Imagine preparing for midterms or finals. The library is full of people studying, and it is hard to find a vacant seat. How would you react upon learning that one third of entire library population was not Sookmyungians, but people from nearby schools? You may get upset because an university library is supposed to support its students first. However, from outsiders’ point of view, it is their right to use the library as the library is nationally funded in addition to funding from the university.
Fight around Door
The Ministry of Education announced its ‘Second Five-year Comprehensive Plan regarding University Libraries’ to promote cooperation between university libraries and regional communities in March of 2014. It encourages university libraries to open their doors, data, and services to the public. Also, the Gwangju Civic Anti-hakbul Organization claimed the law was unconstitutional, insisting that the regulation of using university libraries by outsiders invades equality, the right to know and pursue happiness. The organization said, “To open an university library to the public meets the needs of the times. Because public funds have been invested in university libraries, they are not the sole property of a university, but should be accessible by all.”1 Because of this, Hanyang University, Seoul National University, Dongguk University and many other universities have opened up their libraries to the public.
On the other hand, university students oppose opening university library doors. Seoul National University (SNU) has seen huge outcries by students on its opening of Reading Room 1 to the public because students frequent here most often due to its convenient transportation and restaurant. Kim Kyumin, a student at Seoul National University, said, “I don’t understand why outsiders would want to go to Reading Room 1. They have to take a shuttle bus just to get there. It’s not fair to insist university libraries are the same as public libraries just because the libraries receive government subsidy.” Like SNU, universities elsewhere opening their doors to the public face students voicing objection.
No Consideration, Opposition Grows
The main reason students don’t want to open up university libraries to the public is there is now insufficient space for students. At present,the average per person seating was 5.4 in 2013, which is less than the legal standard. Moreover, many universities haven’t increased library seating proportionate to student enrollment since 1995.2 Students also feel allowing the public access to the facility would disturb the academic atmosphere of the library. Sookmyung Women’s University has yet to establish regulations regarding use of the library by the public, so at the moment, anyone is free to enter the library after applying for a temporary pass, which is easily attainable after showing their ID card. Jin Jueun, Division of Economics ’13, said “As an university library is considered a place for academic study, I worry that outsiders might disturb students studying.” In fact, Kongju University and Chungnam University have banned teenagers from entering their school libraries because their disruptive behaviour bothers students studying there.
Some universities didn’t have enough open discussions with students before opening up the library to outsiders and merely determined that the library would open dogmatically. At SNU, student objection is strong because the school didn’t keep its words; it has opened up the first floor of library to the public even though it promised to only open up the 4th floor. Without sincere consideration for students, SNU student opposition seemed inevitable.
Effort to Reach an Agreement
To reach a compromise on the issue, universities have to first considerate its students. The University of Seoul has agreed to open up its audit reading room gradually after an economic supplement of about 100 million won for library development. Hanyang University has stipulated that only those older than 19 years of age may enter its library in order to maintain an academic atmosphere. Because the main users of the school library are its students, the university should consider students' convenience first of all. Also, universities have to differentiate spaces and services for students and for the general public. One of the leading factors for the opposition is the scarcity of space and books. However, the budget for libraries, among domestic universities, is only 0.8%, which is much lower than, for example, US universities’ 5%.3 Universities have to provide students with specified services or spaces such as making rules for student-only operating hours and make more books available.
Making programs profitable to both students and neighbors is another solution. When turning one’s eyes abroad, in the US Illinois State, 25 universities and 5 colleges are currently sharing their data like books and essays, which have been proven to be positive for both students and off-campus library users.4 In addition, universities can give students chances to work with study groups or participate in language learning programs provided for general citizens as volunteers or part-time workers.
For Whom Does the School Library Exist?
The opening of university libraries is a phenomenon to guarantee equal rights. Many universities in developed countries are opening up their libraries to the public. It’s undeniable that government subsidies support university budgets, so universities have a duty to share their knowledge databases. However, the foremost users of university libraries should always be students, and since students have paid expensive tuitions, they have the right to study conveniently there. Jung Byoungho, Professor at University of Seoul Law School, said “The Constitution defends reasonable discrimination. Minimum regulation standards regarding university library usage should be outlined for students and professors.”5 Despite the importance of cooperation with the outside public, an university must communicate with students before the rest of society. Without students, a school library would not exist.
1 Kang Kyungnam, “The Regulation of Using an University Library, Infringement on Fundamental Rights and Violation of the Constitution,” Gwangjudream, November 5, 2014
2 Jung Byoungho, “More Investment to University Library is Needed before Opening,” Segyeilbo, December 21, 2014
3 Lee Jae, “Could University Library Always Isolated, be Turned Over after Evaluation?” DailyUNN , March 15, 2015
4 Lee Jaewook, “Open the University Library, but Upgrade the Public Library First,” Hangyeorae, November 21, 2014
5 See Footnote 2