New library inspires thoughtful travel

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New library inspires thoughtful travel


The second floor of the Hyundai Card Travel Library’s theme corner. Travel-related books are categorized under 13 different themes.

A new library in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, is fascinating for those with itchy feet.

The Travel Library, which opened to the public last month, houses about 15,000 books related to exploring the world. It is the second of its kind, after the company opened its Design Library in Gahoe-dong, central Seoul, early last year.

The library has various rooms and zones for visitors to find where in the world they want to go and plan what to do when they get there.

There’s no old-book smell at this library. Everything from the tables and chairs to the lights and design radiates a luxurious, high-end atmosphere.

Last Wednesday afternoon, people were either sitting outside on benches or milling around, waiting for their turn to use the library. Only 35 people are allowed in at a time to “prevent overcrowding and maintain a leisurely and quiet atmosphere,” according to the library in a press release.

Initially, the library allowed only 30 people to access its upstairs section, but the rules changed because of its immense popularity.

The two-story building has a cafe and a book bar so that those waiting in line can enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer. They can also shop for travel-related items while waiting their turn.

The library is fussy about who to allow in, too. You must own a Hyundai Card, be over 19 years of age and cannot be wearing slippers or beachwear. The design-inspired library aims to offer its members a VIP service - it even has a concierge to help visitors design their own travel experiences.

Why a travel library? Because “going on a trip overseas has degenerated to mere ‘sightseeing’ for many Koreans,” said Hyundai Card in a press release, adding that “traveling should start from feelings of freedom, adventure, a challenging spirit and new inspirations.”

“Today, about 16 million Koreans go on overseas trips,” said Reina Lee, assistant manager of Hyundai Card’s brand department. “Despite the qualitative growth, the essential meaning of traveling has vanished and has been focused on ‘destination.’?”

Many of those who go on overseas trips set goals, for example, to visit the Louvre, take a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower or climb up to the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral.

The library, according to its official statement, was established as an effort to alter conventional tourism while offering an opportunity for people to find their own way of traveling from research.

A large real-time departure board can be seen as soon as you walk into the building. It shows the same schedules and gate numbers as departure boards at Incheon International Airport and is updated every 30 minutes. The concept allows visitors to “feel that they’ve started the journey as soon as they enter the library,” said Lee.

The structure houses a wide range of books and magazines on traveling, and the publications are categorized under different themes. About 20 to 30 percent of the books are in Korean, while the rest are mostly in English.


Clockwise from bottom left: The front of the Travel Library; the departure board at the entrance; an archive of maps on the first floor of the library; and a “play room” where visitors can check out the street view of their desired destinations using Google Maps. Provided by the library

On the second floor, books are stored under 13 themes and three categories - arts and architecture, adventure and travel photography. The themes include camping, sports, walking, biking, museums, world literature, food and drink.

“Visitors can start planning by selecting a theme,” said Lee. “If you are a person who wants to go on a trip that focuses on architecture, you can select books and magazines in that section and then choose the destination.”

There are three rooms in between the bookshelves. Entering the “play room” feels like going into a spaceship. There you can check out a street view of your desired destination, which is then projected onto 10 connected flat screens. Visitors navigate the scenes using a joystick installed in the center of the room.

“For those who are curious to know what it really looks like around the hotel of your destination or how to get to the hotel from the station, they can do so in this room,” said Lee.

“For busy people who can’t get enough time off from work to go overseas, like myself, they can also come into this room and check out places that they wanted to go to get vicarious satisfaction,” Lee laughed.

If you’ve already picked out a continent to travel to, you can start in the “region” zone, where books and magazines are categorized under Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia, Oceania and Polar Region, and America.

Books on taking a trip to 196 different countries are stocked in this section.

This corner, also on the second floor, has an entrance that leads to a small white room called the “planning room.” The walls in this room are in fact a whiteboard, so that people who visit the library with those they will travel with can write on the walls to plan trips.

There’s even a globe for visitors to draw routes and stopovers on with a whiteboard marker.

Such an experience, said Lee, makes the planning part of travel as exciting as the actual traveling.

Here and there on the second floor of the library, iPads are installed to search for books and their whereabouts.

Visitors can also purchase books found in the database by using the software.

But the hidden treasure of this library, according to officials, is halfway between the first and second floors - a small space that contains rare books. To read these, visitors must wear the supplied white gloves to prevent damage.

On the shelves in this section is a vast collection of specialty books, including an entire National Geographic set; the world’s first and only tourism geographical journal Imago Mundi; and the Transactions collection, academic journals of the Royal Asiatic Society, which focus on Korean since the Joseon Dynasty. One of the first volumes of this collection is said to be written by Henry Appenzeller, a missionary who came to Korea in 1885.

All of the 14,761 books, according to the library, are selected by four internationally renowned book curators - The Guardian’s Kevin Rushby, a travel photographer, author and journalist; Shawn Low, Lonely Planet’s Asia-Pacific travel editor; Carolina Miranda, a columnist whose writings focus on travel and architecture; and Yoshitaka Haba, a renowned book consultant in Japan.

The four curators selected the books following seven principals so that visitors cannot habitually pick up tourism books that focus heavily on photography and information about destinations.

The curators tried to select books that were either “inspiring, wide-ranging, useful, thorough, influential, timeless and [with a certain] aesthetic,” the library said. They wanted to stop people from sightseeing and encourage them to start traveling.

According to the library, the books should “inspire readers and provoke the imagination.” It also said that “great travel books not only impart information but inspire readers to engage with other cultures.” The publications must be useful as “good books do not just show you some beautiful pictures but answer your questions - even the ones you didn’t know you had.”

It also said that “thorough books do not leave things out” and that “great travel books not only cover well-known travel destinations and topics but also introduce new ways to see and experience the places.”

In addition, the curators wrote commentaries for some of the books in the library, which can be found on the iPads.

The Hyundai Card Travel Library is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. On Sundays or public holidays, the library opens one hour earlier at 11 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. It is closed Mondays, New Year’s Day and during the Chuseok holidays.

The library is for Hyundai Card holders only. Members can bring one guest and can visit the library eight times a year for free but will have to pay 5,000 won ($4.90) every time from the ninth visit.

Books, travel-related design products, beverages and food can only be purchased using a Hyundai Card.

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