Newsletter No. 52 (December 2007)

Report on Workshop for overseas librarians, Korea 2007

Nancy Li
East Asian Librarian
University of Sydney

I attended a one week workshop for overseas librarians in October 2007. It was organized by the Korean Foundation and the Korean National Library. It included four full day lectures and hands on training, one day cultural visit to a paper printing museum and one day sightseeing tour outside Seoul. It was very well organized and very useful for gaining knowledge of resources, especially electronic resources on Korea.

Our first day of training coincided with the 62nd anniversary of the National Library of Korea. The Chief Executive of the National library Dr. Kyungsang Kwon invited all workshop participants to a birthday cerebration concert in the National Library followed by a banquet to mark the occasion.

The National Library of Korea is building a national digital library. The new building will have 5 floors underground for storage and 3 floors above the ground. The new building will be completed at the end of 2008. Our training was held in a 4 storey building specifically used as librarian training center with many seminar rooms, computer labs, and conference rooms and linked to the main library building. We had a chance to tour the current library building on our first day. The library issues a library card with RFID chip to every user who wants to enter the library. Although it does not allow users to take books out of the library, it has a number of shelf check machines in the library. They encourage users to “check-out” the materials they want to use, so they can gather statistics on how often a title has been used. If an item has been “checked-out” many times, they will take it out of the stack and put it on the open shelf. If users want to use materials from stacks after office hours, they can book them online before the library closes. The books will be put into a locked box for user to retrieve after hours and the reading area opens until 11pm. Users can go to the area, after scanning their library cards on a check-out machine; they can retrieve the items from the particular box. After using the items, they can return the books use the same machine.

The National Library has a large rare books collection. A lot have been digitized and made freely available online. Older Korean texts are in Chinese characters which the younger generation generally cannot read. Since most users of their rare books are of the older generation, the library keeps a card catalogue for the rare books in addition to the online catalogue.

The Korean government supports and provides funding for many digitization projects. Most of the digitized materials are freely available online for anyone to use, but like electronic databases in other East Asian countries, they all require users to download special viewers from their website to view the fulltext databases. Hardly any fulltext articles can be viewed by just using Adobe Reader. During the workshop, we learned to use many Korean electronic databases and most importantly, to know what is available. It was especially useful for me as all the database interfaces are in Korean language only. It helped me to know how to search by following the instructions given during the hands-on sessions.

We visited and had lectures in the National Library of Korea, the National Institute of Korean History, the Kyujang-gak Institute of Seoul National University, the National Institute of the Korean Language, and the National Assembly Library. We were honoured to be given an opportunity to view some very rare and unique historical items in the Kyujang-gak and in the National Institute of the Korean History.

One of the lecture topics was on the making and preservation of Korean papers. I was particularly interested in the Korean thread bound books. Professor Soon-Ae Kang from the Hansung University gave a wonderful lecture on how to distinguish Chinese, Japanese and Korean thread-bound/rare books. Although most of the rare books in these three languages are in Chinese characters, the way they were put together (e.g. the number of holes, and the color of thread used) can give clues on where they were produced.

The workshop was a good opportunity to learn about library resources on Korea, and a wonderful opportunity to meet other librarians in the field to exchange ideas and to network. The participants were from United States, Canada, England, France, Vietnam, Malaysia, China and Australia.

Not only were the lectures well organized during the workshop, we were also treated with marvelous Korean cuisine everyday. The visits to the Cheong-ju early printing museum, Jeonju paper museum and the Korean traditional village left me with great interest in seeking to understand Korean culture and history.

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