[Outlook]Publishing needs a new directionIn the middle of a small traditional market, there are two sets of railway lines on which vendors sell their wares. They slowly move their carts when a train approaches, and after it has passed they put their carts back on the track. Old, dented cabs and decaying buses form a long line on the track. People walk at a leisurely pace between the cars. In this place, everything that moves, moves slowly. This is Alexandria, in Egypt, where the past and the present are intertwined and both face enormous pressures from the future.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located here. I wanted to visit Alexandria during my first trip to Egypt because of this library. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built to commemorate the ancient Royal Library of Alexandria. It was the world’s first library, built in 290 B.C., during the reign of Ptolemy I. The old library used to have 800,000 pieces, including work from the ancient worlds of east and west and records written on papyrus, but it was entirely destroyed during the Muslim conquest in 645.
The Library of Alexandria was the center of the academic world and the birthplace of Hellenism.
To revive the spirit of the old library took decades of research, planning and construction. The new building opened some 1,700 years after the destruction of its ancient predecessor.
Before I arrived there, I always had a dreamy image of the Library of Alexandria. However, when I visited the new library, I was surprised to find a modern building of overwhelming size. As Egyptian once worshiped Osiris, the sun god, I was told that the entrance to the library symbolizes the sun rising from the Mediterranean.
On the granite wall near the entrance there are engravings of many letters and symbols from many countries. On the left side of the wall I saw some Korean script, which made me very happy.
The goal of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is to have books from all the nations on Earth. I entered the building and found a computer. I wanted to search for books published by my company before looking around. I typed the name of my company but nothing came up. I was a little perplexed so I typed the name of another Korean publisher which has a longer history than mine. The result was the same. Zero.
I couldn’t believe it. This time, I tried to find the key word “Korea” on the toolbar. There were many other countries, including China and Japan, but Korea was not on the list.
My hopes had diminished to almost nothing, so I then entered just the word “Korea” and pushed the enter button. At last! Two books popped up. One was a tour guide about Korea and the other was about the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
It struck me that this is the grim reality of Korea’s academic world and publishing industry. Because of this realization, I felt depressed while I looked around the library.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was opened in autumn 2002. For seven years Korea has failed to draw attention from the library’s curators.
Even though Korea is equipped with the world’s best information technology and the most advanced environment for publishing, the contents of our books are not competitive on the global stage.
A library has cultural value because the building is filled with books. On the other hand, information technology without content is nothing but a hollow shell.
To bolster the competitiveness of Korea’s publishing industry we must do more to boost the quantity of books published, but the content and quality of books is even more important.
Authors and publishers need to be competitive and create books that encourage discourse about Korea, books that Northeast Asia and the entire world find fascinating.
In this regard, I am not confident. However, I had some optimism when I returned from the trip.
That was because the two books that came up on the monitor at the Bibliotheca Alexandria gave me some ideas and inspiration about the direction that Korea’s publishing must pursue.
*The writer is the CEO of Sakyejul Publishing Inc.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Malk-sil