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Libraries in the Republic of Korea

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By Margaret Adolphus

Introduction

Situated at the far northeast corner of Asia, close to Siberia and opposite the Japanese archipelago, South Korea has known geographical isolation and historical turmoil.

And yet it is currently one of the world’s leading economies, the third largest in Asia and 13th in the world; a society where the competitive edge is maintained, at individual, corporate and national level, by knowledge and information.

Most advanced economies are knowledge-based, but where perhaps Korea differs is the way that at every level, it sees libraries as central to this process.

According to Lee (2011), "libraries take heavy responsibility for raising national competitiveness."

And the Government takes heavy responsibility for supporting libraries, through publicly funded initiatives which will be described below, and legislation, for example the Libraries Act, first passed in 1963 and revised 11 times, most recently in 2006.

Such interest however is rooted not just in Korea’s recent economic upsurge, but in an exceptionally rich cultural history.

Korea gave the world two treasures of printing history, both first of their kind: Mu-gu-jeong-gwang-dae-da-ra-ni-gyeong (the Pure Light Dharani Sutra, printed on woodblock), and Jikji, the world’s oldest example of movable type (Yoon et al., 2006).