A Librarian Goes to Book City
Approximately an hour away from Seoul, surprisingly close to the border with North Korea, there is a magical place where books are said to outnumber people at a ratio of 20:1. Some 250 Korean publishers have offices in Paju Book City, which the Korean government helped bring into being. Fortunately the resident companies include KSI (Korean Studies Information Co), who supplies us with Korean e-books as well as the incredibly comprehensive database that goes by the acronym KISS, which means that we have both a reason to go to this book lover’s paradise and a local tour guide to show it to us as well.
The main attraction for bibliophiles in Paju Book City goes by the unwieldy English name of the Asian Publication Culture Information Center, but it is an extremely attractive structure, both outside and inside. The wood interior features an infinite number of cubbyholes containing as many books. They are donated by publishers and may be read onsite at will--no librarian intervention necessary. Naturally there is a coffee shop, which allows you to prolong your visit past the point of sleepiness or hunger. But of course there is a hotel as well. Staying there is on my bucket list.
Fittingly, the building also contains a museum dedicated to the history of printing in Korea. One can never be reminded too often that movable type--made of metal--originated in this country in the century prior to Gutenberg. Thanks to our magnanimous host, we received a private tutorial in printing on historic presses and learned to sew our own books with a traditional Korean binding technique.