You might be a fan of the convenience and portability of your digital media device, but let’s take a step back for a moment and consider the print book.

People of a certain age certainly remember the “bad old days” of having to actually brave the elements and go down to a brick and mortar library, then look up a book in a huge card catalogue (also paper).

And yet, those same people often reminisce about how the feel and smell of a print book is just so special.

Fortunately for those of us living on Jeju Island, we have access to an impressive public library system, certainly unparalleled outside of the capital.

And with the cost of sending print books ordered in North America to Korea, the free public library book option is a no-brainer… especially since you can just return them when you’re done, and not have to lug them back home at the end of your stay here.

Now, since this is Korea, the majority of the books and digital services like search, reservations and general information are in Korean, no surprise there. But even with a minimum of Korean-language abilities, you can still get a lot out of the libraries.

There are 15 libraries here that are part of the online system — meaning they have a shared web address which is a portal for a digital search and reservation system.

If you go to the Web address lib.jeju.go.kr you’ll see a list of the 15 along the tabs on the left side of the screen. These include Halla Library, Woodang, Tamna, Aewol, Jocheon and Hangyeong in Jeju City. And for Seogwipo, there is Seongsan Library, Andeok, Pyoseon and Seogwipo City’s smaller libraries.

On the left, the list of 15 libraries and which are closed for the day. At the top is the search term for the book, and the result below. On the photo of the book cover is the name of the library which has the book, in this case Halla.

On the left, the list of 15 libraries and which are closed for the day. At the top is the search term for the book, and the result below. On the photo of the book cover is the name of the library which has the book, in this case Halla.

You can click on any of those tabs for detailed information on hours of operation, collection information, and the like. Every library has different operating hours, so when you open the site, the libraries that are closed will have a small blue tab that says “휴관”.

The search bar at the top of lib.jeju.go.kr is set by default to search the collections of all 15 libraries. From there you can see if your book is in the system and whether it’s available. If someone else has checked it out, you can reserve the book if you’re logged into the system.

For example, I recently wanted to read “Korea: The Impossible Country” by Daniel Tudor. I did a quick search on the library system and was pleasantly surprised to see that not only did Halla Library have the book, though checked-out, I could reserve it once the other person had finished with it. Later, I received an automated text message on my phone telling me I had 48 hours to pick the book up. Everything went through without a hitch.

And it’s also easy to get a library card: just go in person to any library to fill out the form. You’ll have to provide ID (an ARC card or passport). Then they’ll take your digital photo and ask you to select a password that will work for the self-service checkout machines.

Your new library card will work at every library across the island. You can only take out five books at a time and up to 20 from multiple libraries. You can keep the books for 15 days.

When returning books, the larger libraries have special self-service book return machines that will accept books from other libraries. This comes in handy, as you then don’t have to make multiple stops to different libraries to return your books. One drawback: you have to deposit one book at a time into the machine, a process which takes 15 or 20 seconds each, so maybe it’s not the best for bulk returns.

Of all the libraries on Jeju, Halla Library is Jeju City’s main public library, though not the largest by sheer numbers of books. Woodang and Tamna have more books, 226,000 and 182,000 respectively.

But Halla Library, with some 170,000 books, was an entirely new library built by the province and opened in 2008. The objective was to serve the community. They built this spacious building as a place to get good books, provide places for students and others to sit and study — there are over 300 seats. And it was also designed as a place to feature Jeju culture. There are lectures, movie screenings, story-telling programs in English, among other activities and events.

Halla Library’s foreign books section is definitely special. When helping to set up the foreign language collection back in 2008, consultant and volunteer Jack Quin spoke with a number of organizations and specialists in fields like art, economics and literature, asking for their recommendations on the core collection. When you visit the foreign book section on the second floor of the library, as you walk through the stacks, their influence is clear. It’s an impressive selection for its size.

And if you’re an avid reader and have some books of your own you’d like to donate, they are always welcome. If you’d like to request a book, you can contact Mr. Quin directly at [email protected], just include the reason you think the book should be added to Halla’s collection and also list the book’s ISBN number.

Halla Library (click for a map) is located on Onam Road, next to the Jeju Arts Center. You can take bus 5 or 9.

(Please note a version of this story written by the author appeared on the KCTV English News broadcast of “Talk Jeju” on March 21. — Ed.)

halla library

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