Alas, Lives like Falling Leaves by Kim Hoon

Original Korean editorial/column (May 14, 2019) in The Hankyoreh Online

Novelist Kim Hoon

Official statistics were aired through television that deaths from a fall in new construction site for tall buildings reached to 270-300 every year. It is reported that around one hundred fell to death from January to April, this year. The number of the wounded will be much larger.

I was thunderstruck while watching TV news. Although human lives could be counted in figures, you shall term it nor great tragedy where a big number of people die, neither small tragedy where a small number of people perish. Would it be great tragedy should hundreds of people get killed at the same time, and be insignificant accidents if one or two people die by a similar accident on a daily basis.

Construction workers who labor at a high altitude fall like leaves. Once they fall, they get broken, crushed. At a funeral their families lament while slapping the ground; governmental officials who manage labor pay a visit shedding crocodile tears; in the following day workers fall again. Every three days two fall, and they keep falling every day. They fall and again fall.

Why they fall. In order to tile or paint outer walls of tall buildings, a scaffold must be set up; and it is this scaffold which is weak. They mentioned one of the followings: a toehold collapsed; guardrail was not established around a scaffold; a scaffold was poorly bolted to an outer wall; the equipment which was supposed to connect the body of a worker with an outer wall was poor.

Does all of this make any sense. Once I looked into the cause of an accident, it turned out that correcting it needed nor a good deal of money neither technology. All that is necessary is to bolster the floor of a scaffold and to bolt securely a scaffold to an outer wall by screwing properly.

Is this because of the lack of money and technology to rectify this problem for a country, which retains national income of around $30,000 as well as produces the finest automobiles, airplanes, Galaxy, and state-of-the-art homing weapons.

While being flooded with money and technology, the Korean society is not able to correct this issue. Another 270-300 workers would fall next year. This is evident. A new worker goes up to the place where previous workers fell to death, only to fall again. They did last year and the year before last; would it not be the case in the following year.

How come it is not redressed. I know the reason. If young gentlemen hailing from families of wealth and high authority, have constantly labored and fallen to death at that altitude, the Korean society would have solved it beforehand. It would have by no means been difficult. The government could have employed its wherewithal such as pressing enterprises, bringing supplementary budget, or giving administrative orders, in a bid to solve this problem. But workers who fall from higher stories are always the ones with no money, no power, and no strings to pull.

I am not able to substantiate my argument of this sort based on evidence. That young gentlemen hailing from powerful or rich families have never fallen from the top to death in recorded history makes me unable to submit even circumstantial evidence. Be that as it may, I believe what I think is right. My thought is never biased by classism. I base my view on the empirical rule of a person who has lived on in this society more than at least 70 years. The society in which I have lived on is the same as it was 50 years ago. Hence, would it be making any difference next year.

Another major reason by which the Korean society is never able to rectify this issue is the question of management as well as structure of production, i.e. the pyramid-shaped problem. Once chebol or major company places an order, construction company takes it on, subcontracting hard and dangerous works to primary contractor to subcontractor to sub-tier supplier; hostile relations transpire at every level of this food pyramid. Those workers belonging to the lowest level go up to higher stories only to be falling from there. Whereas responsibility goes down to be terminated, profit rises up to be accumulated. That all men are equal in the eye of the law is true only in beautiful sentences of the Constitution; by watching TV news I realize that the current Korean society is equal to an ancient country where one’s status is hereditarily passed down.

I regard that there is no need to rush regarding the Fourth Industry, electronic and hydrogen cars, sunlight [generation], and artificial intelligence, as long as this state of affairs lasts. People are rustling down to the ground to be crushed like falling leaves every day; where the heck does the Korean society want to go letting it unnoticed. As it moves forward, the massive sinking happens in the back.

While mumbling alone against a wall in the room watching TV news, I jotted down a few words and sent them to a newspaper.

