areas do not allow patrons to bring in bookbags or other materials in, but temporary holding lockers are provided free of charge. 

The multipurpose auditorium routinely has movie screenings in which patrons can go in at certain hours and watch a variety of movies or live shows for free. Here are some flyers to promote free screenings for The Pursuit of Happyness and The Little Prince

The top floor of the library is a converted green space, in which patrons can go out, read books and just relax around the wooden walkways and enjoy the gardening and landscaping. It is winter at this time, so the grass is not gree and the trees have no leaves. But I imagine it must look fantastic up here in the spring and summer. 

Street view of the front.

Back view.

Korean libraries also have problems with vandalism, like anywhere else. 

Lobby view above. 

Featured book selections mixed in with some local art dioramas

Local artists can also use library spaces to showcase their artwork.

Korean libraries also have learning programs throughout the year. The basement floor of the library has an area reserved for studying English language materials as well as practicing conversation.  Volunteer native speakers from North America, Australia, and the U.K will sometimes come in a volunteer to lead English speaking sessions for the local community here. 

This concludes my post on a Korean public library. There was so much more I wish I could have photographed and explained, but the library director here allowed me to photograph provided that no identifiable pictures of patrons were to be taken with my visit here, so in order to comply, these are but a few photographs of the library. If you have any questions about Korean libraries, please ask in the comments section and I will be happy to answer them. 

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