Until the 1990s, school libraries were a low priority in the South Korean educational system. But the Korean government has now developed a five-year master plan for improving school libraries. Similarly, the government has undertaken significant educational reform in order to cultivate creative human resources through open education and lifelong learning. The implementations of these educational reforms are based on information and communication technology (ICT) in education and the seventh educational curriculum. In addition to these policies, the activity of NGOs has been effective in developing school libraries. Today, South Korea has a modern, well-developed school library system.
South Korea is a small country with a large population of 47,254,000 (Korea National Statistical Office, 2005). It has a 6-3-3-4 education system. According to the 2005 basic Korean educational statistics (Korea National Center for Education Statistics and Information, 2005), South Korea has: (a) 5,646 elementary schools (grades 1-6, approximately 6-11 years old; (b) 2,935 middle schools (grades 7-9, approximately 12-14 years old); and (c) 2,095 high schools (grades 10-12, approximately 15-18 years old). The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development is the central coordinating body for school education. It sets the national schooling goals and establishes curriculum guidelines and requirements.
Recently, school libraries have taken on a rapidly increasing role in the South Korean education system. Libraries are becoming a hub of information in South Korean schools. Until 1990, such a role for school libraries in South Korea was unthinkable.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development is currently implementing a five-year master plan (2003-2007) for improving South Korea's school libraries. The key points of the plan are:
1. to build, redesign, renovate, and repair school libraries;
2. to integrate school libraries into the overall school curriculum by promoting their use in the regular classroom;
3. to hire professional school librarians and trained staff to work in the school libraries; and
4. to improve cooperation between the public and private sectors aimed at enhancing the development of the school library system.
The policy of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, which was the driving force for the prosperity of school libraries in South Korea, could become a model for other parts of the world.
Changes in School Libraries and Korea's Social Background Until the 1990s, school libraries in South Korea had a minor role in schools. They were typically located in tiny, isolated rooms somewhere on the top floor. Most of the time they were closed. When they were open, access was usually restricted to the best students, and they were poorly equipped and contained only small book collections. At that time, the entire public education system in South Korea was poorly funded, and the importance of libraries was underrated. Instead, the importance of university entrance examinations was overemphasized. Being accepted into the most prestigious universities was the ticket to success in South Korean society.
According to Jong-Sung Kim (2000), school libraries in South Korea have undergone a number of major changes since the 1950s. Four of them have been:
1. The formation and development of the school library movement (for the first time, some schools began to build school libraries): 1950s-1960s;
2. The decline of the school library movement (stopped building school libraries): 1970s-1980s;
3. The recovery of the school library movement (started to build more libraries): early 1990s;
4. The expansion of the school library movement (today, almost every school has a school library): late 1990s-present.
After several decades of foreign domination, South Korea became a fully independent country in 1948. …