Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The New Seoul Central Library

There's been a great deal of building going on in Seoul over the past few years. In 2010, Seoul was designated at the "World Design Capital". I'm not really sure what this means, but Helsinki is the next World Design Capital, so it must be legit to some degree.

Anyway, aside from the Resurrection of Namdaemun, there have been two higher profile construction projects going on in the city in the years since I've been here: one was recently completed, and one looks like it won't be for a good long while. I'll talk about the latter later. The one that was completed is the new Seoul City Hall.

I like this new City Hall for two reasons: 1) The new modern structure kind of enfolds the older one in a way similar to the way Calgary's newer city hall cradles the older sandstone structure of the original building, and 2) The old Seoul City Hall is the new Seoul Central Library. What the heck! A huge new library in the center of a bustling Asian metropolis!

The building was extensively renovated to allow for the new collection and great care has been taken to maintain some of the municipal government offices and meeting rooms for future generations. You can even sit in the mayor's old chair and pretend to take phone calls. Turns out the mayor's office was no dissimilar from my current school principal's - sparse, but complete with a long table of thick leather lounge chairs, charcoal air purifiers, and flags behind the desk.

Now, a word about the library...

They've got a ways to go. I've been in a few libraries in Korea, and (as in Calgary), there are some winners and some that are less "winning".

The Central Library has a great deal of money invested in it, and it occupies one of the more central and accessible public spaces in the entire city. It's a prominent landmark with a history. I really hope to see haechi statues guarding the front doors within a year. The children's area is particularly inspired - if not entirely kid-friendly - and I'm sure the basic collection does the job for the Korean set.

As a foreigner, however - I was a bit disappointed in the collection. To be fair, Calgary's multi-language section also leaves a great deal to be desired. Books are expensive. Maintaining collections and keeping them current and fresh is a hard job, and an expensive one. But, with the importance Koreans place on learning English, I allowed myself to expect a bit of a larger collection in the "World Languages" area. I'm not sure if most of the collection is still on its way, but what was there was a bit... let's say "odd". Most of the material in languages other than Korean was based on travel. That's fine, but of the fairly sparse material found on the shelf, the most appealing was a large coffee table book published perhaps the better part of two decades ago called "Wonders of Kazakhstan."

The part that disappointed me the most though was the fact that none of the material in the "World Languages" collection can be signed-out from the library - None of it. I actually found a cute little book called Ask a Korean - a culture shock guide that looked like a fun read. No go. I suppose I could always "ask a Korean" when I'm in the area and feel like popping-by the library, but heck - maybe I want to read about cultural curiosities at home, and maybe I want to wonder about Kazakhstan in the comfort of my own apartment. It's a shame.

Anyway, growing-pains and all, I'm sure that the new Seoul Central Library will be making steady improvements in the immediate future. I remember visiting a new library in Ian's neck of the woods a couple of years back, and it was an impressive piece of work. I do love libraries, and I'll be sure to make a point of dropping-in when I'm in the neighbourhood. The rabbit and I got our own cards on the building's second day of opening. Hers features rabbits in a tree. Mine features a teapot, and while we wait for our cards to develop the ability to take reading material home, we satiate ourselves by using the cards to take out DVDs. We must be the only couple in all of Seoul that doesn't download.


Andrew said...

Beautiful pictures of new city hall and the new library. Wish I could check it out.

Really great to see you back blogging again!

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

There is a lot that has changed here in the past couple of years, but the big news is that the new mayor has taken a turn away from city design improvements. This has left a lot of the newer architecture delayed or simply not in use. The new Dongdaemun History and Culture Park is an empty shell with stalled construction, and the floating stages and art halls near Banpo Bridge on the Han River always have their doors locked. I hope things turn around with these places soon - especially in the case of Dongdaemun - the reinvention of which appears to have been very poorly handled.