A review of the Busan Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library (부산광역시시립시민도서관) (Busan, South Korea)
Despite Busan’s status as South Korea’s second largest city, it is often overlooked by researchers who spend their days exclusively in Seoul or its immediate environs. This is unfortunate, as Busan not only has great seafood and beaches, but also an easily accessible city library with an impressive array of early twentieth century Japanese-language publications on Korea. Having lived in Busan for an extended period before my graduate school days, I’m always looking for an excuse to head back to this fascinating port city. I was thus eager to check out the resources at the Busan Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library (부산광역시시립시민도서관) during my research trip to South Korea and Japan this last summer.
Transportation to Busan from Seoul is most convenient via high-speed rail or KTX, which takes only slightly over two and a half hours and costs 67,000 won (as of August 2015). For the more budget-minded, the trip can also be made for roughly half the price by inner-city bus or Mugunghwa rail line (무궁화호), though these options usually take twice as long as the KTX.
The library is located in Choeup dong 초읍동 on 462 World Cup-daero. If you’re coming into Busan via rail, Bus 81 will take you directly from the main Busan train station to a stop two minutes from the library entrance (Ch’oeup ch’agoji 초읍차고지) in 20-25 minutes. Countless other bus options take you to the library entrance from other subway-accessible points near the city center, most of them concentrated in Sŏmyŏn or near the Chungang market. For further information on transportation to the library see this link to a helpful page on the library’s Korean-language website.
The Busan Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library dates its founding to the 1901 creation of a reading room of the Busan branch of the Nihon Kōdōkai, a cultural organization servicing the then sizable resident Japanese settler population. This reading room was later expanded and opened to the public in 1913 as the “Busan City Library.” The city escaped the destruction of the Korean War, ensuring the preservation of the library’s substantial collection of Japanese-language publications. This makes it an invaluable resource for scholars studying the history of Japanese colonialism in Korea. While the majority of the library’s unique holdings deal with colonial-era Busan or the surrounding South Kyŏngsang area, interesting and rare materials abound on other facets of the Japanese imperial presence in Korea. I was even able to find unique sources related to my current dissertation project on the environmental history of the Yalu River, illustrating the utility of this archive to scholars with a wide range of interests.
Orientation and Access
Upon arrival at the library, free luggage lockers are available near the front information desk. Pre-1945 published materials are accessible via the old books reading room (고문헌실) located on the first floor. The reading room is open Mondays through Fridays from 9am-5pm and Saturdays from 9am-6pm, with a short lunch rest period from 12-1pm. The reading room itself is small and cozy, and when I visited on a Friday afternoon during the summer I was the only researcher in the room. Searches can be made on the library’s database, accessible online or on a computer in the reading room. High-quality bound copies of many of the library’s older collections are located on shelves in the reading room. Researchers are asked to consult these copies rather than the originals if available, though the originals can also be viewed upon special request. For books that have not been copied, a simple written application form is all that must be completed before the librarian will pull the materials for you.
Researchers cannot make copies of the original print materials, but photographs are encouraged. With republished materials available in the reading room, however, copying is allowed. There is a copy room on the second floor of the library where copies can be made on one of several machines after acquiring a copy card from a librarian (no additional charge). Copies are 40 won a page for B4 and 25 won a page for A5-sized copies.
For any additional help or questions, I recommend speaking with the librarian in the Old Books Reading Room. When I made my visit on a Friday afternoon in August 2015, the librarian on staff was a friendly part-time lecturer at a local university who had completed a PhD in Japan and was fluent in both Korean and Japanese. In addition to helping me with reading room procedures, she also let me take a brief look at the normally off-limits bookshelves where the pre-1945 Japanese-language collections were stored while introducing me to the library’s collections. It seems that visits by foreign researchers to the library are few, so if you do come there is a good chance you will be welcomed with similar warmth.
The Busan Metropolitan Simin Library is a wonderful resource for scholars of colonial Korea that should not be overlooked. For researchers looking for an excuse to explore another part of South Korea while discovering colonial-era materials unable elsewhere, I highly recommend a visit this highly accessible and user-friendly facility.
Department of History
Busan Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library 부산광역시시립시민도서관
San #51-1, Choeup-Dong, Busanjin-Gu, Busan
부산광역시 부산진구 월드컵대로 462 (초읍동)
Image: Busan Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library (photograph by the author, 2015).