Inland lighthouse guides kids to books

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Inland lighthouse guides kids to books


DONGDUCHEON, Gyeonggi ― At nine every night, a lighthouse here flickers on, illuminating one end of the town. Standing 20 meters (66 feet) tall, the structure towers over its nearby residential blocks.
All it’s missing is a coastline. This town, just north of Seoul, is nowhere near the sea.
“It’s the tallest structure around here,” said Kim Jin-man, the lighthouse keeper. “It’s the perfect place for security people to use as a sentry post.”
From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., the lighthouse serves as a beacon for people who are coming home late, he said, explaining that the streets are dark and populated with “punk teenagers.” A neighborhood watch, comprising mostly concerned fathers who live in the area, patrols the vicinity of the lighthouse.
Even late at night, this town is quite active. There are a lot of elementary school students out on the streets, especially around the beacon. It’s not surprising that the lighthouse attracts children. It’s located on one end of the Dongducheon Elementary School playground, and the one-story building attached to the lighthouse is currently used as a children’s library.
So as the lights go up at night on the top of the tower, the lights on the bottom at the first floor library go out, a none-too-subtle reminder that it’s time for the library users to go home.
“I come here after school because I can use the computer and meet friends,” said Choi Ye-jin, 10, who was picking out a picture book of Korean proverbs from the shelf.
Kim Seong-jin, 9, said it was “more fun” to go to a lighthouse than to go to his school’s in-house library.
Kim Jong-mi, a staffer at the Dongducheon city government, said the other public library in town is too far away for those who live near Dongducheon Elementary School, one of the oldest schools in the area. So the city allotted the school 35 million won ($36,700) last year to build a library and suggested that the building also provide room for volunteer security men.
The city then borrowed the idea of building the library to look like a lighthouse from Curitiba, southeastern Brazil, which started a similar project in the 1990s, providing a place for education and security, she said. There are over 50 such lighthouse libraries in the South American city, and Dongducheon is determined to continue to build some like it.
The city expects to have five lighthouse libraries by 2008.
Dubbed the “Lighthouse of Wisdom,” the lighthouse here has over 3,800 books and 200 video tapes and DVDs, as well as computers and a giant projection television for film screenings once a week.
Kim Do-hee, a sixth-grader attending Dongducheon Elementary School, said it is “almost like a habit” for him to drop by at the library after school because it was located near the school’s exit.
“I can read and chat with my friends until late and my dad makes sure I get home safely,” she said.

by Lee Min-a
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