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Have a 'booknic' in the middle of Seoul

Plaza in front of Seoul City Hall turns into open-air library filled with books, amusements

Children read books at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall in Seoul on Sept. 2 as part of an outdoor mobile library event organized by the city government. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
Children read books at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall in Seoul on Sept. 2 as part of an outdoor mobile library event organized by the city government. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

On a recent Friday morning, the plaza in front of Seoul City Hall had a group of children browsing through books, lying on bean bag chairs, picnic mats, or swinging benches under the warm sunlight.

Brightly colored bookshelves were scattered across the plaza’s open lawn space, beckoning passersby to grab one and join them. Nearly 5,000 volumes of various genres and topics, from children’s picture books to novels and essays, were available for on-site reading. There was a separate e-book corner where visitors could borrow tablets to read digital books.

Starting from Sept. 2 until Nov. 13, the plaza turns into an outdoor library for everyone every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, under Seoul Municipal Government’s “Read at Seoul Plaza” event.

Bean bag chairs for reading (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
Bean bag chairs for reading (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

The open library is very kid-friendly.

A corner of the plaza has been turned into a playground for children with inflatable bounce houses and drawing boards.

The event organizers also have a toy lending service, offering 75 different types of toys for kids aged 1-6 six at no cost. With a valid ID card, a teacher or parent can borrow toys for children for a maximum of two hours.

Children play with colorful drawing boards. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
Children play with colorful drawing boards. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

Song, a 32-year-old teacher at a preschool located in Yejang-dong, central Seoul, took her students, all aged 5, on a field trip to the Seoul Plaza open library.

“Picnics and excursions to distant places are on hold due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. I brought kids here because children can not only study from books but also do some physical activities at various recreation stations,” said the teacher, who only gave her surname.The open library also acts as a lounge space for nearby workers during their lunch break.

Song and her 5-year-old kindergarten students take a picture at an instant photo booth machine. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
Song and her 5-year-old kindergarten students take a picture at an instant photo booth machine. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

Park, a 31-year-old Seoulite who works at a nearby company, said she dropped by the plaza to take a rest after lunch.

“Many office workers, including me, usually come by here to take a walk after lunch. It’s so relaxing to just lie on comfortable chairs, and the weather is perfect to read books outdoors,” said Park, who preferred to be identified by her last name.

A woman and her two sons get ready to play in an inflatable bounce house. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
A woman and her two sons get ready to play in an inflatable bounce house. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

The outdoor reading campaign was first held in spring this year to celebrate World Book Day and has reopened for the fall season.

“The event aims to provide residents with an outdoor space for relaxation and better access to books. We will continue to improve the quality of life for residents through various cultural programs,” the city government said in a statement.

Visitors browse through books on display. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
Visitors browse through books on display. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

The open library is open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays until Nov. 13. The schedule is subject to changes or cancellations depending on weather conditions. All visitors can read the books on-site at no charge.

(cjh@heraldcorp.com)

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