THE BEGINNING OF MODERN LIBRARY SCIENCE EDUCATION IN KOREA
J. McRee (Mac) Elrod
[Revised text of a talk given to the Korean/Korean-American Discussion
Group, ALA San Francisco, 16 June 2001]
In 1955 the campuses of Korea were teeming with neatly dressed young
men and women, anxious both to learn, and to help rebuild their society
in the aftermath of a savage civil war. Although many lived in tents
and other substandard accommodations, they arrived on campus each morning
immaculate in white shirts or blouses, navy blue pants or skirts,
eager to devote themselves to a day of study in classrooms which were
often unheated in winter, and uncooled in summer.
With an interest in Asia, I began a five year term at Yonsei University
in Seoul, Korea, that year, having chosen Korea as the place to work and
teach because it was the only Asian country with a phonetic alphabet
(as opposed to ideographs or syllabury). Koreans had not had the
opportunity of develop modern library practices using their alphabet,
having been forced to use Japanese methods during the Japanese
occupation (1910-1945), and had not yet been able to develop its own
library practices when the civil war broke out (1950-1953) and threw the
country into chaos.
Yonsei University when I arrived was isolated in rural Shin Chun,
across a sleepy hollow from Ewha Women's University. Later, both were
engulfed by the growth of Seoul. At the head of the valley stood a tiny
Buddhist temple, peaceful and beautiful particularly under a fresh fall
of snow. Despite the rural setting, and still visible signs of war,
the campuses were no cultural backwater. The surviving musicians of the
Yee Dynasty court orchestra played regularly. The singer Marian
Anderson and cellist Pablo Casals, among other well known artists,
visited and performed before enthusiastic students.
There was only one person other than myself active in a Korean library
with a library science degree - Lee Pong-soon, Librarian of Ewha. (One
additional Korean had an MLS, but was employed by Unesco in Paris.)
There was no library in the country which circulated books for home use,
intershelved books by subject regardless of language, or had a
comprehensive catalogue of their whole collection. At Yonsei University
Library, books which had been excavated from the fallen ceilings
caused by wartime shelling, where shelved behind chicken wire, spines
out. Students would poke the book they wanted. Staff would fetch it,
and students would surrender their identification cards in exchange for
the book they wished to use, and which they were not allowed to take
from the library.
One morning I came to work to find that the ink had frozen, and burst
the glass inkwell on my desk. Korea has changed centuries since those
hard postwar days, but at the cost of much that I miss when revisiting
the country: the cry of "ice kaki" on the streets, the clack of shears
of a candy cart, the sound of wooden stick ironing, the green traffic
circles of Seoul, the thatch-roofed houses (warm in winter and cool in
summer), the beautiful flowing traditional Korean dresses, dignified
gentlemen in horsehair hats, and the teeming outdoor markets.
In 1955 the Yonsei Library collection was still housed on the top floor
of the old main building, with is clanking prewar radiators. In
winter the smell of kimchi heating in metal lunch boxes, and
placed on the radiators, permeated the space. Although the collection
later moved to a succession of new buildings, it was here that
In 1955, as now, major Korean academic libraries were composed of older
traditional material in Hanmun (Chinese ideographs, often printed from
wood blocks), Japanese works, and works in modern Western languages,
notably English and German.
Educated Koreans of that generation are unique in the world in the
number of Eastern and Western Languages in which they can function. As I
was later to discover as Head of Cataloguing at the University of
British Columbia, only Korean librarians of that generation could easily
catalogue Chinese, Japanese, and Korean works. Mr. Ahn Young-ju, helped
to immigrate from Korea for that ability, has just retired as Korean
Language Librarian of the Asian Studies Library at the University of
British Columbia. So far as I know, he is the only person whose Yonsei
degree (as opposed to one from an ALA accredited institution) has been
accepted as a professional credential in North America.
Peabody College (now the Faculty of Education of Vanderbilt
University), as part of a foreign aid contract to assist education in
Korea, proposed to help start a library school. Aid officials and
Peabody representatives toured the universities of the country. At
Yonsei they found that we had begun home circulation of books to
students, and were creating a unified catalogue of the collection.
