New COEX Library (with 50,000 books!): Starfield Library in Seoul, South Korea

I LOVE LOVE LOVE libraries and bookstores. My dad would take me and my younger sister to the bookstore when we were younger (RIP Borders) and we would roam for what seemed like hours, discovering all kinds of books and adventures. So every time I pass a bookstore in Korea, my first instinct is to geek out, before quickly realizing that there are probably no English books other than the tween type (nothing wrong with Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but…been there, done that).

panorama coex starfield library bookstore

The new Starfield Library at the COEX mall in Seoul

I recently heard about a new “library” with over 50,000 books opening in Seoul’s COEX mall, and wondered/hoped that I could find some English books. Well, let’s not bury the lede here—there are no English books, BUT there are some English magazines #smallwins. But let me explain a few things first.


How to get there:

Seoul subway line 2 (green line) to Samseong Station, exit 6. Walk straight and follow the signs to the COEX. Eventually you will come across the Starfield Library, which is in the center of the mall in a huge open area.

a starfield library entrance

 

starfield library coex

View from one entrance

small panorama coex library seoul

View from the other entrance


Now, if you’re like me, you understand the word “library” to mean you can borrow books, take them home, and bring them back in a few weeks, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case at the Starfield Library. You can technically borrow books—but you can’t leave with them. Instead, you’re invited to sit down in one of the many seating areas (or even the enclosed cafes) and read to your heart’s desire. When you’re finished, you place your book on a “book return” cart before heading out. Not quite what I expected, but nonetheless, the place was packed with other curious book-lovers/selfie-junkies.

coex starfield library sitting area

The center seating area on the bottom floor. There is a large TV screen in front, I guess for viewing movies or presentations.

Unfortunately, the “foreign novel” section does not mean “books written in foreign languages for foreign readers.” Sad face.

coex seoul starfield library work area

There are mini work areas on both floors, with outlets.

coex seoul library starfield shinsegae bookshelf atembe

Me looking for a lick of English. Just one.

coex starfield library book return shelf

Book return cart

coex seoul library view from top

Second floor views

 

You can take all the books you want and sit and read to your heart’s content.

coex starfield library sitting upstairs area

coex starfield library seoul posted up

This guy’s doing it right–shoes kicked off, feet up.

 

Tablets are provided to help you search for books.

coex library starfield tablets book search

 

The only English media I could find was in the magazine section, where they also had magazines in Japanese, French, and other languages. I grabbed the only two (THE ONLY TWO) with brown faces. I miss my magazine subscriptions so much man. I enjoy reading them on lazy afternoons or long bus rides, so I didn’t enjoy them as thoroughly as I would’ve liked since I didn’t have a limitless amount of time. Still, I guess it’s better than paying 15,000 won a pop at What The Book (a popular English bookstore in Seoul).

coex library seoul english magazines black women

coex library english magazine

 

A funny thing—Korea, forever about image, did have some seemingly English books…turns out, they were fake! Just hollow books glued to shelves for decoration. I had to laugh at that. Oh Korea.

seoul coex fake english books library
s seoul coex library fake english books

 

There was a cute little cake shop on the second floor of the library, and it’s hard to find regular cake in Korea so I snagged some to share with Eric for later. I got a slice of carrot cake, cherry cheesecake, and red velvet cake. Carrot cake was a win, cheesecake was a bit dry, and Eric said the red velvet was pretty decent (but nothing like Grandma Dorothy’s. High expectations there). You can take your borrowed books in here, too.

p seoul cake shop coex library
q billy angel cake company packaging seoul coex library
r cakes cheesecake red velvet carrot seoul coex billy angel

 

coex library cake shop billy angel

billy angel cake shop coex seoul library panorama

 

Overall, if you can read Korean and have time to spare, this place is fantastic. I still think it’s misnamed as a “library” but once again, if you have the time and want to preview a book before buying it (somewhere else…), I guess it’s a useful concept. I recognized a lot of English titles that had been translated to Korean; unfortunately, I did not see any English or non-Korean section. Kind of a missed opportunity in a city with so many English speakers, but then again there’s no profit being made so no losses?

If you visit and find English books, please let ya girl know! If you can read Korean and visit the library, what do you think about it? Are other “libraries” in Korea similar to this?

atembe at seoul coex starfield library korea

About Atembe

Atembe is a Cameroonian-American who is exactly 27 years old (because saying "20-something" is SO 2016) and currently teaching kiddos art and English in South Korea. In her free time she's dancing, drinking too much celebrity tea, living vicariously through characters in her favorite TV comedies, or [sometimes] letting her husband Eric beat her at Wii. Catch her on Twitter or Instagram via @sothisisfate, and for a faster response, tweet her a "TAR!..."

3 comments on “New COEX Library (with 50,000 books!): Starfield Library in Seoul, South Korea

  1. Interesting take on it, thanks. I learned from a Korean speaker that indeed there are no English books there. And it’s designed to be more of a “themed space” that happens to have a book theme.

    Yes other libraries are similar in that books are to be used there and left there. I’m familiar with one in the same building as the Yeoksam Global Village Center in Gangnam.

    The word library actually just means a collection of books. Most libraries in the US are “circulating libraries”, in which you can go to the “circulation desk” and check it out for a time. Thus the books are “circulated”. There are reference sections in those libraries and there are “reference libraries” in which the books are there for your reference but must be kept and used inside.

    Because so many westerners are accustomed to the circulation kind, we have come to equate the term library with that particular kind, and get upset or surprised when in other countries it simply means a collection.

    I do want to see the place though, and I suppose I’ll view it more as a “book museum” and enjoy the design of the space.

    • You learn something new everyday! Thanks for the info about libraries. I was definitely surprised but maybe it was advertised more accurately within Korean sources. Still, it was interesting to see. It’s worth looking around

  2. This just hit my bucket list but what I want to know is how do people get the books that are higher up – or are those just for show?

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