Exploring the Revolutionary Group Libraries of Korea

Exploring the Innovative Community Libraries of Korea

By R. David Lankes


I not too long ago had the privilege of talking on the Nationwide Library of Korea’s 77th Anniversary. In my speak, I argued that there isn’t a future for libraries—as a substitute, there are lots of various futures, futures various because the communities libraries are designed to serve. And in these futures, librarians form their libraries round these distinctive communities, various in demographics, wants, capabilities, and places.

In some locations libraries shall be gardens, or gaming parlors, or guide palaces. All over the place, libraries have to be actually co-owned by the neighborhood, with librarians serving because the frequent level of connection between communities, a part of a vibrant peer-based studying community would always share concepts and adapt the perfect for his or her very native wants.

I reached this conclusion over years of working with librarians throughout the globe: A makerspace in a small central New York village; a community of meals pantries in Canada; recording studios with devices within the Netherlands; sources carried to distant tribes in Kenya on the backs of camels; a logo of oppression remodeled right into a temple of the folks in a revolution in Egypt. These are all libraries, all radically completely different, however all sure by a typical mission.

As a part of my journey to Korea, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of progressive neighborhood libraries there. And what I discovered was that these communities have constructed the very libraries that I’ve been advocating for: neighborhood centered, empowering, progressive.

Take, for instance, the Gusan-dong Village Library, which was created by the social motion of residents. Group members (a lot of them single moms) petitioned their native authorities to create this library. The residents of the world then created their very own library college to plan the library by means of conferences, lectures from invited audio system, shared readings. The library itself was constructed from current buildings no taller and no grander than the residences round them, with the footprints of the unique houses preserved however now providing every little thing from self-published works to collective governance. A big assortment of comics, eschewed by many formal public libraries, is a central assortment to the neighborhood’s youngsters.

I used to be additionally taken with the tT (tween-Teen Island) Library. Because the identify suggests, it’s a library targeted on teenagers and tweens funded by the personal SeeArt Basis. The library, which grew from a program to construct teen areas in current libraries, is a residing laboratory for teenagers, the place 1000’s of native youngsters and youths have entry to their very own makerspaces—no adults allowed. Right here, younger folks can play devices, create, construct, use energy instruments, or file TikTok movies in a dance studio. And on the heart of the constructing: a kitchen the place households and associates can put together and share meals.

In none of my library work had I ever seen such a real and highly effective integration of formal and casual studying.

As I toured the constructing with employees (who have been wearing denims and hoodies) a baby of 11 or so reached out and hugged the library director’s legs. The director smiled, welcomed the lady by identify, and returned the hug. Right here was a secure place for younger folks to discover, staffed by librarians who didn’t function indifferent info professionals, however as trusted companions—librarians and youths constructing collectively a tradition of mutual respect. A respect that features letting teenagers develop library coverage, and the place the one “coaching” was completed by friends for his or her friends.

There was the Neutinamu Library, a library handcrafted by the native residents, funded not by taxes however by the direct contributions of its supporters. As I walked into the library, 4 volunteer teenagers have been going by means of newspapers, clipping articles into massive binders on matters vital to the neighborhood resembling local weather change and democracy—a clipping service owned and operated by the neighborhood, for the neighborhood. All of the bookshelves of the library’s first ground have been on wheels to permit the house to opened up for nightly lectures, performances, and neighborhood conversations. Within the basement, rows of photographs, flyers, newsletters, and different supplies that inform the historical past of the Neutinamu neighborhood.

Within the suburbs of Seoul, I visited the Mapo Library, a six-story construction the place the highest two flooring are devoted to arts schooling. Day by day, center college youngsters as a part of their regular lessons come to the library to be taught music, pottery, illustration, dance, and extra, all led by instructors supplied by the library. There may be additionally a kitchen to host shared neighborhood meals. The library was created from a robust imaginative and prescient of libraries being an integral a part of schooling in faculties and past. In none of my library work had I ever seen such a real and highly effective integration of formal and casual studying.

Mapo was not the one community-driven connection between studying and libraries I noticed in Korea. Within the rural hills of Suncheon I visited a neighborhood that constructed another college to flee the aggressive, high-pressure setting of the general public college system. Each morning, the scholars and lecturers stroll from the seashore by means of the fields to the college within the hills, a ritual that prepares all to be taught and admire the richness of the world and their very own place in it.

On my go to, I noticed many rituals that ready library customers to mentally and bodily interact the neighborhood, and the library’s collections and companies: Washing fingers within the Suncheon Miracle Library, for instance; Puppet reveals on the Image Library, which supplies the neighborhood with galleries, an in depth image guide assortment, and a analysis library on illustration; Taking off sneakers on the Manbaldongmu (Naked Foot) Library, to remind youngsters of taking part in within the creeks of the neighborhood.

Most of my tour was organized by Younger-Sook “Soy” Park. A self-taught librarian, Soy noticed a necessity for marginalized to have locations to collect and be taught, so she created a basement library. Embraced by the neighborhood, and funded by donations, that library is now a full constructing that features collections, neighborhood archives, a kitchen, and a backyard. The constructing is full of folks from the world donating their time and experience to creating their neighborhood higher. Soy additionally hosts paid library scholar interns, dubbed “pre-librarians,” who put together to take the library’s community-based method to new villages, cities, universities, and faculties throughout Korea.

Along with a library, Soy has additionally created a kind of library college. The creators of TTIsland library and the Barefoot library have spent months working collectively on this college pondering collectively, and planning for brand spanking new libraries. My tour throughout the Korea was partially a snapshot of what they’ve constructed, a community of librarians wanting to construct distinctive libraries for his or her communities, whether or not in gleaming new fashionable buildings or in rooms full of donated furnishings from folks’s houses. Libraries typically staffed by “guerilla librarians” and served by a peer-based community of lecturers, philanthropists, students, and activist teenagers. It is a imaginative and prescient that’s now influencing the normal libraries in cities like Seoul and Busan.

I might go on, however you actually should see for your self. If you happen to get the prospect, go to Korea and go to these libraries for your self. I guarantee you, you’ll want to take their concepts again to your neighborhood. Truthful warning, these libraries actually can’t be replicated. What makes them work is that they’re all handcrafted for his or her distinctive communities. However the genius of Soy Park and the Sea-Artwork Basis and the Barefoot library is one thing all librarians can perceive and embrace: for libraries to satisfy their mission they have to be intimately formed by their communities.

R. David Lankes is the Virginia & Charles Bowden Professor of Librarianship on the iSchool at College of Texas at Austin, and a number one advocate for libraries.