Tuesday was a day of three library visits. We started by visiting the Jeongdok Public Library. This library is based in an old high school and is set in some lovely grounds very close to the Museum. I will be honest and say that after the Dibrary the day before, Jeongdok was a drop back to reality in many ways. The library is a suburban/urban library serving the local population. It also provides services to the local schools. While the grounds were quite lovely due to it once being a high school, the building was very institutional and felt like being in a school. The library itself is quite traditional and so was in marked contrast to the experience the day before. A visit to the Genealogy room revealed a library with two staff and no people using the resources. Our entrance almost felt awkward. The resources were also very book orientated. Other spaces were similar and the old classrooms being used as sections created an environment that felt quite disjointed.
All that said, all the staff we met were polite and obviously cared about what they were doing. They were as much defined by their environment, as they defined the approach to public libraries in Korea. As I previously noted, Korea is quite a traditional society and I got a sense this was strongly reflected in their general public libraries.
Public Libraries in South Korea are not run in the way we do here in New Zealand. We learnt a lot about this the day before when we were given a presentation by a gentleman from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Heritage during our visit to the Dibrary. South Korea has a Presidential Committee for Information and Library Policy. This committee is made up of 10 automatic members who are ministers of related government departments and 14 recommended members, who are experts in their library fields. Their role is to review, adjust and consult on library and information policy.
It struck me that this committee is at once an amazing asset and a limiter. The reality is that if the committee, who sets the direction for public libraries in South Korea, decides to do something, it will get done. This can be very powerful for making things like the Dibrary happen with little compromise. However, if an individual library director wanted to try something new, they would be very controlled by what was seen to be the direction for libraries. Fall outside this, and do not listen to reason, and your funding would be cut in the following years. With all this in mind, it is not surprising that some public libraries, would appear very traditional.
Our second visit for the day was in marked contrast to this. We visited the Seoul Metropolitan Library, which is in the former City Hall and was due to open 3 days after our visit. We were honoured to be received there and shown around this very new space. The library itself contains archives, general collections, global collections, disability collections and digital collections. It contains exhibition space and a book cafe. The finish in this building was amazing. Designed by Samsung, the materials were top quality and very impressive. Some interesting features like shelves that worked as internal window shutters and could be slide back to let light in were fun and useful. Like the Dibrary, this building was closed on Mondays, which are obviously the official day of closing for buildings of this type.
Again the library was divided into rooms and in this case over 4 floors. This does lead to an interesting effect of being slightly disjointed. However, in such a new environment and with a lot of care in design, it felt a lot less severe than the Jeongdok library. The children's library was both amazing and odd. Down the bottom of large sweeping wooden stair which could also double as seating for a auditorium type experience. It was somewhat inaccessible to children from this approach and thus would require the use of a lift. I would be worried about children falling down it. However, there were some neat features like a cartoon like self check and the other self checks could be voice activated. Overall this library left us very impressed both in the scale of what they were doing and the quality of the work put into it.
Lastly we visited the Lee Jinah Memorial Library. This was a very traditional public library serving a suburban area. The library itself was very odd in design. For a purpose built building it lacked sensible layout to my eyes and most of the INELI crew. A central stairway and large open vaulted space, divided the collection on one side of the building, which was again over multiple floors and some meeting rooms etc. It really did not make sense as a purpose built facility that was less than 20 years old. It was an odd finish to a tour of libraries in many ways, but also a good reminder that public libraries the world over are faced with the same challenges in terms of creating spaces which meet the needs of the community and work as spaces.
Back at the hotel this was our second to last evening and it was a night off. Three colleagues and myself ate dinner at JJ's restaurant in the hotel which serves burgers, pasta and pizza. It was a welcome return to "western" food after a few nights of more challenging Asian style food. After this we caught a cab to Gangham Station and spent some time wandering about. Gangham Station (of Gangham style) is really a crazy place. We stumbled on the underground market and spent 30 minutes wandering around. So many people and so many of the same shops, over and over again. After 30 minutes we were all ready to get out of there.