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South Korea’s Library Status

 

2018.07.31

 

Libraries form the base of the public’s reading activity. They also play a role in the publication market as they buy various reading materials to provide to the public. According to the 2017 South Korean Library Almanac by the culture ministry and the Korean Library Association, there were three national libraries in South Korea as of end-2016, 1,010 public libraries(92 children’s libraries), 5,914 small libraries, 48 libraries for the disabled, 53 libraries in correctional facilities, 1,877 adjunct libraries(check), 461 university libraries(221 in four-year institutions), 11,625 libraries in elementary, middle and high schools(6,132 in elementary schools, 3,152 in middle schools and 2,341 in high schools) and 602 specialized libraries. In total there were 21,593 libraries nationwide.

 

If you look at just the numbers they may seem large, but there is a Korean aspect that needs to be considered. Aside South Korea’s basic library law, there are other laws that promote small libraries, libraries in schools and libraries in universities. The term ‘small libraries’ was designated by law in 2009 and refers to libraries that are smaller than public libraries designated by the basic library law. They are funded by provincial governments and there are 1,403 publicly funded small libraries and 4,511 private ones. According to the residential property law in South Korea and regulations regarding residential area construction, apartment complexes that have more than 300 households are required to have a small library and these take up 32.1 percent of the whole small library count. Also, readers of this piece will have noticed the number of military libraries is not small, mostly due to the fact that South Korean men are required to serve in the military as the country is technically at war with North Korea.

 

The number of public libraries in South Korea has risen 28 percent over the past 5 years. This is thanks to government policies to boost the number of libraries in the country overall, as well as increased demand from the public for libraries with better facilities and more spending power by provincial governments. This trend is expected to go on for the foreseeable future. Libraries in South Korea tend to have a variety of resources in addition to paper books, like electronic books, movies and audio books. They also have educational, liberal arts and cultural programs as well. If health centers in the U.K. and Japan usually take on the responsibility of running book start programs, libraries in South Korea play a central role in those types of projects.

 

However, compared to advanced countries, South Korea still has a way to go when it comes to the number of public libraries compared to the size of the population. For every single public library, there are 51,184 South Koreans, which is five times the number of that in Germany(10,595). Also, for every person in South Korea there are 2.0 books available in libraries, which is smaller than Japan’s 3.4 books per capita. The number of libraries, librarians and books is also still insufficient. As a result, South Korean publishing companies and reading-related entities request public libraries secure enough funding to buy the latest releases every chance they get, but it has been a slow process. In the case of university libraries, the usage of their databases of academic papers has been skyrocketing, leaving little money for colleges to invest in books. Two-thirds of university library spending is said to be set aside for academic papers.

 

Another task for libraries is hiring enough librarians. Just 57 percent of the nation’s elementary, middle and high schools have full time staff who manage their libraries while nationwide, the number of librarian teachers stands at only 899, which falls short of 8 percent when compared to the number of schools nationwide. This all makes for a difficult situation for school libraries. In small libraries, 37 percent are completely unmanned while military and correctional facilities do not have professional librarians in their facilities. There is a need for the improvement of the quality of libraries in South Korea and not just the headline number.

 

This may leave one wondering about the actual usage of libraries in South Korea by the public. When looking at the results of a survey by the South Korean culture ministry on South Koreans’ reading statuses in 2017, 83.5 percent of students in elementary, middle and high schools used their school libraries. The usage rate of public libraries by these students was at 63.0 percent. However, only 22.2 percent of South Korean adults were found to be using public libraries and that number is on a declining trend. Users of libraries were found to be visiting libraries an average of 2.5 times per month. Students or adults in their 20s who use libraries go to them for study and learning materials rather than reading or borrowing books. It is not difficult to find South Korean studying in libraries even today, among desks with partitions. They also never browse the libraries’ bookshelves. This has compelled some to promote the original role of libraries.

 

Those involved in the public library system currently hold various programs involving lectures, reading, creating, culture and club activities in order to draw the public in and make libraries a central location for members of the public. Some libraries have extended their hours, and some regional locations use libraries for civic activities. The government has been actively providing funding for humanities programs in libraries like lectures by book authors. South Korean libraries have shown incredible development when in comes to numbers over the past decade, but there are hurdles up ahead if the quality is also to improve.

 

 


Written by Baek Won-keun (President, Books & Society Research Institute)

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Baek Won-keun (President, Books & Society Research Institute)

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