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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Reborn Through Continuing Education In The Case Of Korea

Youngsook Lee
Korean Library Association



Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, philosophy crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows on the world, and "lighthouses erected in the sea of time."
They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

Barbara Tuckman,
historian and lover of books,
in Books in Our Future

The library, created to meet the needs of human society, is changing as society itself is being transformed. Nevertheless, the original purpose of the library remains the same: to preserve the intellectual products of human creativity, and to return this stored knowledge and information to society for the sake of re creation. Today, the information technologies of telecommunications and computers are revolutionizing the structure, management, and services of the library. Amidst these changes the most important task for us is to develop human resources to match this technological progress. That is, our most urgent project is to train library professionals with specialized knowledge and skills. This can be accomplished by strengthening the continuing education programs in individual libraries, which requires developing new programs, fundraising, and increasing the number of specialist trainees. Only within such a structure can we properly assess the current condition of Korean libraries, identify the problems, and together solve these problems by sharing information, knowledge, and responsibilities.


Today there are more than 7,775 libraries in Korea, including two national libraries, 321 public libraries, 378 university libraries, 418 specialty libraries, and 6,656 school libraries. The first library open to the general public was established in 1901, but the history of libraries in Korea can be dated back to the mid 15th century, when the Royal Library, Chiphyeonjeon, facilitated active scholarship and research. Indeed, the scholars of the Chiphyeonjeon assisted King Sejong the Great in developing Hangul, the native Korean phonetic script, in 1446.

Universities with a department of library and information science number 38 (31 four year universities and 7 two year technical colleges). Among these institutions 13 universities offer master's programs in library and information science and 6 offer doctoral programs. Further, there are 22 teacher training universities with graduate programs in library and information science education. Graduates of these programs are awarded certification by the Korean government to be librarians. Finally, there are two special training institutes designed to educate library workers who wish to earn this certification via a fixed curriculum.

There are currently more than 15 organizations with ties to libraries, including the Korean Library Association, Council of Public Libraries, School Library Organization, Specialty Library Council, National University Libraries Council, Private University Libraries Council, Medical Libraries Council, Theological Libraries Council, Librarians' Association of Korea, etc. In addition, there are the Korean Library and Information Science Society, Korean Society for Information Management, and other academic groups.

Continuing Education

"Continuing Education" (CE) is defined in the the ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science in the following manner: "The activities by which library and other information agency personnel purposefully seek to improve, diversify, or change their professional or job related knowledge, attitudes, or skills. Continuing education activities include short courses, full term courses, institutes, workshops, conferences, home study courses, learning packages, and other educational activities undertaken by staff members individually by their own initiative."

Examined from this perspective, the current state of CE in Korean libraries looks like this :

Table not available, please contact Author.

In addition to these steps, library affiliated organizations arrange their own meetings, lectures, and seminars to meet continuing education needs. Finally, many libraries participate in staff exchange with other libraries, organize academic seminars, and arrange for special speakers.


Beginning in the mid 1980s computerization of the libraries became a top priority. The construction of a library network was selected as a major project of the Education and Research Information Project in 1989. The library networking plan, which was originally a part of the overall and integrated development plan for national library automation, was accepted in 1987 as a national project. Seeking a balanced development among the different regions, the Korean government believed that the construction of the library network would effectively distribute information and eventually make possible nationwide access. This project began in 1991 and will be completed in 1997.

When fully constructed, the Korea Library Information System Network (KOLIS NET) will connect 495 libraries within the country, centered in The National Library of Korea and divided into three sub networks: public libraries (numbering 132), university libraries (187), and specialty libraries (176).

Political and Social Factors

As a result of the government's designating it as the highest priority of from 1960s through 1980s, Korea's economic growth achieved a per capita GNP of $10,000 last year, while investment in the education and cultural arenas remained relatively small. However, beginning in the late 1980s interest and dedication to these areas began to grow, resulting in the independence of the Ministry of Culture (currently the Ministry of Culture & Sports) from the Ministry of Culture & Public Information in 1990. Furthermore, whereas previously there was no specific organ to oversee library policy, the Ministry of Culture took full responsibility over this duty. In 1991, with the aim of enhancing its status and strengthening its capacities, The National Library of Korea came under the full jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, and even its organizations was expended. Especially noteworthy was the effort to increase investment in public libraries as a part of the overall expansion in investment in the public sector, with the result being that by 1999, there will be one public library for every 100,000 people, up from the current 130,000 ratio. Head librarians, too, special recognition will receive special recognition in contradistinction to the general administrative designations they current hold, thanks to their placement within the jurisdiction of the Library and Reading Promotion law beginning in January of 1997. Finally, the peak in interest in libraries among business and private interest groups has led them to contribute the latest in library technology and facilities for the purposes of enhancing the libraries' capacity for information distribution.


Despite the rise in interest in libraries in the government and general public, there still remain several problems:

Lack of Library Policy

As mentioned above, only in 1991, with the establishment of a specific division within the Ministry of Culture responsible for library policy, did a basis for library development come about. Still, the need remains for a systemic assurance, in the form of an official organ, that would allow this new policy to continue. As it stands now, the lack of such a specific organ responsible for library matters means that while the Ministry of Culture & Sports is responsible for formulating library policy, the Ministry of Education continues to oversee the budget and administration. Even as school, university, and public libraries officially fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, 89 of the 321 public libraries are controlled by the Interior Ministry. Furthermore, The National Library of Korea is administered by the Ministry of Culture & Sports, while the National Assemble Library comes under the control of the Ministry Legislation. Under such a system the Ministry of Culture & Sports cannot be expected to formulate a smooth and viable library policy.