The catalogue consisted of three parts. Eastern materials were listed
in a Hankul (Korean alphabet) section by author, title, and the usual
added entries, plus Korean index cards for the classed catalogue. Western
materials were listed in a Roman alphabet section by author, title,
and the usual added entries, plus English index cards to the
classed catalogue. These two sections flanked a third, a classed
catalogue, in which all library materials were listed by class number,
and which for some material included cards under class numbers in
addition to the one by which the items were shelved. All material on
the shelves were interfiled by class number, regardless of language.
Eastern materials had Cutter numbers using Hankul letters and numbers,
and Western materials had Cutter numbers using the Roman alphabet
letters and numbers. Imagine an extended alphabet beginning with "ka,
na, da" (the first three letters of Hankul), and ending with "X, Y, Z".
The Peabody and aid visitors were impressed by the heavy student use of
the catalogue and the collection. Yonsei was selected as the site of the
new school of library science.
The classed subject catalogue which Yonsei was developing had at that
time a revival in library literature*. The development of machine
readable cataloguing (MARC) and cataloguing in publication (CIP) in the
late 1960s and 1970s resulted in the closure of the better known
classed subject catalogues in North America, except in French Canada.
Today classed subject catalogues exist mainly in the multi lingual
libraries of Europe.
While some Korean libraries make use of Library of Congress Subject
Headings, and special subject lists such as the National Library of
Medicine's MeSH, the National Library of Korea has developed an
extensive subject heading list which replaces an earlier much briefer
list based largely on Sears, by Lee Jae-chul. The use of two subject
heading lists fragments subject control of the collection. Use of
either LCSH or the Korean list alone places much material under
headings in a language other than the contents. It is my hope that
Korea will resume the development of the classed catalogue, and become a
leader in the development of the automated browsable classed
catalogue for multilingual and multi script collections. The automated
browsing of bibliographic records by class number can be an excellent
way of subject searching, organizing material logically as opposed to
randomly as does an alphabetic subject catalogue. All animals are
together, as opposed to be scatted aardvarks to zebras. To
distinguish the classed catalogue from a public shelf list, indexing
is required, preferably in all languages used by patrons. (At Yonsei
we used S. R. Ranganathan's chain indexing technique in creating the
English and Korean index cards.) The classed catalogue also allows
multiple class numbers for the same item, reflecting the different
subject treated, while only one of them reflects the shelving location.
Keyword searching is often a means of subject searching. Dr. Lee
Too-young, President of the Korean Library Association, proposes an
automatic translation program, in which keyword searches in one language
would automatically extend to searches of material in other languages.
This would be a major contribution to library software development,
particularly if it could be extended to the searching of the class
schedules text and index, leading to a classed retrieval of material.
The difficulty of keyword searching of titles alone is what I call the _A
Puritan in Babylon_ syndrome. That is the title of a biography of
Calvin Coolidge. A retrieval of that title based on a keyword search of
either "Puritan" or "Babylon" would be of little help on either of those
So it was the classed catalogue Yonsei was creating, and taught in those
With a succession of teachers provided by Peabody (I was also a Peabody
graduate), preparation of professional librarians began in Korea. Park
Ke-hong, a member of an early graduate class, was interpreter in my
cataloguing class, until I began entertaining students with my
fractured Korean. (I once told a student to eat his magazine and
catalogue his lunch.) Mr. Park later became the President of the Korean
Library Association. Another early graduate, Mr. Ahn mentioned above,
began library reference service at Yonsei before moving to the
University of British Columbia. When your former students start
retiring, you know you are getting older!
Unlike the North American pattern of two year junior college library
technician courses, and one or two year library science graduate
courses, the Department of Library Science at Yonsei, founded in
December of 1956, began as both an undergraduate department, and as a
graduate course for those with degrees in other subjects. Classes
began in 1957. The curriculum was much like that of a North
American library school, with some additions.
One of those additions was "Cataloguing Japanese Books". In reaction to
the Japanese outlawing of the teaching of the Korean language, Korea at
that time outlawed the teaching of Japanese. (A student's father
had earlier died in prison, having been caught teaching Korean in his
home.) A major proportion of library collections were Japanese
(although new titles could then only be acquired by indirect means).