Translated by Donghyun Woo

Wende Museum of the Cold War

2019년 4월 7일, 봄 쿼터 첫 번째 일요일을 맞이해 러시아인 동무와 컬버 시티(Culver City)에 소재한 벤데 냉전 박물관에 다녀왔다. 그리 넓지 않은 크기의 박물관은 소련 및 북한을 비판하는 이념이 짙게 배인 포스터 작품들로 가득했다. 지도자들의 흉상이나 소비에트 도자기, 의상 등 약간의 유물들도 있었다. 중앙의 커다란 홀 양 옆으로 복도와 엄청나게 큰 선반에 러시아어 및 영어 책이 가득 꽂혀 있었고, 홀 뒤로는 아담한 정원이 이곳을 방문한 방문객들의 흥취를 돋구어 주었다.

전반적으로 소비에트의 사회의 잔혹함과 비효율, 실패만을 부각시키는 그림을 잔뜩 걸어 놓았다. 설명을 해주는 학예사들도 그저 같은 메시지를 앵무새처럼 반복할 뿐이지, 해당 시기 미국을 비롯한 서방 세계의 압박에 대해서는 일언반구도 없었다. 이 박물관의 서사대로라면 소비에트 인민들, 그리고 소비에트를 바라보며 더 나은 반제국주의적, 반자본주의적 미래를 꿈 꿨던 사람들은 모두 바보였단 말인가? (박물관은 이 물음에 ‘그렇다’고 대답하는 듯 했다). 북한에 관한 작품은 상대적으로 수가 적었는데, 그래서 그런지 설명도 더욱 미약했다. 무선(Sun Moo, ‘선=국경이 없다’는 뜻)라는 가명을 쓰는, 탈북 작가의 그림을 걸어 놓았고, 한편에는 그의 일화가 담긴 넷플릭스 영상이 상영되고 있었다.

결론적으로, 프라하에서 방문했던 공산주의 박물관이나 비엔나의 전쟁사 박물관(Heeresgeschichtliches Museum), 류블랴나 현대사 박물관에 비해 무척 형편 없었다. 작년에 방문했던 로스알라모스 박물관이 차라리 더 흥미롭고 자세했다. 냉전 박물관이라는 이름에 전혀 걸맞지 않게 전시품의 숫자도 적고, 편협하고 허름한 인상 만을 받았다. 하지만 입장료가 없고, 냉전 커피컵을 살 수 있어서 그러려니 했다. 박물관을 돌아본 후에는 러시아인 동무네 가서 저녁을 먹고 귀가했다.


UCSD-UCLA Graduate Workshop

On 12 Dec 2018, I presented my work regarding the Korean People’s Army’s nuclear defense at UCSD-UCLA Korean History Graduate Workshop. It was such a great pleasure of mine to have a reunion with my friends and colleagues at UCSD. My discussant was Prof. David Fedman (UCI). I was fortunate enough to receive a good deal of insightful comments from him after presenting. All of eight presenters participated in; six of them focus on South Korean history. After the workshop ended, we had awesome dinner at a sushi restaurant. Having the second round at friend’s home was also fun.

And La Jolla Shores beach in the chilly morning of the following day immediately captured my soul. I decided that I would return here just for appreciating marvelous scenes of San Diego. Only forward.




Visit to LANL

During October 22-23, 2018, I was able to be part of the affair “Nuclear Proliferation International Historical Project (NPIHP) Visit to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.” Everything was new to me as I had never been in New Mexico as well as tasted unique atmosphere there. Retrospectively, it went very well. I have not only met great friends and colleagues but also been inspired by useful comments and remarks from different scientists I met in the course of the event. I by no means want to brag off, but I might be the first Korean-history researcher who gave a presentation regarding North Korean nuclear history. My sincerest thanks to the Woodrow Wilson Center and the LANL for granting me a chance to make another indelible memory.

NPIHP Visit Photo Fuller Lodge

Only forward.

Accessing NK materials in GARF

0. Before getting started

The State Archive of the Russian Federation (Gosudarstvennyy arkhiv Rossiyskoy Federatsii, or GARF) is one of the key Russian archives where fundamental North Korean materials are held. Whereas the Lenin Library has a variety of primary as well as secondary North Korean publications including newspapers, journals, books and pamphlets, researchers can access diplomatic, governmental and intergovernmental documents such as act (akt), conversation (beseda), correspondent (perepiska), personal letter, plan (plan), protocol (protokol), reference (referentura)  and statement (vedomost’) in GARF. Unless there is going to be an ‘archival revolution’ in North Korea in the nearest future, GARF would be one of the priority venues researchers must visit to find relevant sources.

