It is the first of its kind. The library is open 24 hours a day, carrying over 200,000 donated books. A wide selection of texts, ranging from literature, science, and arts to humanities welcomes people of all ages.
Located in the heart of Paju Book City, a publishing community that creates, publishes and sells Korean books in Paju, north of Seoul, The Forest of Wisdom opened in June. Since then, thousands of visitors have visited the library.
The Forest of Wisdom library in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
The library has its detractors. Due to a lack of floor space, books are stacked high, and many can only be reached by climbing a ladder. The Forest of Wisdom has also been criticized for not cataloging or categorizing its books. Some even dubbed the library a literary graveyard, merely serving as a place to store books dumped on it by donors who no longer want them.
Nonetheless, this library has attracted many visitors searching for a place to navigate through books, casually hang out or drink coffee, discover some antique and hidden books, and listen to lectures. For these visitors, the difficulty of fetching a book from an 8-meter-high shelf is less of a bother, as the library serves as an open cultural space and an escape from the summer heat.
“The purpose of this place is to give life to the books,” said Kim Eoun-ho, chairman of the Bookcity Culture Foundation, which was behind developing the library. “People can access many valuable and old books from distinguished scholars at the library. It is important to preserve good books and take care of them.”
The 24-hour public library The Forest of Wisdom, houses over 200,000 donated books. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
The library received over 500,000 donated books. Of those, only 200,000 are on the shelves, which stretch a total of 3.1 kilometers. Unlike typical libraries, people cannot lend or take the books outside of the building. They are only available to read inside the library.
The Forest of Wisdom is comprised of three sections.
The first is the signature area of the library, with bookshelves stretched from end to end, creating an unusual ambience.
“When I first entered the room, I thought of Europe in the middle-ages for some reason, it is splendid,” said Son Myung-soo, a 50-year-old “kwondoksa” (Korean word for book recommender) at the library.
“Kwondoksa” are volunteers who help find books for visitors and guide them. Only they can climb the ladders to fetch books from the high shelves.
Son, a businessman, comes to volunteer at the library 12 hours a week during his spare time.
“I personally thought the purpose of the library was very meaningful. Although the format and structure is still in progress, causing some disorder from time to time, I believe preserving good books is very important.” Volunteers like Son are required to take hours of training before working as “kwondoksa.”
The second section houses books donated by over 40 publishing houses. While resembling a book caf, visitors can enjoy a coffee while wandering between the shelves and browsing the selection of books. There are long wooden tables where visitors can sit and read. During the weekends, there is no space to sit for latecomers, as families with kids pack the area, some having to sit on the stairs.
The third section is the 24-hour area, connected to the lobby of the guesthouse Jinjihyang. People staying at the guesthouse can freely use the library. Larger than the other sections, and furnished with big couches, people can read books more comfortably here, while classical music is played in the room.
The Forest of Wisdom may not cater to people seeking the traditional library experience, but those searching for something new will find it.
And for those concerned about the lack of organization, the a library catalogue is on its way.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)