Little respect shown to library books

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Little respect shown to library books

Park Kyung, a 46-year-old librarian in Daegu, picks up a book entitled “Monster Toeic” from the city’s central library. The lending card in the back of the book shows it has been checked out five times since it was purchased by the library last May.

But readers of the study guide for the English language proficiency test, the bane of many a Korean student, weren’t enthralled by its contents. The book is filled with doodles and other drawings.

“Since it’s a relatively new book,” Parks says, “we will try to repair the damaged parts.”

Another book Park picks from a shelf, “A Lecture on New International Law,” has over 30 pages torn out. It’s not salvageable.

According to a study by the JoongAng Ilbo, in the past year a total of 628,660 books were discarded by seven major public libraries in the country because of damage by borrowers.

“The majority of the books that were discarded last year had pages torn out or were otherwise misused by readers,” said Do Jae-hwan, head of the Ulsan Nambu Library.

Considering that it costs about 10,000 won ($9.41) for a library to buy a book, billions of won in taxpayer money is going down the drain because of the poor civic sense of selfish library users.

The number of discarded books accounted for 2.4 percent of the total number owned by the seven libraries, which is 26.2 million books.

Seoul had the most books sent to the dumpsters last year - 315,000 - followed by Daegu (106,900) and Busan (79,600).

The books most likely to be damaged are children’s books, which is somewhat excusable, and test prep books for stressed out students. The most common form of damage to test prep books is that pages are torn out for the students to keep, even after the book has been returned to the library. The phenomenon is forcing some librarians to consider not stocking study guides for tests like the Toeic.

Librarians say short staffing at libraries, with about two to four workers overseeing nearly 1,000 books, makes it is impossible to check every book for its condition when it is returned. So it is impossible to catch the vandals and charge them for the damage.

BY KIM YUN-HO, CHA SANG-EUN [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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