U.S. program grows, a library at a timeWhen the U.S. Embassy in Russia installed the first American Corners in Novgorod in October 2000, the cultural information project proved to be an immediate success. Since then, more than 100 American Corners have opened in 28 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
With a goal to expand communication and exchange information, American Corners sets up information booths inside public libraries, which serve as a growing network of a global partnership between the United States and the corresponding countries.
When Carolyn Glassman, the country program officer for public affairs at the U. S. Embassy in Seoul, approached Korean libraries about starting American Corners in July 2002, the response was immediate. After six months of collaboration, the first American Corners opened inside the Busan Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library on Feb. 5, 2004.
The American Embassy provided furniture, computers, electronic equipment, books, CD-ROMs, videos, DVDs, as well as digital video conferencing technology for the library’s use. The library will provide the bilingual Korean library personnel; the embassy will provide the library staff with ongoing training.
The program in Busan offers a kind of reference service, featuring a diverse collection of English-language books, materials, public and commercial information and guidance about the United States. Resources include student advising materials, links to American universities, student visa information as well as American film series, English classes and travel.
American Corners is opening up in Daegu on March 19, and another American Corners in Gwangju is on its way this year.
The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with Carolyn Glassman and Joan Hubbard, the wife of U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard, who have supported American Corners in Korea:
Q. What did you think of American Corners in Busan?
A. Hubbard: [American Corners] is for the next generation. Now they can have a place to learn about America through CD-roms, research on their own, or just read a good book ― good American literature!
And they can make up their mind about the country America. The students who I met weren’t exactly young; they were mature, about 15, 16. They were very intelligent. I was very impressed with their English ability and comprehension, and their questions were pretty insightful. Kids asked me, “What do American students do after school?”
Kids [in Busan] will say, “Let’s meet up there [at American Corners] and just hang out there. Kids can come in and tune into the video on Andy Warhol, American art collections, such as quilt-makers, American jazz, etc.
Glassman: The library was interested in children’s books and also learning the language. ... For those who want to learn about English or who want to study in the United States, there is a guided access to Internet. There are a lot of materials for students, which they can explore on their own.
What are the qualifications of the librarians?
Glassman: The Korean library donated the space and hired personnel with backgrounds in English. Libraries do the day-to-day basis work, and we’re being the liaison in library relations and other events.
[American Corners] is not just our project; it’s a partnership. We work as a team. We stay in touch with them all the time.
When we first contacted Korean libraries, many of them were already planning to expand their libraries globally. As a diplomat and representative of the U.S. Embassy in Korea, that’s one of the real joys of working in Korea for me.
What are the benefits of American libraries?
Glassman: American libraries are interested in learning more about Korea. We can possibly work on book exchanges, librarian training and library systems.
There used to be an American Cultural Center in Korea.
Hubbard: A number of years ago, we had American Cultural Centers throughout the world, but they closed down because of the budget. That’s been sad for all of us. American Corners is a tiny step to re-establish our presence in foreign countries.
by Ines Cho