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Thursday, January 28, 2010

A bookworm's dream home

Jan. 28 (Jeju Weekly) The Baramdo Library, which owner Park Bum Joon says is Korea’s smallest library, has one unique feature that will be welcomed by keen readers. It has a sleeping space in an alcove above the bookshelves, so readers can take their time browsing their chosen material.

Opened by Park and his wife, Jang Gilyeon, in 2007, the facility receives about five visitors a day, mostly from the Korean mainland. Its opening hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, although there is no attendant or librarian on hand.

“They come in and they can read a book, and then go,” Park said.

It is not a lending library but there is comfortable seating at which to read the books, either at a Western-style table and chairs or seated on the floor at a low Korean-style table. There are also drinks and souvenirs available on an honesty system, and visitors sometimes add to the collection by leaving books behind. Although fewer than 10 books are available in English, I noticed a few that I could happily while away an afternoon reading.

Jang, whose interests include traditional dyeing and sewing, can sometimes be found in the library teaching the Korean style of hand-sewing, called bojagi. The process is calming and relaxing and appears deeply meditative, as the students focus on their delicate needlework.

One of three students taking a lesson on the day I visited told me that she feels the stress she experiences as a middle-aged woman dissolving since starting the classes.

“Someone can find himself or herself by this process because it needs very tight concentration,” Jang said. “I have a happy time by sewing and teaching the skills.”

Owning a library was a long-term dream for both Park and Jang, and was inadvertently sparked after a documentary on their life in the mountainous village of Muju, in mainland Korea, made them reluctant media stars. In 2005, we were on TV and a lot of people came to see us,” Park said. “They wanted to see how we lived our daily lives and our way of thinking. It was the hardest time of our life.

“I wanted to live my life with my writing and my wife wanted her sewing and dyeing, and we were interrupted by all the visitors. We had to make a choice, if we would hide from the public and go to another mountain or a more remote place, or we could find a way to communicate with the public without interruption. “

The library was their answer to that dilemma.

“I think the place is very important,” Park said. “If we had a cafe or a restaurant or a pub, there would be a totally different communication by the place. We decided to make a library because a library is a calm and cultural place, and we both love books and had a dream to have a library, where I can write and she can sew.”

The library is focused on travel, both in the physical and spiritual senses of the word. The couple own almost 3,000 books but only have room to put about 1,200 on the shelves. A staircase leads to the sleeping area that will become a guest house, although thus far it has only hosted friends of the couple.

“Our library is not a lending library and it takes some time to read a book,” Park said. “Some people asked if we have lodging and we found we have the upstairs of the library. Some of my friends used the guest house and they were very satisfied.”

A family of four has been the largest number of guests to stay and Park said the children, especially, enjoyed both the books and the visit.

Asked to explain the name of the library, Park said Baramdo, or Baram Island, has more than one meaning. “Baram means wind but it has another meaning in Korean - that is wish. I want my wish, my baram. Baram, wind, never stays in a place - it goes everywhere and it’s always changing. And wind means freedom - freedom, change and wish.”

All those meanings seem appropriate for a place that has given them the freedom to change how they communicate with strangers and fulfilled their wish.

“If we have to communicate with somebody, the easiest way for us is through books,” Park said. “So the library is like our communication place with other people.”

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