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Asian Collections at the Library of Congress: An Overview

Korean Collection

Type specimens. Korea. ca. thirteenth century. Brass, iron, copper, and wood. Library of Congress Asian Division.

The systematic collection of Korean materials at the Library of Congress began in earnest with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Despite this relatively late start, the Library’s Korean collection is now the largest and most comprehensive outside of East Asia. The collection primarily comprises publications from the 20th century to the present but also holds a number of valuable pre–20th century publications in traditional formats. It covers all subject areas, from the arts and humanities to the social and natural sciences, and also includes Korean diaspora publications from around the world.

As of 2020, the Korean collection holds more than 445,000 volumes of monographs and over 8,600 serial titles. In addition to some 250 newspapers dating as far back as 1897, these periodicals encompass major magazines, government reports, and academic journals from both North and South Korea. Alongside these printed resources, the collection holds some 5,600 reels of microfilmed materials.

The Korean Rare Book Collection comprises some 650 titles in over 3,500 volumes, including a number of valuable pre–19th century publications printed on mulberry paper in traditional Chinese characters. Some of these rare materials are fine specimens of early printing with woodblock and movable metal type. One noteworthy title in the collection is “Yi Ch’ungmu Kong chŏnsŏ,” (https://go.usa.gov/xAPuw), a compilation of writings published in 1795 that provide an excellent record of the life of Yi Sun-sin (1545–98), a military official also commonly known by his honorary title, Yi Ch’ungmu Kong.

The Library began to acquire more contemporary Korean commercial publications on a regular and systematic basis in 1955 through an approval plan with a dealer in South Korea. As the result of an exchange agreement established on September 24, 1966 between the Republic of Korea and the United States, over several decades the Library has been able to acquire government publications on diverse topics, which is one of the most significant strengths of the Korean collection.

The Library’s commitment to acquiring materials from North Korea has resulted in an internationally recognized collection that has served as a vital resource for researchers from various disciplines. The collection’s holdings in North Korean publications number more than 11,000 items and include over 320 serial titles dating from 1948 when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established. The Library began digitizing North Korean periodicals in 2019, and thousands of all North Korean issues of these serials held at the Library will be digitized.

The Korean collection is also strong in difficult-to-obtain materials. One example is the so-called “gray literature” found in the Minjuhwa Undong Collection. It comprises publications that were once banned for ideological and political reasons, such as works by authors who criticized past authoritarian governments in South Korea.

Materials related to the early history of Christianity in Korea stand out as another notable strength, which holds one of the richest collections of early Korean-language Christian publications outside of Korea. The collection spans from 1884 to 1927 and includes early Bibles, commentaries, catechisms, literature, and doctrines. Please note you can search Han'guk Ch'odae Kidokkyo Munsŏ (Library of Congress).

Special Databases for Korean Materials at the Library of Congress

Digital Collections

Research Guides