How Korean Digital Library May Pave Way for US Version
The main floor of the National Digital Library of South Korea. The library's physical and digital facilities could serve as a model for the Digital Public Library of America, set to open in its first version in 2013.
CREDIT: "Dibrary: main floor" by Mosman Library on Flickr
Forget the smell of old books. There's a library that offers 3D monitors that don't require 3D glasses; touch-screen tabletops where people can view images of historical texts too precious to take out of storage; and a computer lab with PCs in five languages. But the National Digital Library of South Korea, physically housed in Seoul and digitally available online isn't just remarkable for its high-tech facilities. It could serve as a model for a similar project under way in the U.S., according to George Mason University digital humanities researcher Amanda French.
For the past few years, Harvard scholars and other library luminaries have worked to create a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which would offer free online access to as many books and documents as they can — and at least offer descriptions of what they can't show online because of copyright law. The first version of the library should go online April 2013.
The DPLA has been complex and controversial to plan, however, and the project's leaders are still working out technical and legal questions. In a keynote speech at an electronic librarians' meeting in 2011, and in a blog post from May 9 of this year, French pointed out some lessons the DPLA could learn from South Korea’s so-called "dibrary," which opened in 2009.
For those curious about how much it would cost and how long it would take to create such a facility, the Korean dibrary's physical facilities took the government seven years to build and cost about $112 million. When it opened, the digital archives contained 390,000 digitized books. The library planned to continually add more books to the archives at a cost of $1.2 million a year, according to a presentation by Yong-Eon Shin, the library's director.
New laws created soon after the dibrary's opening allowed its librarians to collect Korean data from the Internet for the library. The U.S. effort could hire a lobbyist to push for similar laws in the U.S., French wrote.
Korean libraries also cooperated to form a lobbying body in 2006, before the dibrary opened, to earn more access to academic journals. Usually, academic journals charge libraries tens of thousands of dollars in annual subscription fees, which means most libraries can’t afford all of the journals its patrons may want. French suggests similar cooperation among U.S. libraries could help them get more free or lowered-cost journal subscriptions.
Then there's the question of having physical libraries as well as a digital one. The dibrary has a five-story building full of computer labs and touch-screen kiosks and seats for 550 people. About 1,000 people visit a day, Shin said.
It may seem silly or redundant to create a physical library for a digital one, but French argues that if the Digital Public Library of America's creators really want to make a library that's accessible to all Americans, they'll need to provide hardware for people who can’t afford high-speed Internet access.
Journalists have emphasized some of the difficulties that stand in the way of making the DPLA. At least one well-trafficked digital public library shows it's possible, however, and it may get an exciting, high-tech physical library to go with it.