So far, the National Institute of Korean History have published more than 80 volumes of Historical Materials on North Korea (Pukhan gwan’gye saryojip, for a brief information of this compilation, see pages 12-13 of Suzy Kim’s Everyday Life). The 71st and 72nd volumes (both printed in 2012) respectively contain selected GARF materials which show the cultural cooperation and exchange between North Korea and the Soviet Union for between 1957 and 1959 (71st) and between 1959 and 1961 (72nd). These volumes are very much handy, for they contain not only translated Korean texts but also original Russian documents with a varying degree of resolution. Be that as it may, these do not provide with the origin of each document. For instance, you can see the 1956-57 plan for NK-Soviet cultural cooperation in pages 5-8 (Korean) and 279-282 (Russian) of the 71st volume without the origin. The exact source for the aforementioned plan should be offered as: f. R8009, op. 34, d. 397, ll. 27-31. In this regard, these published materials could have been much more helpful for researchers if the origins had been provided. Still, HMNK is the best working guide for not only North Korean historians but also researchers in general who have interest in history of North Korea.

Now I turn to how to access NK materials in GARF.


1. Some basic info

The official web page (Russian)

Address: Bol’shaya Pirogovskya, 17 (Большая Пироговская, 17, 2gis map) and Berezhkovskaya Naberezhnaya, 26 (Бережковская Набережная, 26, 2gis map).

(I have not visited the latter, the reading room 2. Please share me with your knowledge on using NK materials archived there.)

Work hours: Mon and Wed 12:00 – 20:00, Tue and Thu 10:00 – 17:00, Fri 10:00 – 16:00

* Important: you would be required to submit passport (as always) and letter/statement (pis’mo or zayavleniye, either would be okay) in order to get a temporary pass (propusk) from the pass office (byuro propuskov). Handing in passport is by no means difficult, but it is highly recommended to make letter/statement prior to coming to Russia. As far as I know, there is no designated form for the letter/statement.


2. Making a pass

Get to Moscow and go to GARF. Don’t forget to bring passport and letter/statement with you.

On my way to GARF from the Lenin Library, I met “the frock-coated communist.”
As you can see, there are also RGAE (Economic Archive) and RGADA (Ancient Acts) in this facility.

Once you enter the door, go to the right side. Or the guard will tell you to go to that direction if you let her/him know you want to enter the archive. In the pass office, you will see the small counter as below.


Say hi (preferably in Russian) to the staff and submit your passport and letter/statement. The staff will take letter/statement, and give you passport and a temporary pass in return like below.


In addition, you can see the information as below in the pass office.


When you enter the check point, you will have to submit a temporary pass as well as your passport. Then the guard will take the half (I don’t remember which half it was) of your temporary pass and give your passport and the other half back to you.

It usually takes one working day to receive your regular pass. However, you will have to wait for at least two or three days to get your requested delo. So it would be your next visit to GARF when you retrieve your regular pass.

If the process is done, let’s walk up to the reading room.


3. Registering as a reader and requesting delo

When I first visited GARF, I was surprised as well as motivated by enthusiastic researchers vigorously working on their sources.

There are two offices on the right side of the picture: GARF and RGAE. Let’s line up to the GARF office.



You have several things to do from now on. First, print your surname on the roster. Or the staff will tell you to do so. Then, present your temporary pass and passport together, saying you are “new” (saying novaya for women and novyy for men is enough) here. Then the staff will tell you that you have to register on the computerized system. Collect your passport from the staff and sit on the desk where you can register yourself to GARF.


What you have to do is to register yourself. Give proper information on the screen. If you have to type in English, press shift+alt (this is very useful when your typing Russian skill is not high). Once the registration is done, visit the GARF office again with your passport, saying you “wrote” (napisal).

