Knowledge Quarter – South Korea Visit

Since the Knowledge Quarter (KQ) launched last December, there has been plenty of interest in the idea, not only within London and the UK but also internationally.  KQ recently met with partners in Sydney, Australia but last week I was invited to speak about the KQ in Seoul, Korea.

70 years ago this year, Korea was liberated from Japan after the end of WWII by the Allies.  At the same time the National Library of Korea (NLK) was founded in 1945 to help educate a population that was dealing with the ravages of war and the destruction it brought with it.  It was a courageous idea that lived through the civil war and division that ensued, but Korea was in the process of re-building itself and knew that education and libraries in particular would be the bedrock of a future successful society in a new world.

Fast forward to 2015 and the NLK is celebrating not only its 70th anniversary but also its 10 millionth book.  Today, situated in the Gangnam area of Seoul (yes made famous by Psy), on the South of the river, the NLK is a temple of education and hosts not only a six-floor main library building with 10m books, but also a huge digital library.

Unique in its own way the National Digital Library (NDL) allows users to peruse the digitised collections of the NLK using their own devices or the Library’s technology.  You can do your own media editing, book your own group VC facilities, record a pop music video in their recording facilities and pay for all this using cyber-money – I have seen the future!

To celebrate this momentous occasion the NLK organised a symposium entitled the ‘Role of national libraries in the big data era’ and I was invited to speak about the Knowledge Quarter.  I was asked specifically to present about the British Library and its future plans, but also how a concept like the Knowledge Quarter can help to bring together organisations from different sectors to collaborate for the benefit of the knowledge economy.  I called my talk The Knowledge Quarter – An innovation model in the centre of London’s globalised knowledge economy.

Whilst in Seoul, I also presented about the KQ to two other groups – one an alumni association of Korean students who have attended British universities and the other, representatives from Seoul City Library. Both gatherings were really enthusiastic about the concept and were especially keen to understand how the KQ facilitates open networking opportunities but also is able to have some clout with local politicians in issues of public realm and infrastructure discussions.

Libraries and knowledge are taken very seriously in Korea.  Libraries are listed on some subway maps, so you know where your nearest one is and as well as public libraries, other organisations such as Hyundai are also opening up their own libraries.  Koreans take their education very seriously and there is no doubt that libraries are seen as central to the education of young people especially.

So between Kimchi, Makgeolli (spelling), and bibimbap, and having run out of business cards, I discussed with many the idea of a franchise model of the KQ in Seoul, something that the Director of Seoul City Library was especially keen on.

It’s early days in the life of the KQ, but equally this trip has impressed on me the importance of cross-sectoral knowledge exchange and collaboration, something which many cities are yearning for as they meet some of the challenges of improved technology, increasingly wired populations, regeneration and a yearning for new ways creative innovation opportunities.

Kamsahamnida! (Thank you in Korean)

A video from Miki’s visit can be viewed here.