[KS] Translation query

Joy Kim joykim at usc.edu
Thu Feb 28 15:34:12 EST 2002

In response to Brother Anthony's query about the new Korean romanization 
rules, I would like to offer a librarian's perspective, which, to my 
knowledge, has not been heard during the past romanization debates.  This 
may be a bit longer answer than Brother Anthony was seeking, but please 
indulge me for a few minutes, since it is an important issue for all Korean 
studies scholars and authors who want their books to be widely accessed 

Since library databases are developed over a long period of time, and are 
intended to preserve  recorded human knowledge for as long as possible, it 
is imperative to maintain bibliographic integrity during the life span of 
the stored data.  The best way to achieve it is by following standards 
consistently.  As all of us in the Korean studies field in the western 
world are painfully aware,  romanization has been necessary in order to 
make Korean characters fit into the roman-based bibliographic and 
systematic environment of the West.  Only through the vehicle (or bridge) 
of romanization could Han'gul characters be integrated into the rest of the 
bibliographic world, which is increasingly becoming more and more global in 
this age of information technology.

While there has been much debate over romanization rules in the Korean 
studies community, and the Korean government has changed from one system to 
another several times in the past, the bibliographic standard in the 
Western world has been consistently the McCune-Reischauer Romanization 
System (M-R).  The Library of Congress (LC) developed additional rules in 
order to address the many bibliographically significant issues that are not 
covered by the M-R rules, e.g.,  word division.  The LC guidelines are 
available at http://lcweb.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/roman.html

There are currently hundreds of thousand Korean vernacular records in such 
international bibliographic databases as OCLC (Online Computer Library 
Center) or RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network), contributed my 
many member libraries throughout the world.  When combined with records 
written in other languages on Korea, the size of available bibliographic 
data on Korea in international databases is quite significant. Obviously, 
switching romanization schemes from one to another is an extremely 
expensive proposition for all involved, but especially for libraries.  Thus 
I would say that the likelihood of the new Korean romanization scheme to 
replace the M-R in libraries is not high at all in the foreseeable 

We librarians eagerly await the day when manual romanization will no longer 
be necessary thanks to some wonderful new information technology or 
Unicode.  Until then, however, it is extremely important for Korean studies 
librarians to painstakingly follow the accepted romanization standards in 
order to maintain the bibliographic integrity of the precious resources we 
develop and manage.  By following the same practice, Korean studies 
scholars and authors would help to insure their books' accessibility in the 
bibliographic world.

For those who care to learn more about library standards for Korean 
romanization or other aspects of Korean librarianship as practiced in the 
West, please look for a separate message I will be posting in a few days, 
announcing an upcoming book: Korean Librarianship : a Practical Guide and 
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