Then the staff will print out the information you gave a moment ago and explain to you some very basic things about using the archive. What is important is to remember a 6-digit password. You can write it down by using cellphone or a sheet of paper. You have to remember and use this number in order to request delo. (Of course, you can always consult the staff with various things including reissuing this number.)

Now let’s request some delo for science.


It is always great to do preliminary works; in this case, you can find the archival data of the fond you need. Visit the electronic inventory of GARF. You can search fond/opis’/delo by using either the tree-structured system or the search (poisk, underlined) in the middle of screen. If you use the search, you can put some keywords like KNDR (DPRK) or sotrudnichestvo (cooperation). However, this online search system does not provide the contents of each delo. Therefore, you have to open each delo to find out what kinds of documents that delo has inside.

Personally, I jotted down the numbers of fond/opis’/delo for the documents I was going to request. Then I used the search system in GARF. I put the numbers of fond/opis’/delo and saved a lot of time. It is very possible for researchers to use the tree-structured system in GARF as well, but it would take a lot of time.

In the process putting delo of your interest in a basket and requesting them, you will be likely to see some materials are not available in the reading room 1. It means you have to go the reading room 2 (a different location). I had almost no time doing such, and I am not sure if I could see those unavailable (in the reading room 1) delo in the reading room 2. If you finish ordering delo (it’s like shopping in online malls), go to the GARF office. You will tell the staff that you finished ordering, and the staff will let you know when your request is fulfilled. In my case, it took three days.

Congratulations for your success in requesting delo!

If you need to call it a day, visit the GARF office and ask the staff to return your temporary pass. Passport shall be presented (in Russia, passport is one of your closest friends). Then the staff will ask you if you need regular (постоянный) pass. If you want to continue archival works here, you must say yes (da).

When you go out of the archive, you will have to submit your passport as well as temporary pass.  The guard will collect your temporary pass and say goodbye (do svidaniya) to you. See you soon, GARF!


4. Working in the archive

Visit the pass office and show your passport. Now is the time to get a regular pass. Ta-da!


Go up to the reading room 1 and visit the GARF office. Do print your name on the roster again, present your regular pass and collect the requested delo. In the archive, the early researcher takes a good desk or microfilm reader. This is the iron law.


I have not taken pictures of paper materials and I am not able to tell you the cost of making photocopy (please refer to GARF regulations). A lot of researchers were either writing down or typing on their laptops, and I did just the same.

If your requested documents are provided as a form of microfilm, you can take pictures freely. So let’s hope that you will get as many microfilms as possible.

During my short stay in GARF, I skimmed through some materials from 34 opis’ (Office of External Relations, 1934-1967) of R8009 fond (Ministry of Health of the USSR). These contain interesting details about NK-Soviet technoscientific (with a focus on the medical, given the nature of the fond) cooperation in 1954-55 and 1957-59. Though I have only worked on those for a few hours, I was able to learn new facts and to draw a speculative framework upon where North Korea and the Soviet Union base their medico-technical relations after the Korean War. Truly excited when I saw the 1955 ministry letter to comrade Ioffe, then-the Head of the Sales Department of the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine named after Stalin, to ship the relevant materials to the construction of the city hospital in East Pyongyang by train from Otpor Zabaykal’skoy station to Tongpyongyang station via Man’chzhuriya, AndongSinuiju stations (f. R8009, op. 34, d. 180, l. 92). Fascinating stories abound to be unearthed by historians in the archives…

After finishing working on your delo, you will have to give your basic information (date, surname, purpose of use, range of your use and your signature) on the back sheet of the front page of each delo as well as the roster for your entire requested delo. In order to return them, it means, you will have to give your signature as many times as the number of your requested delo. For instance, I happened to request 5 delo and it made me give info plus signature 6 times (5 delo+the overall roster). In the GARF office, you can return them. While doing so, show your passport, or tell you surname, so that you can retrieve your regular pass.

I am afraid I do not exactly know about storing (ostavit’) requested materials. Yet, I assume that it would be not difficult to have your requested delo stay in the GARF office.


5. Well-being

Working for a long time is surely daunting and demanding. Here are two small tips for your future in-facility adventure in GARF.

