A deal librarians should acceptThe books and documents in a library are the responsibility of librarians. A librarian evaluates, selects, collects and categorizes various books and journals. He or she has a natural attachment to the library’s collection.
The staff of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, or National Library of France, is now vehemently protesting its government’s offer to return a collection of royal documents seized by the French navy in the 19th century to South Korea on a “permanent lease” basis.
We understand their protest arises from their professional integrity. But they are mistaken if they think they can overturn an agreement between the two states. The leaders of the two countries shook hands on a deal that will see the French return a collection of 297 documents from the Joseon Dynasty when President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Seoul for the G-20 meeting.
The documents, detailing court rituals and practices, were stolen from a royal library annex by the French navy as a war souvenir during the 1866 invasion of Ganhwa Island, northwest of Seoul. They had been at the center of tensions between South Korea and France.
President Francois Mitterand had promised to return the documents in exchange for South Korea’s awarding of TGV high-speed railway technology in 1993. But the deal failed to come through because of protests from the Paris library staff.
President Sarkozy made an offer that would allow both countries to save face by proposing to return the documents on a five-year renewable lease contract. It was the best gesture Paris could make without violating the local law banning the transfer of national properties, while appealing to Koreans with what is in essence a permanent repatriation of the texts.
The staff of the National Library of France issued a statement in French newspapers claiming that the lease is a violation of local law and could lead to similar demands from other countries. But negotiators from the two countries have been particularly discreet about the wording of the deal. Korea yielded to expressions like “permanent lease” or “automatic renewal of lease,” and pledged not to cite the agreement as a precedent.
The library staff should be aware that there are complaints among Koreans for having to lease stolen property that they see as belonging to them. The staff must understand the matter is a settlement between the two nations and agree to comply with the deal.