The National Library of Korea was established in 1945. The building that it occupies now, is one of many buildings that it has occupied over the years. It came to be in it’s current location in 1988 and had the National Digital Library added to it in 2009 (after years of construction).
The building is not nearly as impressive as it’s Digital Library addition. It is reminds me a great deal of the National and the Contemporary Art Museums here in Seoul. The buildings are massive and there is space for a far greater amount of materials then currently occupy the museums or the library. It felt empty and stark. Very large hallways and two huge staircases dwarf the rooms with the actual holdings. Just like with the museums, where they had enormous spaces on the walls to exhibit art, with nearly nothing on the walls in proportion to the space.
We toured through the six open floors. The sixth floor, the Old and Rare Books floor, was my favorite; I was able to run my hands over the cards in the card catalogues. Soft, musty, stained cards filled the catalogues, written in Korean and Japanese.
Old books were in glass cases and tiny, ancient old men were pouring over the volumes at the tables.
The four floors under the Old and Rare books, were the fifth floor: Thesis, Maps and Geography, Donated Personal Collections, and the Information Center on North Korea. Fourth floor: Human, Social, and Natural Sciences. Third Floor: Serials, Government Publications, and Newspapers. Second floor: Language, Literature, Library and Information Science (!!).
We did not take pictures of any of those floors, however, we were too confused by the enormous hallways and the little tiny rooms.
The first floor was Main Circulation which had an interesting red sculpture spiraling around the room and Information Services where you get your library card.
Getting your library card was easy. There was a difference between getting the card on the extremely hot day last week and the much cooler fall day this week. After registering for your library card on their online website (I had to use my Alien Registration Card), you then signed into another computer that gave you your actual card. On the hot day I actually saw one woman (not me) punching the computer screen when it would not give her the card. On the fall day, there was no violence against any of the machines.
Down in the basement is the hallway leading to the National Digital Library of Korea.
We went to visit the National Library of Korea and the National Digital Library of Korea for the last two weekends. The Digital Library is technically part of the plain old National Library of Korea. An underground passageway inside of the National Library main building connects the two libraries.
When we arrived at the libraries, we reached the National Digital Library first. It is an impressive building from the entrance at street level. The entrance, well the entrance is here:
That seems very exciting, doesn’t it? Except you are not really meant to touch any of those exciting things and that was about all that was going on on the first floor for our first trip there. Beyond what you can see here, was an unexciting gallery and a hallway filled with art deco benches with people sleeping on them.
You see the library was hot. There was no air conditioning on this ninety-degree day, in a building filled with computers and fluorescent lights. It was miserably hot. You stepped from the humid, muggy street into the humid, muggy library. Where you immediately needed to take a nap.
We fought the urge to pass out and tried, at first, to enthusiastically explore the building. The first day, we were not able to get many pictures, we had come in from the wrong entrance and we had not put our bags into lockers and smuggled our cameras into the library properly. So we took a ‘tour’ camera-less. The tour did not last long due to how uncomfortable the library was at the time. We had a quick peek at the services provided and then we quickly ran back outside.
In the “Dibrary” or the Digital Library, there was the Multimedia Zone where I saw about fifty large monitors playing movies, old episodes of Friends, Farewell my Concubine, some old American movies. There are meeting rooms, a Productivity Computer Cluster, which I think was just your typical computer stations with a small area of of computers with three monitors for multitasking, a laptop area, a video studio where you can check out video equipment and studio space, and an audio studio where you can check out audio and recording equipment and space. In the center is a green area, as part of their effort to combine digital, analog, and nature in one space. There is a multi-language Operating System in English, Japanese, Chinese, French, Vietnamese and, of course, Korean, as well as, according to Wikipedia (because the information provided in the brochure does not mention this), “access to over 800 libraries and institutions world wide, including the Library of Congress, and a total of more than 116 million pieces of content.”
We returned the next weekend with a plan. We ditched the bag at home and only brought our alien registration cards in order to get a library card, the tripod, and Josh’s camera. Without the bags, we were less conspicuous and were not asked to check the camera. No one blinked an eye on the National Library side. Only when we snuck over to the National Digital Library did we get glared at. I suspect the camera on the fully extended tripod was the give away of our intentions. Josh got some photos before we were glared out of the building.
