Press Briefing on Facilitating Libraries and the Reading Culture
Date: July 16, 2012
Venue: Briefing Room, Seosomun Building, Seoul City Hall
In a series of meetings, I met with public officials of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, related officials from the Office of Education, and several groups that were interested in reading culture. As with most other policies, without the active participation of citizens and civic societies, policies cannot become well-established or maintained on a continuous basis. Thus, reading culture should be suggested by citizens while getting together to find solutions.
What determines the level of dignity of a city? I would like to ask this question to all of you. Skyscrapers and transportation are important, of course, as are parks. However, the dignity of a city is best shown through its libraries. If you want to see the past of a city, go to the museum, but if you want to see the future, go to the library. I think libraries create considerable value in a city, and a society where such value is respected is truly a dignified society.
The power of the citizens’ collective intelligence should be strengthened, and we should attempt to rank the power of intelligence of citizens around the world. Libraries are where such power is reinforced and fostered. Disappointingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Government does not have any policies for libraries. When the Office of Education was separated from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, libraries were separated as well. However, the Seoul Metropolitan Government proceeded with a plan to create a hub library by dividing into eight areas within Seoul.
I think libraries should be built in every corner of the city. I can draw a map indicating the location of secondhand bookstores in pretty much every large city around the world, including Washington D.C., New York, and London. When I was in those cities, some people asked me whether I was a broker, as I bought so many books. They were surprised because most people in those countries don’t often buy books. Why is that? Because there are so many libraries near residential areas.
Therefore, it is critical for us to create several libraries in autonomous districts so that citizens may share information and interact with one another more easily. Thus, we have established the five following goals:
First, build libraries within a 10-minute walk of all homes.
Public libraries in Seoul are used by 8.8 million citizens, and there are 748 small libraries in the city, but they are mostly operated by residential centers or women’s associations, making it harder to get adequate support and secure proper expertise. What if we can build a library within a 10-minute walk from every home? They wouldn’t need a nice design, and they would be small, but their service would be substantial. By 2030, an additional 1,372 libraries of this type will be built. Of course, this is a long-term plan, but we can reach our goal if we begin pursuing it with dedication now.
Second, encourage citizens to read more books.
According to the statistics, three out of 10 citizens (33 percent) do not read books. This is a dire situation, indeed. In 2007, people read an average of 12.7 books, but this number has decreased. But now, we can read books on our smartphones and mobile devices, giving us more opportunities to grow and create value. This is a photo I took on my trip to Curitiba, Brazil, of one of Curitiba’s Lighthouses of Knowledge. As the gap between the rich and poor widened in Curitiba, the city began building libraries. The libraries were inspired by the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, in Egypt, thus the name “Lighthouses of Knowledge”. This is a program offered by this library. Inside the envelope, there are many poems by a famous poet, and reading them brings you to a complete understanding of the poet. Poetry clubs were also organized to encourage more interaction among the citizens and bring them a greater sense of dignity. Curitiba has more than 100 such programs, and the libraries serve as public schools and cultural centers and provide education to the poor.
Third, provide a variety of programs by age and class.
Programs for those isolated from society, such as the homeless and the elderly, will be established. Braille books will be provided as well. Also, if you have ever been frustrated by not being able to find the book you wanted, fear not. It will not happen again. We will fill the libraries with so many books that every citizen of Seoul can borrow two.
Fourth, create library programs customized to local characteristics.
A wide variety of programs, such as childcare programs, youth employment programs, and re-education programs for adults, will be provided.
Last but not least, create libraries that attract repeat visitors.
Currently, 66.5 percent of Seoul citizens are satisfied with the city’s libraries, but we will raise that to 90 percent. In order to accomplish this, we will address as many complaints as possible as quickly as possible.
Now, I will tell you how we plan to achieve these goals. First of all, more professional librarians will be recruited to improve library services. This recruitment will be accelerated by organizing a consortium of small and public libraries. Secondly, the number of small neighborhood libraries will be expanded by more than eight libraries every year. In particular, when building a library in an area with a high concentration of underprivileged citizens, financial support will be increased from the current 40 percent to 50 percent. Also, small, donation-based libraries will be established, and one-stop libraries will be launched. As you may already know, I donated 50,000 books to the city of Suwon. If I had known that I would become the mayor of Seoul, I would have donated those books to Seoul instead.
Andrew Carnegie, a steel magnate, donated a whole library. Small “celebrity libraries” and “traveling libraries” will move from place to place around the community and provide donated books. Who will become the first founder of a small “celebrity library”? In order to promote reading culture, we will hold a variety of events, including book festivals and academic activities. Encouraging kids to form the habit of reading from an early age is very important. As such, we will strive to make sure that each child’s first card is a library card. When I was a kid, living in a rural area, I was also a member of a reading club. I firmly believe that club made me who I am now.
Furthermore, we need an organization that can gather and manage diverse opinions. Thus, the “Representative Seoul Library” will be launched. By organizing a network of libraries in Seoul, we will seek cooperation and work closely with the Office of Education. Close partnerships with libraries in autonomous districts will be encouraged as well.
To achieve these goals, this year’s budget was set at KRW 16 billion, and that will be increased to KRW 21 billion and KRW 31 billion in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In the future, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s library policies will be led by the Representative Library in Seoul, which will become Seoul’s information and library hub. Also, the Seoul City Library Re-organization Service Committee will be set up and managed.
The Representative Library in Seoul is scheduled to open this fall. It will oversee and support public libraries in local regions, offer specialized documents and information, and serve its basic function as a public library. With the Representative Library in Seoul, we will strive to increase the pride of Seoul citizens through reading.
Bill Gates once said that the public library made him who he is now, indicating how much power public libraries have to shape the lives of individuals. Recognizing this, we will strengthen the capabilities of our citizens by creating a “city of libraries”.