A literary landmark transformed

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A literary landmark transformed

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The renovated Kyobo Bookstore Gwanghwamun branch. [YONHAP]

Kyobo Life Insurance’s headquarters in Gwanghwamun has for three decades been home to what is probably Seoul’s best known bookstore, but this landmark, like much of the historic neighborhood it inhabits, went under renovation in early April.

Yesterday the main Kyobo Bookstore branch has reopened as part of celebrations for its 30th anniversary, with a wide range of new, high-tech shopping features.

The most exciting is called “publish on demand,” which lets customers access a database of sold out or out of print books and print a new copy right there in the store. Or customers can bring in their own personal photos and text, design a layout and publish their own books. The same section of the store has free Wi-Fi Internet service to allow e-book shopping.

All these new services are explained on a 46-inch touchscreen display, which also offers book recommendations, maps, weather and event information including guest lectures and book signings.

But the new space is not just high-tech. It also contains new spaces to learn and read. The “Learning Academy” was designed for author meetings, and a new system has been implemented to organize the roughly 1 million books under Kyobo’s roof. Each section is a different color - red for foreign books, yellow for children’s books and so on.

The entrance has been transformed as well, now looking more like Kyobo’s Gangnam branch. The stairs down to the entrance have been widened, with a glassy edifice in place of the narrow doorway that was once there. A ceiling installation by artist An Jong-yeon looks down on new arrivals. Light bulbs dangle from black tubes, lending a more modern atmosphere. And the ceiling is now higher: 2.9 meters (9.5 feet) compared to 2.6 meters before the renovation.

The aisles are all marble, but the floor on which the bookshelves sit is all wooden, designed to fight the scent of books that crept into the carpeting in the old store.

To celebrate the reopening, a “book concert” was held on Thursday, with well-known writer Shin Kyung-sook reading from her most recent piece at the Kyobo Building conference hall.


By Lee Sun-min [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]
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