|▲ The books above are planned to be thrown away, along with other master's thesis, public periodicals, and other numerous types of books.|
/Photograph by Ji-seun Kim
Autumn is the time for reading as the saying goes, but it is definitely an old story. Although the youth do acknowledge that they have to read books, they do not put their acknowledgment into practice. Especially, university students know the importance of reading to spend their meaningful youth and to study academics more deeply. Due to the significance of reading, precious few among the 20s and 30s youth contribute their efforts socially to encourage others to read books, such as organizing a flash mob related to reading. What is perhaps more worrying, a huge number of books are thrown away from university libraries because the youths do not read them anymore.
Korean university libraries’ current condition
In 2013 alone, approximately 670 thousand books were thrown out in Korean universities’ libraries, including that of both national and private schools. To put in briefly, university libraries are currently experiencing saturation. In the case of Dongguk University, the Central Library has decided to remove more than 68 thousand books by the end of this year, mainly focusing on master’s thesis and periodical publications along with other fields of books. Because the steps of eliminating books are fairly complicated since they are also part of the school’s property, not a lot of reading materials went under such process until the process became widely activated starting from few years ago. In 2012, 2,406 books and 97 master’s thesis were removed. Following this, in 2013, 1,230 books and 9,109 public periodicals were eliminated. Last year, the number of books thrown away increased to 7,993 along with 7,894 master’s thesis. As seen from the statistics, the number of books that were taken away from the library has been steadily increasing.\
The circumstances of other universities do not seem that different either. According to the Korea Education Research Information Service (KERIS), the annual average number of books being gotten rid of by university libraries was three thousand. In the case of Sogang University, about ten thousand books were thrown away within four days starting from September 30th, 2014. Seoul National University removed about nine thousand books and so did Yonsei, Kyung Hee, and Ewha Womans’ University. Each of school did the same for more than ten thousand books. Although the ratio of the number of removed books to the entire books in the library system may differ among various universities, nine to ten thousand books are not a small amount indeed. Once the books are removed from the libraries, they become wasted paper unless there is an alternative. When looking at the standards of removed books, the first criterion is whether materials were published more than 20 years ago. After this, the second consideration is whether materials had no checkout records in the past five years. This clearly shows that fewer students are searching and borrowing books from the school library, and books eventually get abandoned.
“Harsh Circumstances Remain, Yet Efforts in Increasing Student Reading Continue”
University students’ low reading rate
One of the main reasons why such a huge number of books get eliminated is low rate of reading among Korean university students. According to a report from Broadcasting Media Research’s Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Statistics Center, 14 percent of 842 Koreans in their 20s took time to read books of interest in papers, an average of 17 minutes a day. In the case of electronic books, it was less than two percent and four minutes. Although the reading rate was second highest after the teens, the percentage of people actually reading and the time they took was surprisingly low. Looking at the annual average checkout rate in national and private universities’ libraries, it has been steadily diminishing for the past couple of years. In 2011, it was 10.3 books; since then it marked 9.6 in 2012, and 8.7 a year later. According to the 2014 University Libraries Statistics Analysis Data by KERIS, the annual average check out rate of each university student from 416 Korean universities was 7.8. Such statistics indicate that students are not even borrowing one book per month. In the case of Donggukians, the annual average check out rate was 12.5 in 2012, 11.7 a year later, and 10.6 for last year. It indicates that the school is no exception from the trend of decreasing library usage in terms of check out, which indirectly suggests that students are reading less. Lee Dong-eun, a librarian who has worked in Dongguk’s Central Library for 29 years, said, “Statistics do tell us that the students are borrowing fewer books as year goes by. The library is advertising more often than it did before that students can request the school to purchase books they need. However, the number of requests is almost the same. When I use public transportation, I can now tell that fewer people are reading books now than in the past. Honestly, I do not read books as much as I did before although I am a librarian myself.”