Those Japanese materials were heavily used by faculty, and still by
older students. Students entering at the freshman level had not learned
Japanese in school as had graduate students and faculty. It was with
some nervousness that these young undergraduate library science students
gathered in the library lobby, and were led to a remote room in the
library tower where they would not be overheard learning a bit of
bibliographic Japanese. We were never challenged concerning the course.
Since normalization of relations with Japan in 1962, of course, Korean
libraries are again acquiring Japanese materials, and Japanese I'm
told is second only to English as a foreign language in Korean library
While a few later graduates of western library schools returned to
Korea and created mini segregated American style collections of Western
materials using English subject headings, leaving Easter
material in their Japanese influenced arrangement, most Yonsei graduates
(and later Ewha and other program graduates) developed integrated
collections. Inter shelving regardless of language is the most common
pattern today I've been told.
According to Mr. Kim Sung-woon, a Yonsei graduate and Autocat e-list
member, the last (1999) KLA library survey reports that 87% of Korean
public libraries, 83% of university and college libraries. and 26% of
special libraries, have automated catalogues. This high percentage is
probably due to The National Library of Korea having developed and
distributed without charge software for automated catalogues.
In this, the Korean National Library has far surpassed both the Library
of Congress and the National Library of Canada. Far from developing
software for their nations, or even for themselves, both have had a
rocky road installing less than satisfactory software, and then
migrating to other purchased systems.
Returning to Korea for the International Federation of Library
Associations' Seoul World Wide Seminar (1976), and later in connection
with the introduction of bibliographic utility use to Korean
libraries, I have been encouraged by the strides that Korean
librarianship has taken. Hankul lends itself well to automated library
procedures, just as it had to catalogue card filing.
A hot debate in the 1950s, when incoming freshman could read some
academic Japanese books (because of their use of Hanmun), but did not
always know the Japanese multi syllabic pronunciation of those
characters (one syllable in both Chinese and Korean), was whether to
list Japanese names by the Korean or Japanese pronunciation of the
characters. Now that Japanese is again being studied and used, the
Japanese pronunciation is used for transliteration into Hankul.
At the time of my last visit, Korea was already creating some of the
best MARC records in the world. Korea has the professional
expertise to create excellent CIP on the basis of publisher supplied
information to a national cataloguing agency or major academic libraries
(as in Brazil and Canada) for inclusion in Korean publications, but had
not yet begun to do so.
The presence of CIP in Korean works would help prevent needless
duplication of effort among Korean libraries. It would help integrate
Korean materials in libraries in other countries which lack the ability
to catalogue them unaided, particularly if Romanized CIP were also
included. The existence of ISBNs, which began since my last visit,
already facilitates international acquisition of Korean titles, and
automated searching for MARC records in bibliographic utilities and
On my return visits to Korea, it seemed to me that the thing most
holding back progress in Korean librarianship was the continuing
practice in many Korean academic libraries of appointing non
professional librarians to the head librarian position. This is not a
practice unique to Korea. Both the present head librarians of the
U.S. Library of Congress and the National Library of Canada are not
trained librarians. But when last in Korea, I found this practice
extending to types of libraries which in other countries would have a
professional librarian in that position. It was discouraging that this
continued to be the case, when Ewha had a professional head librarian as
early as 1955, and professional library training started in Korea soon
While some academic libraries have appointed professional librarians,
unfortunately this task has sometimes been added to the duties of an
already too busy head of a library science department. In some
institutions, the position is used as a sabbatical for a professor.
Perhaps the Korean Library Association could work with the body
responsible for the accreditation of academic institutions, to make a
professional head librarian a requirement for accreditation.
One of the main things to be learned from developing modern library
practices in a new environment, is that the rationale for, and
principles behind, rules and practices are more important that the
letter of the rules themselves. By making decisions based on underlying
principles, one can meet new situations, as well as often anticipate
changes and developments to accommodate new media**.
Such a grounding in principles, I think, would lead Korea to explore the
classed catalogue as better suited to its multilingual collections
than North American style unilingual subject headings.
By having at the head of libraries persons firmly grounded in basic
principles of library science, and in the ideal of public service,
librarianship in Korea can have a bright future. The profession might
even produce a Korean Ranganathan, who will influence librarianship