Actio 4.4 – National Libraries

Though the obvious choice would be to compare the National Library of North Korea with one from the South, I felt there were enough differences between the two South Korean National Libraries to warrant their own comparison. So I’ve put them both up against the North Korean Library.

The Joseon Dynasty had only just started to modernize libraries when it was colonized by Japan. Under colonial rule, libraries had evolved from book clubs formed by and for Japanese nationals. These were not Korean institutions. Though attempts were made to establish Korean libraries, particularly after the March 1st Independence movement, they both eventually reverted to Japanese control due to financial trouble.

Three Korean National Libraries formed in the brief period between the end of colonial rule and the start of the Korean war. The National Library of Korea is a public library, upholding freedom of information as a pillar of Democracy, and tasked with recovering and preserving historic treasures looted by Japan. The National Assembly Library formed as part of the government agency, preserving administrative documentation, legitimizing the emerging government, and serving politicians.  It was not open to the public until 1998.

Meanwhile, the North Korean National Library, (the Grand People’s Study House) rigidly controls access to information, with closed stacks and no access to the open internet. It only serves the people in their efforts to serve the country’s communist philosophy and its leaders.  In the library’s admonishment that study facilitates self improvement through communism, one can see vestiges of the Joseon scholar-offical who studied to improve himself as a moral Confucian.

Take a video tour of both South Korean National Libraries, courtesy of Korea4expats.com.

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