Usually I study at my local public – to be more specific, ward – library. Every first and third Wednesday they close down. I can’t really study at home. So I searched up some other public libraries around my home, and booya, a gigantic, newly built National Library was only 3 subway stops away. This Wednesday was the closing day of the aforementioned library. I took the day as a chance to check out and study at fancy new National Library.
After 3 stops, I placed my feet on the Express Terminal station. It’s Korean equivalent of Shinjuku station – huge, and most people are bound to get lost. I was, too, ending up spending quiet energy on walking around, figuring the closest exit and the fastest way to get to that exit through the crazy underground market, terminals, random plazas and department store. With 15 minutes walking on the uphill, I arrived at the library. A fancy glass building and gigantic gray stone building were standing there. As I set my foot in, the first thing I saw was entry card registration. Not a big deal – they had computers and staffs, so all I needed to do was sign up through that computer, show my photo ID to the staff and get my card. As I was about to walk in, another big signboard stopped me: please place your personal belongings and bags to the locker. Understandable. There is always someone stealing stuff from the public library. Besides, the lockers are free. I won’t complain. Being a rule follower, I stepped back and walked into the locker area. I put my bag in, taking out only what I need: timer, LSAT questions and some pencils. Now I can properly walk in and use the library.
With my arm full of books and pencils, I headed to the card-swipe gate. Even before I take out my card, the person at the kiosk said dryly:
“You can’t take your personal books into the library.”
Did I hear that correctly?
So I can’t bring my own books into the public library? I was dumbfounded, and had no choice but to say:
“Personal books are not allowed in the library.”
You can’t bring your own books to public library?!?!
This is ridiculous. What are the libraries are for? Other than storing the books and documents, public libraries provide a space for everyone to study the documents. It is built from my tax and my parents’ tax. Now, as a tax-paying citizen, I’m in the library to use the facility yet I can’t bring any of my books. Fine, but then what’s the use for all that fancy gigantic buildings? Even New York City library doesn’t do that. All they do is checking your bags upon entering and leaving. As long as you don’t bother other users, you are free to read/study whatever you want.
Had I was in States, I’d definitely asked “well, can I know why at least?” I bet the staff would have answered my question. But well, I’m in Korea and I know how to be a good girl. Don’t question. I just backed out. On my way back, I also checked their “digital library.” Again, despite the huge space and fancy interior, I can’t bring any of my personal books, let alone sit and read. So there, I blew up a good half of my day, and spent my legpower and calory for walking uphill in vain.
Later on, someone told me the rationale behind the no-personal-book policy. The library used to be open to everyone. Then loads of poor youngsters (like myself) who are struggling to get a job/study for TOEFL (which is necessary for getting a job in Korea)/study for public officer exam/study for teacher’s license exam flooded, spending hours in the library, thus deterring the people who “really have to use the library.”
I find it a bit absurd. How come the people who need study space is not considered as one of those who really have to use the library? If they wanted to narrow the scope of library users, why bother building a big-ass building? Waste of money, isn’t it? At the same time, all the city/ward libraries are open to students who just want to bring their own stuff and study. If the library did not want to have a massive flood of students looking for studying space, I think there are better ways than prohibiting bringing personal books – they could set the time limit, or charge. Have they not expected this, then they should have provided more study spaces. I complained this to my family, and unintentionally I mentioned the New York City library. Obviously I heard the same answer again: “well, well, it’s Korea.” Oh bugger, I forgot it again.
But then, maybe the politicians should stop throwing false promises and catchy, cool (=international) phrases when they have no freaking idea in reality. Stop babbling about how Seoul will catch up with New York City. Building fancy buildings will not magically turn National Library as good as French/American/German/British National Library, let alone better. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised: this country’s government said they plan to turn South Korea into one of the top bike-friendly city. All they did was build a bike lane out of already narrow pedestrian lane. And the bike lanes don’t even connect to each other. Try biking for your commute. You’ll either get a lung infection or run over by a random car. Now, nothing is being said or done about the “World’s top three biking friendly country.” Same with Songdo International City. All is well, but it’s turning into semi-ghost commuter’s bedtown – what “international city” when there is less than ten international companies renting out office? Well, who would? There’s Singapore and Hong Kong and Malaysia and Shanghai right next to us.
I still have a long way to be a proper Korean. Will I ever be? Shrug.