Seoul is becoming a city of books.
Recently, the city has launched a project that aims to build enough libraries to allow anyone to reach a library in only 10 minutes on foot, no matter where they may be in the city. Another of the project’s goals is to encourage each citizen of Seoul to read over 20 books a year.
In this way, Seoul is becoming an increasingly culture rich city, overflowing with books, and a place where books help people get through hard times and book festivals are held.
Seoul, a city with a long history and rich culture, is now becoming a city of books. In June 2012, with the goal of “empowering citizens through books,” Seoul Metropolitan Government launched a comprehensive project to vitalize and promote reading and libraries, called the “Seoul Reading Project.” This plan has become the foundation of the policy direction for Seoul’s libraries and the city’s efforts to promote reading. On October 26 of the same year, the Seoul Metropolitan Library was opened, and is now playing a key role in implementing Seoul’s reading and library policies.
The first policy goal in the comprehensive Seoul Reading Project is to create enough libraries to ensure that any citizen can reach one within only a 10-minute walk from anywhere in the city. Through this project, the number of large public libraries will be increased from 128 in 2012 to 272 in 2030, and the number of small libraries will be increased from 773 to 1,100.
Moreover, Seoul Metropolitan Government established a goal to promote reading in Seoul to the extent where each citizen reads over 20 books a year. To this end, the city government has implemented specific tasks, such as increasing the number of books in public libraries from one per citizen to the OECD average of two per citizen and organizing a variety of cultural programs at libraries in local communities.
As of the end of June 2015, the city has also increased the number of small and large public libraries to 863 and 141, respectively. This is a 14 percent and 12 percent increase, respectively, from 2012.
With this increase in the number of small and large public libraries, the foundation has been laid to enable 95 percent of Seoul citizens to “reach a library in their neighborhood within only a 10-minute walk.”
However, some small libraries, which account for 86 percent of all libraries in Seoul, are unable to fulfill their intended roles because they are lacking in manpower, funding, and books. Moreover, as people’s desire for more specific and diverse information is continuously increasing, the operation of libraries needs to be enhanced and improved in the future.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been pursuing support policies for small and large public libraries to realize the goal and policy vision of turning Seoul into a “city of reading,” where each citizen reads more books and diverse activities are held to promote a culture of reading. Seoul’s library policies are decided by the Committee on Library and Information Services, headed by the mayor of Seoul, and implemented through close collaboration within the networks of libraries in 25 districts, centering on the Seoul Metropolitan Library, as well as an advisory organization made up of individuals from the public and private sectors. A public-private collaborative governance system has been put in place as well.
For the operation of reading programs and purchase of materials, Seoul Metropolitan Government has provided over KRW 10.3 billion (beyond libraries’ current budget) to 150 public libraries. Additionally, the city government is providing funding to extend the hours of 46 large public libraries to 10 p.m. and run “night reading” programs.
Moreover, Seoul Metropolitan Government is planning to expand the foundation for a culture of reading and open discussion through various projects, such as the “Reading a Book at a Library” and “Vitalization of Reading Groups” projects.
The city government also supports customized reading culture programs for different age groups by promoting the “Reading Project for the Elderly to Prevent Dementia” and the “Reading Project for Different Age Groups.” After providing KRW 1 to 3 million to one small library per district, selected through onsite evaluations, Seoul Metropolitan Government also assists each library in its efforts to use the funds effectively for the purchase of materials and operation of the library.
Starting in 2015, Seoul Metropolitan Government has provided support for small libraries by designating a librarian at each major library in the 25 districts of Seoul to assist with tasks at small libraries. Through the designated librarians, the city has been cooperating with small libraries to launch projects, such as book discussion groups, talks with authors, and information services, based on the diverse resources of large public libraries, thus promoting the vitalization of small libraries in all neighborhoods of the city. Every October, the city sponsors the Seoul Book Festival, and from October of this year, the festival has been expanded and enhanced, with over 200 libraries, publishers, and reading groups participating in the organization process.
In this way, Seoul Metropolitan Government is continuously pursuing and developing policies in multifaceted ways to provide better library services to Seoul citizens. In each district, small and large public libraries are cooperating to realize the vision of “empowering citizens through books” through reading and library promotion policies. As a result, Seoul is gradually becoming a citizen-centered city based on a strong foundation of knowledge and information welfare, where the balanced development of libraries contributes to resolving the knowledge and information gap among citizens.