We also went back down to the main entrance to discover the gallery had a bit more going on this weekend. A project was being installed, a time based art installation, plexi glass bookshelves and books with famous titles, glowing neon from inside. We could not get pictures again because it was not fully installed, but were invited to the opening next week and assured that we could take pictures then.
I was honestly hoping for more innovative interactive digital services or at least an interestingly designed interior. Considering that South Korea is one of the most connected countries on the planet, a top competitor in computer and cellphone technologies, and undoubtedly competing with Japan for all things cute and futuristic, they could have flexed their muscles more. Unfortunately, I felt that the National Digital Library was a little bit empty considering the space they had available, and besides the plastic looking plants in the “green” tube at the center of the library, there was not really much beyond row after row of computers. There is a lot of room for improvement, to make a space that is more comfortable (air conditioning), fun and interactive, user friendly, or exciting enough to want to trek all the way there.
This is the second time I have lived in South Korea. The first time that I was here, I worked for eighteen months in Ansan, a city more than an hour outside of Seoul, practically the moon. Seoul is the center of the Universe here. By moving to Seoul proper, I have dramatically changed my quality of life. I am now only stops from museums, theatre districts, and foreigner friendlier areas of Seoul, as well in the middle of about fourteen million other people. It is always exciting and there is always a new place to explore.
One of the areas that has changed the way I live in Korea is Hyehwa. I learned about this area because of the large Filipino community market that gathers here every Sunday after mass. I excitedly explored the market for bird’s eye chilies and for the buffet style lunches they set up.
Once I had sufficiently stuffed my face with enough empanadas to look around at the neighborhood beyond the market, I noticed that it was an odd duck in Seoul. It reminds me of Hongdae a bit, a neighborhood surrounding the large art university, Hongik. Instead of graffiti and students selling knit hats and fingerless gloves, Hyehwa is THE theatre district. Tiny theatres almost out number the bars and coffee shops (a remarkable feat in Seoul). While on a photo safari of this funky neighborhood, my husband spotted an interesting café amongst the theatres, generic coffee shops and hofs.
This café was the Taschen Art Book Café.
When we finally went to investigate this café together, we ordered lunch to justify the photographs he was taking. They are lucky I am not another food blogger. Despite how sad our two sandwiches were they were worth being able to play with the art books in the café. I will probably go back there soon ( I’ll stick to coffee this time) to play with the books again. I am hooked.
What impressed us the most about this café was the amazing, enormous, Helmut Newton Sumo book on display/for sale in the entranceway. The book is a whopping 66 lbs. (30 kilos), it is the biggest book I have ever seen and it only costs fifteen million Won ($13,233.00).
It is safely kept in a glass case, only one of a few books hiding behind glass in the café. The other books were all free on display tables and on the actual dining tables. There were more than enough books in English for me to read through and I suspect I could spend hours every weekend consuming them.
It has taken me months to return to this blog. A lot has happened since the last post. I moved, not just apartments, or to another state, but from Portland, Oregon to Seoul, South Korea. I am still working at grad school, I have just found a new (but old to me) means to make a living, teaching ESL to elementary and middle school Korean children.
Now that I am truly settled it, six months settled, I want to return to the site to share some of the library and museum wonders that are in this incredible city. For the remaining six months, I am going to explore and share some of Seoul with you. I will also get back on the ball with real postings.
I suppose there is no better way to begin than to just dive in. I am a MLIS student at the University of Washington and this blog is going to follow my terror and excitement while in the program. I will share with you things I stumble upon, other blogs, articles and news that I find relevant to LIS or just personally interesting. If you’re not equally interested, then you are boring.
an archive that strives to preserve and showcase self-published photobooks, photobooks independently published and distributed, photography exhibition catalogs, print-on-demand photobooks, artist books, zines, photobooks printed on newsprint, limited edition photobooks, and non-English language photography books to be seen in person through traveling exhibitions and as a non-circulating public library. (About iPL, www.indiephotobooklibrary.org/)
These books are absolutely beautiful. Check to see if any of these traveling exhibitions are stopping near you.
I also need to say thank you to Matt for sorting out this blog for me.