SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Korea Bizwire) – One particular social trend finding prominence in 2016 was the “do-it-yourself” movement.
In a society that places high importance on group activities, and emphasizes that everything be done “together,” the concept of dining alone, studying alone, or even drinking alone, seemed alien in the past, and these types of activities were rarely encountered.
But DIY prevailed in 2016, and Koreans started to seek quality time by themselves, away from the distractions of others, and the emergence of book cafés – quiet places for reading or studying – is symbolic of this new trend.
These venues have been around for some time in Korea, popular among students as an alternative to regular coffeehouses, which can get be fraught with distractions, or where they can become an unwelcomed guest for occupying a seat for hours on a four-dollar Americano.
Over time, new types of such cafés have appeared, including overnight cafés and café-like libraries, with some even popping up at government buildings and hotels.
A handful of public offices in North Gyeongsang Province opened such cafés last year.
Gumi opened a book café on the fourth floor of its city hall, on Wednesday. The area, which used to be a nondescript resting place with a vending machine and some couches, is now filled with 4,000 books for employees and city residents to visit and read, and is also a place where they can purchase a cheap cup of coffee or tea.
Similarly, the Gyeongbuk Provincial Police Agency and the Daegu Metropolitan Agency introduced book cafés at their respective headquarters in Daegu last month, while the North Gyeongsang provincial office (in Andong) and the Korea Post office (Daegu) also introduced cafés in February and August of last year, respectively.
“The coffee is cheap, and I like the overall vibe here,” said Kim Young-gyun, 40, who often visits the café at the North Gyeongsang provincial office. “The idea of government buildings used to be somewhat formal and stiff, but it feels nicer now with the book café in it.”
But for those looking for a more intense or unique book reading experience, there are book cafés that even offer alcoholic beverages.
Book By Book is Korea’s first alcohol-serving bookstore and book café, which first opened in 2013 and now operates two outlets in the Seoul area. The stores offer drinks, including alcohol, and light meals, and they’re a place of healing for those who prefer to read, sipping a beer, in quiet over the loud music and frenzies of bars, according to an official.
Overnight book cafés, on the other hand, combine the best of both worlds.
Booktique, located in Hongdae, Seoul, is like any other book café in the city except for Friday. Every Friday night, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day, the café offers an overnight reading experience, with coffee or beer to keep the readers up all night. At 2 a.m., it even arranges a midnight “book talk” session, for visitors to freely discuss the books they’re reading, or sometimes offers a film screening.
Similarly, Dasan Book Café, also near Hongdae, is a 24-hour café where people can read books or bring their laptops to work on school projects for an unlimited time, as long as they order a drink (four-hour max on weekends and holidays). It offers a typical coffeehouse menu but also includes cold draft beer. And for every ten drink purchases, the café gives out a free book.
Other unique book cafés include a “plant café”, for a reading experience surrounded by natural plant life; comic book cafés, with thousands of comic books for a childhood nostalgia; and book cafés targeting students or those inclined towards serious study with partitioned tables or rooms for group study.
“There are fewer people reading books now,” said Booktique CEO Park Jong-won. “I wanted to create an environment where people can enjoy reading books. Naturally, I decided to offer people a cultural space integrated with a book reading experience.”
By Joseph Shin (firstname.lastname@example.org)