[OUTLOOK]A library of one’s ownChristchurch in New Zealand is known for a beautiful park in the middle of the city. Recently, I found another attraction and felt a great deal of envy. New Brighton, one of the suburbs outside Christchurch, is located by the coastline and the suburb has a library with the best view in town.
On the second floor of the library, there is a long jetty over the ocean so people can take a walk whenever they feel like a break from reading or studying. The wall facing the ocean is glass and the seats are arranged to face toward the ocean. If people look up from their books, they can see the horizon over the ocean far away.
Every town and city has a public library run by the city. People walking down the streets who suddenly feel like reading certain books can go into any library nearby and borrow them.
After finishing the books, they can return them to any public library. Citizens can have a good time at the libraries, just as at any other park or attraction.
Paju, less than an hour’s drive from Seoul, has a district called Paju Book City, where many publishers are located. A library has opened in one building with a view. The library stretches beyond its fence. It is connected to the river and mountains, where children can have fun.
Children run around on Mount Simhak or have snowball fights by the river before reading books in the library. As children have no clear distinction between study and fun, the library offers adventure and enhances their imagination.
Even though children enjoy reading books as much as they enjoy playing outside, they read less and less as they reach around the age of 10. They then only read the books they are forced to read. In junior high and high school, students read the main parts of the books that they need to know in preparation for essay tests.
When they finally enter university, they feel liberated from studying. But such excitement doesn’t last for long. They must study practical majors or subjects to get employed.
However, there is good news. Programs to encourage children and teenagers to read books consist of fresh and brilliant ideas.
The most serious problem is that college students do not read as much as the older generations did. In the 1970s and 1980s, under military dictatorship, college students and working class people sought to find their identities and right values, harder than other people in any other generation did.
They were mainly readers of books on the humanities and social science. When students entered college, the first thing they did was to join a club, read books and debate them with other students. It did not matter which club it was. Reading and debating were commonplace in campus life.
During that period, reading was not a means to get employed or to become successful. Students read with innocent and voluntary intentions in an attempt to figure out the truth. After these students graduated and found jobs, they were still the major reading base of books on the humanities and social sciences.
But university students of today no longer read books. In the past, most books on the humanities and social sciences were translations. But these days, many Korean authors have written books in these fields. People can now find good translations of classical books from the East and the West.
Everybody talks about Korea’s humanities crisis. To put it more precisely, it is the crisis of the humanities in colleges.
Some say the goal of education is to enhance one’s initiative in his or her life. But until one has learned to take an initiative, a certain system is needed. College education is important to boost debate on books on campus and to make university students read even after graduation.
Libraries of universities have crucial roles to play. University libraries should become more than places where students study in preparation for tests or prepare to get jobs. Libraries should prepare a variety of programs to promote reading among students.
Book publishers should work together. That can be another type of collaboration of industry and the academic field. I hope that some day libraries will be filled with students who read books with pure intentions and debate them.
*The writer is the CEO of Sakyejul Publishing Inc.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Malk-sil