New Online: Database Expands Access to North Korean Serials

This is a guest post by Sonya Lee, a Korean reference specialist in the Asian Division, and Cameron Penwell, a Japanese reference librarian.

The cover of the August 1955 issue of the journal “Hwalsal” commemorates the 10th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan at the end of World War II. A Soviet solider stands alongside a North Korean citizen with a caption that reads, “Liberator of the Korean people! Glory to the great Soviet army!”

The Library’s Asian Division is home to one of the most prominent North Korean collections in the Western Hemisphere. While a growing number of scholars have been making use of this unique collection, a dearth of bibliographic resources for North Korean periodicals has made navigating them a time-intensive task. Now the launch of the North Korean Serials Database, an online indexing tool that facilitates access to periodicals and articles published as far back as the 1940s, promises to aid researchers in making even greater use of this resource.

The database contains 34,000 indexed records for articles in 21 journals from the Library’s North Korean Serials Collection. The database covers publications from the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948 up to the present day.

Conspicuous in the database are serials published from the 1940s to the 1960s. Many of these titles are no longer available in other institutions or libraries – even in North Korea – which makes this collection extremely rare and significant. Moreover, until now, there were no indexing resources at the article level for North Korean serials anywhere in the world. Without specific bibliographic information on hand, researchers had no choice but to browse numerous titles and issues to find articles they wanted.

The cover of the November 1959 issue of “Hwasal” – the journal earlier titled “Hwalsal” – depicts Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, as a frightened dog. The caption reads, “Shout with greater force, ‘Get out, US Army!’”

Researchers can search all items in the database or limit their query to article title, subject, article keyword, publication date or publisher. Users can also browse by author (11,078 names in Korean and Romanized Korean form) and subject (135 subjects).

Work on the North Korean Serials Database began at the Library in 2008 with support from a grant from the Korea Foundation. Plans are underway to extend coverage to all 278 journal titles in the North Korean Serials Collection.

Access to these historical and cultural materials offers insight into the policy, economic, political, social, historical, military, legal, financial, and governmental issues that affect contemporary foreign policy and strategies related to North Korea. In a variety of ways, these Cold War–era materials provide historical context for contemporary North Korean studies.

The cover of the December 1962 issue of “Ch’ŏllima” depicts the mythical winged horse that is an important national symbol in North Korea. Launched in 1959, “Ch’ŏllima’” is one of the few North Korean periodicals geared toward a general audience.

In addition to serial publications, the Library holds nearly 10,000 other items from North Korea. Due to its size and rarity, the collection offers scholars the opportunity to pursue research on North Korea in unusual depth. As the study of North Korea gains popularity, the Library’s resources will have a special role to play in promoting scholarship in this field.

The Library started to collect Korean materials in the 1950s during the Korean War. The Korean Collection – covering both North and South Korea – holds more than 303,000 monograph volumes and some 7,600 periodical titles.

Books items range from recent scholarly monographs in the humanities and social sciences to rare books dating as far back as the 15th century. Serial titles cover major magazines, government reports and academic journals. The collection is now one of the most comprehensive of its kind outside of East Asia.

For more information about the North Korean Serials Database or the Korean Collection, contact Korean reference staff through the Asian Division’s Ask-a-Librarian online inquiry form.

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