Before going upstairs to the reading room 1, you will see the door that lead you to the court of GARF. Go there (this time, without presenting pass or what not!) and a different view would appear before your eyes. I have not much wandered in the court and neighboring buildings, but there must be useful places including canteen and cafe, both located in the 6th building (2gis map). For those who smoke, there is also the designated place for you in this court near the 5th or 6th building.


The canteen was very neat and nice. Although menu seems to change on a daily basis, pasta and buckwheat (grechikha) I had were delicious and sound. The cost was also reasonable, especially compared to the other restaurants in Moscow.

Tea break with an old friend Kwangyeol (University of Oregon).

The cafe was even nicer. One caveat is that you cannot get iced coffee in this cafe (I confirmed it myself), but the place was very cozy and comfortable. Very much recommended to chill out here.


To GARF. Only love can stand the test of time like the documents.

I hope to visit not only here again, but also other Russian archives such as AVPRF, RGASPI, ARAN and RGANI, hopefully after my general examination in 2020. Until then, only forward!

If you have any concerns, comments, issues and questions, please email me to: dhwoo1234[at]gmail[dot]com


* I deeply thank Kwangyeol Ko (University of Oregon) for helping me a lot in adjusting myself to GARF. I gladly look forward to future collaboration with him in the future.

Dearest Comrade Pak!

Глубокоуважаемый тов.Пак!

Очень рада была получить от Вас письмо и узнать, что Вам получен такой ответственный участок работы. Желаю Вам быть отличный Главным судебно-медицинским экспертом и преподавателем судебной медицины. Вот только не поняла, заведуете ли Вы кафедрой судебной медицины или работатет под руководством кого-либо другого?

Диссертацию проф. В.М.Стольянинов пока ещё не возвратил, но обещал сделать это в ближайшие дни / я говoрила с ним сама /.

Преципитирующие сыворотки для видового определения белка и гемагглютинирующие сыворотки анти-М, анти-И, анти-А, анти-В и анти-О для установления групповой и типовой принадлежности крови, а также пригласительные билеты на заседания Московского отделения Всесоюзного научного общества судебных медиков и криминалистов и некоторые книги высылаются Вам одновременно с этим письмом.

В следующий раз, когда Вам понадобятся какие-либо сыворотки для судебно-медицинских исследований, присылайте официальное требование от Министерства здравоохранения Корейской народно-демократсчёской республики или от Пхеняьнского медицинского институте. Требование на сыворотки, с указанием количества каждой из них, нужно направлять по адресу: Москва, Рахмановский переулок, дом но.3, Мин Здрав Союза ССР, Отдел внежных сношений, для Научно-исследовательского институте судебной медицины.

Большое спасибо за поздравление с новым годом.

Все мы Вас помяым и искренне желаем всяческих успехов.

Коллектив сотрудников и Виктор Ильчи шлют Вам сердечный привет.

Крепко жму Вашу руку.

[Письмо зав.отделом судебно-медицинского исследования вещественных доказательств проф. М.А. Бронниковой для Главного судебно-медицинского эхсперта Министерства здравоохранения Корейской Народно-Демократической Республики Пак Дон Сор.]

GARF f.R8009, op. 34, d.130 l.4


Korean translation as follows:

경애하는 박동지!

당신으로부터 서한을 받아 무척 반가웠고, 또 그렇게 책임 있는 직책을 맡게 되었다는 걸 알게 되어 더욱 반가웠습니다. 당신이 전문가들 중에서도 최고로 우수한 법의학자는 물론 법의학의 선생님이 되길 바랍니다. 다만 곧바로 이해가 안 되는 점이, 당신이 법의학부서의 부장이 되었다는 것인가요, 아니면 다른 누군가의 밑에서 일을 한다는 것인가요?

베.엠. 스똘랴니노프 교수의 논문은 아직 반납되지 않았지만, 며칠 내로 그렇게 하도록 약속하겠습니다. 제가 직접 그에게 말을 하도록 하지요.

