A visitor to the "Public Library Independent Publishing Reading Room" exhibit reads independently published books at the National Library of Korea in southern Seoul. / Courtesy of National Library of Korea
By Kwon Mee-yoo
The "Public Library Independent Publishing Reading Room" is showcasing the development of independent publications in Korea at the Digital Library Gallery of the National Library of Korea (NLK) in southern Seoul.
Independent publishing has diversified, ranging from self-publishers who release their own creation to publishing companies experimenting new way of publication. The exhibit shows current status of independent publishing in Korea and the possibility of this self-led publication trend.
Organized by quarterly magazine GRAPHIC, the exhibit encompasses a wide range of independent publications produced in Korea for the last five years with an archive of some 600 volumes of 400 books.
Currently, the NLK applies the Korean decimal classification to its collections, but a new type of classification system was developed for the independent publications since a large proportion of the books are related to arts and it does not fit the traditional system.
"Many of the publishers are artists or designers, so the subject of the book tends to be related to their interest," Kim Hong-goo, the exhibition's coordinator and librarian, said. "The books are categorized into subthemes such as visual art, cultural trend, literature and photography."
"Many of the publishers are artists or designers, so the subject of the book tends to be related to their interest," Kim Hong-goo, the exhibition's coordinator and librarian, said. "More people reveal their desire of self-expression and independent publishing is a good way to express oneself. Many people dream of publishing their own book and it is not that difficult anymore."
Kim, who also is an independent publisher, said independent publishing broadened the horizon of the book industry. "There are two major streams of independent publishing ― one is self-publishing, privately printed by individuals who want to share their own contents, while a noticeable part is periodicals of diverse topics. Some of the books are registered to have International Standard Book Number (ISBN), so the boundary between independent publishing and commercial publishers are getting blurry."
Independent publications can deal with pick-and-mix topics. Collections of photo or illustrations are popular genres. Some of the books explore local neighborhood such as "Namsangol Haebangchon" and "Hi Bye Dunchon APT." Even ramen becomes source of inspiration in "Ramenology."
Magazine "Rock'xury" is a parody to luxury magazines, searching for extravagance in daily life in a comic way. Another magazine "66100" is dedicated to plus size culture, which is often ignored in Korea.
As wide as the theme of the indie books, the size and binding also vary. Some of them are in traditional size and shape, while others are wildly unique. Thick hardcover catalogue raisonne of an artist is displayed next to a tiny 5.5 centimeter by 5.5 centimeter stitch bound photo collection titled "M.M.M."
Currently, the books are on display in a fictional reading room environment, but the archive will be collected by the state-run library after the exhibit. "Library is dominated by traditional publishing system and the inclusion of independent publications is symbolic," Kim said.
Most books on display are not available at large bookstore chains, but can be found at independent bookstores such as Your Mind and The Book Society. Kim said such bookstores also serve as a pivotal space for independent publishing as self-publishers exchange ideas and do workshops there.
The exhibit runs through March 31. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.nl.go.kr.
List of bookstores selling independent publications