Insufficient Funding

The government's budget for the education and public sectors has increased, but funding for the expansion of library holdings and information technology (IT) functions, as well as the manpower needed to provide high quality service in both areas, remain unreasonably insufficient. For example, the representative national library's budget over the past four years and current year has been the following: $8,305,000 in 1992, $9,700,000 in 1993, $12,532,000 in 1994, $13,952,000 in 1995, $17,956,000 in 1996. One can detect a slight increase every year, but in light of the Library's heavy responsibilities as the representative national library, the funding has fallen considerably short.


In the current system in which librarians fall within the regular civil service system, the librarians' staffing ranks remain behind those of other civil servants. Whereas levels 1 to 9 are open to other civil servants, only levels 4 to 9 are designated for librarians, meaning that the highest rank a librarian can attain is middle level rank for other civil servants. That is why most head "librarians" are not really library specialists, but rather general administrators. This has resulted in the precipitous backwardness in expertise and specialization within our library administration.

Lack of Facilities and Funding for Continuing Education

The problem of insufficient funding and facilities for continuing education stems from the larger problem of insufficient recognition of the importance of continuing education. In every library there is almost no special allowance for continuing education. when we examine the chart on page (3), we find that only The National Library of Korea provides a continuing education program that specifically addresses a librarian's duties. But even this program suffers from a significant shortfall in facilities, funding, and other conditions when compared to its demand. This is because the Library takes on the funding responsibility for this program completely, as the students themselves cannot afford to pay any tuition. Needless to say, the Library cannot depend on a sufficient source of funding to help meet this obligation. Furthermore, there is no separate organ within the Library for education programs, nor is there even a specialty division to develop and administer them. And because there is no specialists among the librarians who are versed sufficiently in the various fields of library science to provide seminars and lectures, we must depend on university professors to provide them. But because even these professors are not specialists, we rarely enjoy immediate results from their programs.

Opportunities to provide such programs for continuing education still fall short of demand. Of the 38,000 librarians who have certifications nationwide, for example only 2,788 (7%) have been able to participate in The National Library of Korea's training programs since they began in 1986. At this rate, most of the nation's librarians will never be able to participate in these programs.

In order to strengthen education and training in library science, The National Library of Korea has taken over full control of continuing education programs, endeavored to build new facilities including a separate educational wing, and worked to raise funding, but all of these efforts unfortunately have resulted in few results.

Lack of Specialists

Due to insufficient societal recognition and accordingly low benefits, the job of "librarian" is not something that many young people aspire to. In the universities as well, library and information science remains one of the least popular majors for intelligent students with a bright future. Even the few promising students in library and information science program are opting for the growing private sector enterprises involving information and information technology, where the pay is higher. This phenomenon can be seen among current library workers as well: Those who are skilled in computers and communications technology are increasingly leaving their library posts for better positions in the private sector. This is especially troubling since these are the most important areas in our libraries today, and even now we are barely managing to scrape by.

Weak Ties to Groups

As mentioned earlier, there are many active groups whose interests are related to libraries. The problem is that these various groups do not coherently act as a unified interest group, but rather individually pursue their activities. There is no representative umbrella organization that brings together all these special interest groups to rally around a unified cause. Thus it is not possible to utilize the strengths of single, powerful organization acting as a pressure group on behalf of library specialists, nor is it possible to increase the recognition for their specialities by strengthening their educational capacities and refining their specialized skills and knowledge.

Irrelevance of Library and Information Science Scholarship

Library and Information Science is a field centered in the library for the benefit of library users. The theories and methodologies should be based on a realistic scholarship that results in practical actions. However, this field has become abstract and drifted away from the library itself. For example 67% of the articles found in the major library literatures have nothing to do in development of our library and information science. Even the remaining 33%, upon closer inspection, include many articles that are impractical and unrealistic, if not superficial.


Korea today exalts a culture which can raise the quality of life through economic growth and greater citizen awareness. The library can serve as one of the important tools with which to raise this standard of living. The pace of development of technologies which collect, store, process, and apply information in this age of information is staggering. When we consider the development of the library in light of these societal trends, however, the picture looks bleak. Words such as "information superhighway" and "electronic library" are often brandied about, but the reality is that most of our libraries, in particular public libraries, are still stuck in the initial stages of computerizing their catalogs. Libraries indeed are made to meet societal needs, but when the libraries themselves are not sufficiently taken care of, they lose their value and become fossilized institutions.

Up to the present we in the library field have cited weak policy, insufficient funding, lack of interest, and other external factors as the causes behind the backwardness of our libraries, believing that only these external problems needed to be solved. In truth, the internal problems have ben even more serious. There have been officials in the library, but no librarians librarians with a high self esteem for their positions, specialized skills and knowledge, and plentiful experience. We had no leaders with a vision to take us to the future. To produce such leaders in our libraries is the most urgent task before us. Only when such leaders emerge can the library system be fixed, the funding increase, and the library carry out its duties. These leaders can emerge only through education. However, the lackluster quality of such a continuing education system can be demonstrated directly by the following example: In its 50 year history after liberation, the library literatures has never carries an article that dealt with continuing education. The closest it has come has been to mention the topic as a side issue; continuing education has never been a direct object of study.

The purpose of this paper, too, lies here. We have grasped the problem, but so far our theories and practices for solution have been insufficient. We must address this issue together and share our experiences, ideas, and information. The IFLA exists for this purpose and must strive for the proper solution. Today one country's library conditions can no longer be constrained to that country; rather, they spread out to affect the surrounding region and, indeed, the international arena. In other words, the development of Korea's libraries will be closely linked to that of the Asia Pacific region, and to the development of libraries worldwide.