▲ Halla Library is the flagship for the province, and features a variety of collections, a multimedia suite and comfortable rest areas. Photos courtesy Halla Library
Halla Library is not centrally located, being well away from the nearest residential area, but it is well worth taking the trouble to travel to. The facility, which opened Nov. 13, 2008, is a modern building situated on the slopes of Mount Halla and serviced by the number 5 and 8 bus routes. It is set among a large green area that includes walking paths and gym equipment and even a small petting zoo, though the animals are tightly confined.
The building itself has a total floor space of just over 4,500 square meters divided into four floors (one basement and three above ground). In addition to the general and children’s collections, its facilities include a special Jeju collection, a high-tech multimedia suite and a small but impressive cache of English-language books. The friend who introduced me to the library said that several people she knows who have visited have agreed that the selection is “definitely quality over quantity.”
Shin Gun Ik, director general of the library, said that after the Central Government changed the laws regarding libraries in 2006, Halla Library was set up as a flagship by the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province.
“Along with the changing of the policy,” he said, “it was wanted that there be a library that represents the region and the culture.”
The government designates a library within each region that will follow the government principles and also disseminate those central policies to other libraries.
“In the case of Busan, for example, they [government officials] designated that role to an already existing library. But in Jeju, they decided to build a brand-new building to represent the Central Government’s library policies.”
The library has two mission statements, he explained: “To collect and preserve the unique Jeju culture, which is very different from the mainland.
“Secondly, because Jeju has been designated as a Free International City, it wanted to have a place where it could provide English materials to foreigners.
Even though there are libraries in other cities within Korea that do have English materials, Halla Library is actively supported by the American Embassy in an archive called Window on America, and the embassy continues to donate materials to aid in understanding American culture. There are also seven other embassies that continually give support and donate materials.
“Part of putting the English department within the library was because of the designation as the common language [of Jeju as an ‘International City’] as English, but this year, the plan is to turn attention to neighboring countries like China and Japan,” Shin said.
There are 21 libraries in total on Jeju Island but no current plans to add other language sections to the others. “If it becomes successful, and with Jeju society becoming more multicultural, it might be possible that other libraries will follow.”
▲ Photos courtesy Halla Library
One of the many services the library offers is the ability to request that it purchase particular books. “If people coming from foreign countries say, ‘I want to read this Japanese book,’ or, ‘I want to read this Korean book,’ or, ‘I want to read this American book,’ they can submit a request form,” Shin said. “The library will hopefully be able to buy that and meet those demands.”
There are also a number of special programs, including lectures, story-reading sessions, movie screenings and reading therapy programs.
“Because Jeju is away from the mainland, Jeju residents have very little chance to meet with famous authors or celebrities, so once every two months, we try to invite a famous author,” Shin said. The library also chooses the most popular movies from the adult’s and children’s selections in the multi-media section for free showings once a week, every Saturday at 2 p.m.
The library is currently seeking English-speaking volunteers to reinstate an English-language story-telling program they had in place last year. (See information box if interested in participating.)
In the Korean children’s book section, every Saturday from 11 a.m., a book reading session is held by the Research into Children’s Books Society. Volunteers also read books when school students come on field trips to the library.
There is only one English-speaking staff member and another who speaks Japanese, but the information guide is in both Korean and English. The Web site is only in Korean but the application form to become a library member is available in English and joining was a simple five minute process, even without speaking Korean. To ensure availability for more readers, books can only be checked out for one week, although this may be extended for one more week by phone or using the Web site (you may need a Korean speaker to assist you).
The library opens at 9 a.m. each day and was well-frequented the morning I visited by a wide range of patrons of all ages. All in all, it lives up to the statement on the wall behind the information desk: “Libraries, the door to a better world.”
Halla Library 899-3 Ora 2-dong Jeju City Tel: 064-710-8666 To volunteer for storytelling to elementary school students (Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m.) contact Jo Han Oh (he speaks English) Tel: 064-710-8639 or 010-2690-0197 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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