구체적인 단백질 판검을 위한 침전된 유청 및 혈액형/부수적인 혈액형 구축을 위한 항M, 항I, 항A, 항B와 항O 응집 혈청을 전연맹법의학및범죄학협회 모스크바지부 초청장과 몇 권의 책과 함께 이 서한에 동봉합니다.

다음 번에 법의학적 연구를 위해 어떤 혈청이든 필요할 땐,  조선민주주의인민공화국 보건성 또는 평양의학대학 명의로 공식적인 요청을 보내십시오. 유청에 대한 요구사항을, 양이 얼마나 필요한지를 표시하여 다음의 주소로 보내면 됩니다: 모스크바, 라흐마니노프가(街) 3번, 소비에트연맹 보건성, 외무과, 법의학연구소.

새해를 축하해 주어 대단히 감사합니다.

우리 모두는 당신을 기억하며, 하는 일마다 성공하길 신심으로 바랍니다.

우리 동료들과 빅또르 일리치가 따뜻한 인사를 보냅니다.

당신의 손을 굳게 부여잡습니다.


[법의학 물증검사부장 교수 엠.아.브로니코바가 조선민주주의인민공화국 보건성 법의학과장 박동설에게 보내는 서한]

1955년 2월 중

Accessing NK materials in the Lenin Library

0. Before getting started

The Russian State Library (Rossiskaya gosudarstvennaya biblioteka), or the Lenin Library, is one of the key institutions where quality North Korean materials are held. Together with South Korean archives/libraries (National Library of Korea, National Institute of Korean History, National Archives of Korea, University of North Korean Studies, Seoul National University Library, etc.) and their US equivalents (NARA II, Asian Division, Library of Congress, University libraries, etc.), the Lenin Library would surely serve NK researchers as well as those interested in NK studies with primary and secondary sources.

So far NIKH has partially acquired NK materials from the Lenin Library and uploaded an online catalogue of the collected sources. This catalouge is recommendable to Korea-based NK researchers. Yet there is no doubt that the NK materials, especially serials, obtained by NIKH are either missing or incomplete. Therefore, it is imperative for scholars to visit the Lenin Library in order to use the complete set of sources.

Now I turn to how to access NK materials in the Lenin Library.
(I have not requested or used micro films in the library. If you have any experience with these sources, please share with me your knowledge on using them.)


1. Some fundamental info

The Lenin Library Web Page Russian/English

If you are uncomfortable with Russian, use Yandex Translate to assist in translating the above web page.

Other than micro films, all sorts of NK materials are stored in the Center for Eastern Literature (Tsentr vostochnoi literatury). This center is truly valuable for researchers in that it has not only both South and North Korean materials but also Asian and African language sources (see the picture below).

Address: Moskva, ul. Mokhovaya, d. 6 (Москва, ул. Моховая, д. 6, 2gis map)

Reading room hours: Mon-Sat 09:00-20:00 (As of 03 Aug 2018)



2. Making a reader card

Get to Moscow and go to the Lenin Library.


Your priority here would be to make a reader card (chitatel’skii bilet). Make sure to bring your passport which contains your visa and go to the entrance no.2 (it’s located between the Dostoevsky statue and the banner with mustached man in the above picture).


You can see the plaque on the left side of the door which says ‘запись читателей.’ It means you can register yourself as a reader in this building. Go inside without fear.

You will see the check point and a guard gazing at you as you enter the door. The guard will ask you your reason for coming as well as what you intend to do at the library. It is fine to just say you came to register. The guard will explain the process to you. He will probably say something along the lines of the following three-points:

a. Go to the table (on the right side from where you entered) and fill out a registration card (Kartochka registratsii chitatelya RGBin Russian.

b. Get a waiting ticket from the standing machine and enter the section accordingly.

c. Once in the section, present your passport to the staff and write your surname in Russian.


The staff in the section will probably have a good command of English, so may the force be with you.

Once you present the documents, the staff will take your photo. This photo will be printed on your reader card, which will be effective for next five years. After retrieving your reader card, say thanks to the staffs (including guards) and get out.


Your Russified name would look charming, hopefully.


3. The Center for Eastern Literature (CEL)

CEL is waiting for you. Refer to the following address again.