There was a slight difference when taking a look at the situation of university students in foreign countries. According to Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the annual average checkout rate of university students in the United States and Canada was 15 books in 2013. In the same year, students who attended four-year universities in Korea borrowed an average of 11.2 books per year. To be more specific, Yale University students checked out 46 books in a year while Seoul National University students checked out 32 books. Such decrease in the checkout of books is one of the reasons why books are thrown away. From 2000 to 2012, the number of university libraries in Korea rose from 493 to 626, which is a 21 percent increase. The number of books went on from 70.3 million to 133.74 million, which is an approximately 90 percent increase. The amount of books doubled in the past decade, while places to store these books are still inadequate and fewer students are borrowing books. Thus, school libraries have no choice but to give up on books. Of course, some of the books were removed in order to keep the library up to date or due to the development of technology in preserving research materials electronically nowadays. However, a lot of them are thrown away because they were not read for such a long period of time. Experts also stress the importance of reading books. Professor Kim Byoung-gon from Dharma College said, “The most basic reason why students must read books is that they can experience and acquire the knowledge through books even if it is an indirect way. Also, connecting the information from the book and outside of the book invigorates brain activities. Numerous abilities such as ingenuity, imagination, perception, understanding, and critical power can be obtained by reading books although it may differ from each individual.”
|▲ Donnguk University Central Library is hosting numerous programs in order to encourage students' reading.|
/Photograph by Lho Hyun-jung
Countermeasures and efforts
For these reasons, a huge number of books are thrown away from the libraries. Thus, the solutions can be divided into two categories: to solve the problem of obsolete books themselves, and to solve the causes of books being removed for lack of use. Books that are not loaned for more than five years get removed. Students are able to provide the solution for such problem by borrowing more books from the libraries.
Dongguk University has its own countermeasures for the problem of large number of removed books. It operates several programs encouraging students to do more self-motivated reading. For expelled books, university libraries sell in a low price or give them to the students for free. For example, the Central Library of Dongguk University offered a program called “Jang-teo.” It took place until last year, 2014, to sell books in a low price to Donggukians. In addition, Sogang University gave out the abandoned books to students and the teaching staffs for free. From the rest of the abandoned books, about 2,000 were donated to several high school libraries.
Increasing the amount of reading is one answer to solve the cause of the expelled books. In order to encourage university students to read more books, the Central Library offers plenty of programs for university students. Choi Kyung-jin, a section Chief of the Central Library, said, “Because the Central Library wants students to feel more comfortable when they visit the library, many teaching staffs do their best to create interesting reading programs.” There are valuable and exciting reading programs in the Central Library such as “Themed Books for this week,” “Reading-discussion with mentors,” “Famous writers’ lectures from ‘Booksanmae’,” and elementary education for using library.
Like the Central Library, Dharma College, responsible for liberal arts courses, has also opened several lectures for reading, the Great Book Seminar courses. There are five different kinds of lectures about Great Books Seminar program: “Great Books Seminar in Being and History,” “Great Books Seminar in Economy and Society,” “Great Books Seminar in Nature and Technology,” “Great Books Seminar in Art and Culture,” and “Great Books Seminar in Wisdom and Compassion.” The chief goal of those lectures is helping students to read books and grow thought by reading diverse genres of books. Therefore, students obligatorily take four lectures of them before graduation to achieve the goal.
Meanwhile, Chung-Ang University also has numerous reading programs and all of them are commonly called “Joongdok” which means “overdose” in Korean. Three main goals of “Joongdok” are to allow students to be addicted into reading, to let them have a habit of reading, and to ultimately implant the idea, reading books, as a part of the university culture. In order to achieve those goals, a large number of programs are operated by the Central Library of Chung-Ang University :“Reading Discussion,” “Presentation about Experience of Reading,” “Writers’ lectures,” and “An All-night Reading.” Through various means, striving for more reading not only at Dongguk University but also at other universities, the importance of reading is emphasized.
The importance of reading books is well-demonstrated in the case of the University of Chicago. Until the early 20th century, the University of Chicago was not a well-known university in the United States of America. However, after Robert Maynard Hutchins assumed the position as the fifth president of the University of Chicago, there were a lot of changes with its status. Especially, he planned a new policy, “Great Books,” which recommends all students of the university to read one hundred books before graduating mandatorily. Since the policy began, the University of Chicago has produced one-third of Nobel Prize winners. That is, it can be said that reading books is one of the most necessary processes that have huge impacts on every aspect of students’ life.
Alvin Toffler, said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” He also claimed that the future is built upon imaginations of the youth who are reading in the present. As reading is being emphasized continuously, the libraries try to obtain the most updated books and introduce worthy reading programs to students. Nevertheless, not many university students appreciate the efforts of libraries. As a result, more and more books are thrown out. It is time to find more effective solutions for those books.
Kim Ji-seun, Lho Hyun-jung firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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