Korea, ca. thirteenth century.
Brass, iron, copper, and wood.
The collection of Korean materials began in 1950, the year that the Korean War broke out. Even the Library’s Korean collection has started relatively late, now it is the largest and most comprehensive outside of East Asia. The collection is largely contemporary, but it also has a number of valuable pre-nineteenth-century publications in traditional format.
The Library has approximately 303,100 volumes of monographs and over 7,600 periodical titles as of 2016. The current serial titles cover major magazines, government reports, and academic journals from both North and South Korea. Also, the Korean collection has 3,274 reels of microfilms and 250 different newspapers dating back to the 1920. The collection covers a broad range of topics, from the classics, history, literature and arts to social and natural sciences; some of them are Korean diaspora publications. The Library’s Korean collection has become a focal point for Korean affairs, while a growing interest in South Korean economic and technological developments and the influx of Korean immigrants have increased the demand for information on Korea.
The Library began to acquire more contemporary Korean trade publications on a regular and systematic basis in 1955 through an approval plan with a Korean dealer. Because of an exchange agreement on September 24, 1966 between the Republic of Korea and the United States, the Library was able to acquire government publications in different topics, which is one of the most significant strengths of the Korean collection.
The Library has one of the most comprehensive coverage of Western-language materials on Korea, with over 9,000 titles of English language materials. The Library prepared a bibliography of approximately 4,800 records of books about Korea in English up to 1995 held by the Library of Congress. The Korean Bibliography is a comprehensive and user-friendly bibliographic tool for researchers and scholars interested in Korean studies. Based on publication contents, topical terms were added for users who are not familiar with the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Since it is an online bibliography, it is accessible from anywhere worldwide.
The Korean collection has over ten thousand items and 274 journals from North Korea. The collection has been vital to scholars and government officials trying to understand policies related to North Korea. As more scholars and graduate students study North Korea, the collection has continued to provide a pivotal role in leading this field. The Library of Congress’ commitment to continue collecting North Korean materials has led to an unrivaled collection around the world. One of the strengths of the Library of Congress is that it contains the biggest collection of North Korean serials published in particular from the 1940s-60s, as well as the recent publications from North Korea.
The Korean collection is strong at hard-to-get materials. One example is a “gray” material, so called “Minjuhwa undong collection.” These are publications that have been banned until recently for ideological and political reasons, such as the works of authors who criticized the dictatorship of the Presidents of Korea.
A significant strength of the Korean collection is its section in early Christian Korean history. The Korean collection has possibly the most outstanding and impressive collection of early Christian Korean publications outside of Korea. The collection spans from 1884 to 1927. . The collection includes early Bibles, commentaries, catechisms, literature, and doctrines.
The Korean Serial Database provides researchers with detailed information about the rich and diverse newspaper and periodical collections located throughout the Library of Congress. The Korean collection has some 7,600 periodical titles, including 274 North Korean titles. The database may be searched via keyword, author, publisher, publication date, simplified subject entries, English titles, Romanized titles, Korean titles, newspapers, and limiting searching by North or just South Korea. With vernacular script searching capabilities, Korean Serial Database is a pioneering project in the Library of Congress.
Special collection: Soviet-Korean
The Korean collection has focused on acquiring materials published in Korean communities outside Korea, such as those in the U.S., Japan, Manchuria, Russia, and elsewhere. As part of this effort, the Korean collection acquired a collection of handwritten biographical sketches with portraits and pictures from Uzbekistan. These are biographies of 80 Soviet-Koreans leaders (Koryo-ins), who were sent to North Korea by the Soviet Communist Party in the mid-1940s to help establish and administer the North Korean government and North Korean institutions. However, in the mid-1950s, Kim Il-song started to distance himself from the Soviets. Soon Soviet Koreans became the target of purges and faced a hard choice: whether to leave Korea or risk arrest and, perhaps, even eventual execution or death in prison.
The history of the Soviet faction was very short - consisting of only about 15 years, but it was one of the most powerful instruments of the policy of “Communization” of the Korean peninsula.