Address: Moskva, ul. Mokhovaya, d. 6 (Москва, ул. Моховая, д. 6, 2gis map)


You can go along the street (left side on the picture) and the door appears in just a few minutes. You can also refer to the Google picture taken in 2016.

Again, you will encounter another check point as well as guards. Now is the time to present your invincible reader card. Sometimes you are supposed to store your personal belongings in the gallery. Do it and take only your necessary equipment (cell phone, charger, battery, iPad and what not) with you. Go to the general office (kafedra) on the right side of where you entered.


There are innumerable drawers. They are catalogues. Go in to the first door.


The plaque says that the office deals with orders, issuances, returns and publishing. For the sake of convenience, I call it the general office.


A friendly staff will be waiting for you. Most of them can speak English to a varying degree. If you can speak Russian, they will help you accordingly as you explain, including the purpose of your visit and materials you are looking for. Remember: A charming first impression and warm greeting are very important. No one spits on a smiling face.


In the general office, you will fill in the above paper and present it as well as your reader card to the staff. Now you are free to go doing archival works in CEL.


4. Requesting materials

Requesting materials is the next step. In order to make requests, you need to know the bibliographic data of the material you are looking for. Then write down that data on a request form (listok chitatel’skogo trebovaniya). It is noted that you can make as many as ten requests (or different materials) at a time.


The information you need to write down on the request form is as follows:

Чит.билет No: Reader card number. Put the number on your reader card. You could use a dash (-) instead of zeros (e.g. 1—123456 instead of 100000123456)

Дата: Date.

Шифры: Call number. You need to provide this number in order to be issued materials. There are some ways to get to know call number: from your colleagues (maybe, me?) or from a web search. Generally, you can get the call number from the cards in catalogue drawers.

Заглавие: Title of the material. Put it in Russian.

Место изд: Place of Publication. In most cases, you will put Пхеньян (Pyongyang), or Москва (Moscow) in this column.

Год изд: Year of Publication. Here is a trick. Let us suppose you are looking for a journal and all of that journals, published in 1945-47, are archived here. Then you could put like 1945-47 to get a whole set of stored journals. Sweeter than honey.


If you do not know the call number, you can search for it from catalouge drawers.



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The combination (upper left on the above cards) of number and Russian characters is the call number. Ж means J of journal and Г means G of gazette (newspaper).

Once you submit your request form, it takes ten to fifteen minutes for the staff to get you the materials you want to look at. There is one reading room in front of the general office and that is where you should wait. It is totally fine if your try different reading rooms. Or you can bring your materials to the unmanned reading room after receiving your materials.



Every table has one 220V socket. Free to use. (Vladimir Ilyich once said, “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.”)


5. Works

Ta-da! NK materials are here.


I am currently working on 1940s-50s journals of science and technology.

There you can find the Korean reading room. The Korean librarian is Ms. Natalia and she speaks Korean very well.



Having tea time in the Russian archive could be mesmerizing.



As you can see, the Chinese reading room is huge and well air-conditioned. You can also work here.


6. Et cetera

Photocopying is conducted by the staff and costs you some rubles depending on the publishing date, size and overall condition of the material.

1831-1900: 25 RUB per sheet

1901-41: 15 RUB per sheet

1942-present: 7 RUB per sheet

There is a buffet in the basement of the main building. As you enter entrance no.1, go straight and tap your reader card to the reader machine. You will be issued with a slip (this is important because you will need to present it with your reader number as well as surname on it in order to get out of the library) as you repeat the process before the main stairs. Then turn left and follow the mark (столовая/буфет) to the basement level. Personally, I prefer the Lenin Library canteen to the food court in NARA II.


Also, to our surprise, readers can use free wifi in the main buildings. Unfortunately, I did not check out the wifi availability in CEL.


You can put a hold on your working materials. Return the materials to the general office and say you want to hold them. The general office will hold your materials for as long as two weeks unless you show up (the materials are to be returned after fourteen days) and store the materials indefinitely as you put a hold onward.

If you have any concerns, comments, issues and questions, please email me to: dhwoo1234[at]gmail[dot]com