Written and photographed by Peter Gallo
Jangseong-eub is a small town about a 20-minute bus ride north of Gwangju. Inquire at your local library to find out if Audiobook Kiosks are available in your town, and search for the app on your phone. Kiosk is a fictional character. Any resemblance to a real individual is a coincidence.
A talking kiosk sits in the lobby of the Jangseong Public Library. To my delight, it speaks some English. It is versed in some of the classics: Poe, Shaw, and Carol. It even has vast knowledge on the subject of science, which it wants to share with me. It will be there waiting for me, so I promise to return and listen some more. The kiosk seems lonely.
When I inquire inside at the library front desk, the staff informs me that it is an Audiobook Kiosk. It is a free service, provided by the public library system, and there is a free app for cell phones. It’s called, 오디언 키오스크 (Audio On Kiosk), which is available wherever you can download apps. The app reads the QR code on the kiosk screen and downloads the title using a Wi-Fi connection.
“Hmm,” I think. “I already have a library audiobook app.” It’s called OverDrive, and I use it almost every day to listen to mp3 audiobooks that I have downloaded from local libraries in the United States. I also have a healthy podcast addiction. My podcatcher provides more free audio content than I can keep up with, including some Korean language books that have been translated and made into audiobooks.
During my next visit to the library, I find myself back in the lobby, enticed by free, potable water. I can tell that Kiosk wants someone to talk to, so I give it another chance.
“Dragon Tails, The Wizard of Oz, Classic Poems for Girls” it offers. It’s cute, but how old does Kiosk think I am? Each title has an illustrated book cover with the usual details of title, author, and publisher. There is also a QR code.
I complement Kiosk. “You speak English very well,” I say, “but that’s kiddie lit. I’m a sophisticated Westerner with access to more free audio adult-themed content than I can possibly ever consume in a hundred lifetimes.”
Kiosk starts to lecture in Korean language. I cringe, comprehending less than five percent of the text. I feel pathetic, and apologize.
“I’m sorry, Kiosk, but I will never be fluent enough to listen to audiobooks in Korean.” What else do you have in English?”
Pygmalion, the renowned play by George Bernard Shaw, appears on the screen and the reader’s voice begins to introduce the work in a pretentious English accent.
“I’ve already read this,” I complain, even though I’ve probably only seen the movie. “And anyways, your app is elusive.” My wife has successfully downloaded it, but I am tech-cursed. The app doesn’t even appear when I search for it.
“Why are you being so difficult?” I yell at Kiosk. I am projecting my own frustration with technology onto this kiosk, but it’s a real concern. Do I really need to complicate my overloaded life with another app and all its additional content?
“You’re just going to end up using up even more valuable space on my phone.”
We have had our first fight. It is painful, but when I get home, I download an episode of This American Life, and it cheers me up.
The next week, Kiosk and I are back on with The Planets and the Solar System by Jen Green.
“Great content. How did you know I was into science?”
Kiosk exists to please, so it just beams.
I say, “It also has a good reader with a loud, clear voice, and that’s one of the most important details of a good audiobook.”
Is Kiosk blushing?
Finally, I notice another work that I had been ignoring, because of the generic title. Compass Readers: Strange and Amazing (by Casey Malarcher, Kelly Shepherd, etc., etc.).
“Is this a science journal?” I ask, genuinely intrigued. “Good work, Kiosk. It looks like there are a lot of these… and all in English!” My encouragement is too much for Kiosk.
Other curious patrons have started to notice the impressive audio content, and are gathering around me and the kiosk. The next time I return to the library lobby, Kiosk is too busy with another patron to talk to me. It is a young Korean girl operating the Hangul touch screen with speed and accuracy. I wonder if she will download the Poems for Girls title on her phone but at the moment she is listening to a sample from a Korean language audiobook.
I still visit the Jangseong Public Library regularly. It is relatively new, clean, and quiet. A comfortable place to escape the summer heat. Kiosk and I are still on talking terms, but I suspect that Kiosk is happier working in its own native language. I still haven’t been able to download the Audio On app, but Kiosk and I will always have that summer.
Peter Gallo posts regularly at Anjeongchingu.com and to the Facebook group with the same name.