Kim Min-jin, 25, who attends a university in Seoul, used to go to the school library to browse books or to do coursework at least once a month when she was a freshman. But now, Kim rarely goes to the library. Instead, she simply turns to the Internet to download digital books and reports available.
“Most of the reading material is up online, so I don’t find it necessary to go to libraries now,” Kim told The Korea Herald. “I prefer to download material from an e-library as it is easier for me refer to when I write up a report.”
Latest statistics show that Kim is one of an increasing number of university students who rely more on the Internet than school libraries to do research and access books.
According to a report on students’ usage of libraries by the Korea Education & Research Information Service, students borrowed 7.4 books per person on average in 2015.
This has been dropping for five years. The average number of books per person was 10.3 in 2011, 9.6 in 2012, 8.7 in 2013 and 7.8 in 2014, according to the report.
The state-run KERIS conducted the survey on 409 university libraries across the nation in 2015, involving more than 2 million students.
Among the students, only 57.7 percent said that they have borrowed a hardcopy book from their school libraries.
“I can definitely feel a downward trend in the number of students borrowing books from school libraries,” said Kim Seung-cheol, associate manager at Sungkok Library at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Kim cited the high-speed Internet and increasing usage of smartphones as major reasons for this tendency. “I think Koreans are now more used to reading content and acquiring information on smartphones.”
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted on 40 nations, 88 percent of adult Koreans own a smartphone, more than double the global median average of 43 percent. Korea also ranked highest for Internet usage, with a rate of 94 percent.
The competitive job market, in which youth unemployment rate stands at 9.5 percent, also contributed to the trend as students tend to focus more on preparing themselves to find employment these days, he noted.
“Students normally look for books about English tests, job interviews and so on,” he said. “They tend to buy those kinds of books from bookstores rather than borrow them from libraries.”
Among those who do opt to visit libraries, literature is still the most popular genre, according to the KERIS report.
Nearly 21 percent of the books borrowed by students attending four-year college programs were literary books. Another 20.5 percent of the books were in social science while 13.4 percent were technology science books.
“Short reading material is more popular in e-book form, but long ones including text books or literary books are still more popular in print forms,” he said. “I believe it is premature to predict an end of paper books. Rather, e-books and print books are complementary.”
Among the surveyed universities, Seoul National University had the highest rate of students borrowing books from libraries, with a person on average taking out 24 books per year.
Among the universities with four-year programs, the total amount of money spent on purchasing materials, including paper and electronic books, was 871 million won ($725,000), down 2.1 percent from a year earlier.
The proportion of budget spent on buying digital resources has been rising since 2012, with e-books accounting for 64.4 percent of the total budget. This means that less is being spent on hardcopy books.
The average number of books in the 20 largest university libraries in Korea increased by 56,000 per library per year, significantly less than libraries registered under the Association of Research Libraries.
The ARL, an organization encompassing over 120 libraries in the U.S. and Canada, saw an increase of 229,000 books per library, per year.
But the librarian Kim said the decrease in the amount of money spent on hardcopy books could be a result of a rise in the prices of digital books. “As the total amount of budget has remained almost the same and digital material gets more expensive, libraries have less money to buy hardcopy books.”
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)