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Seocho BookPayback Service

20200624 북페이백서비스-1

Seocho-gu is the first district in Korea to offer a service like the “Seocho BookPayback Service” (hereafter, “BookPayback”), which reduces the waiting time for popular library books. A full refund is provided for a book purchased from a local bookstore that is returned (to the bookstore) within three weeks, after which the book is sent to a library in Seocho-gu. It is an innovative library service that allows residents to use library resources whenever needed, regardless of time or place.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Before this service, patrons who wished to borrow a newly-released book had to make a request to the library, which then purchased the book. This procedure took up to one month before the book was put into regular circulation. To streamline this time-consuming process, Seocho-gu came up with the idea for a book loan service that utilized local bookstores. BookPayback is operated as follows: If a Seocho-gu resident purchases a book from a local bookstore and then returns it to the store within three weeks, the resident is refunded fully for the book, which is sent to a library in Seocho-gu, where patrons can borrow it. After the resident applies for BookPayback at Seocho-gu Office’s public library website (; PC or mobile), the bookstore, after checking its inventory for the book, can choose to accept or deny the request. If it accepts, the resident is sent a text message, after which they can pick up and pay for the book at the bookstore. The only condition is that the book must be returned within three weeks.

To make BookPayback possible, Seocho-gu developed an independent service system. It also signed MOUs with local bookstores to create an environment that allows the stores to provide some of the functions of a local library. Bookstores can use this system to manage their inventory, approve or reject BookPayback requests, or manage limited-request books by processing returned ones and sending them to libraries. They can also use the system to see statistical figures on returns per library, number of BookPayback users per any given period, and inventories per library.

Residents can use BookPayback to access desired books at both local libraries and bookstores; while stores can increase their sales by supplying books to libraries, thus revitalizing the local economy.
BookPayback, which began in 2019, has been praised by not only service users but also the press. In 2021, functions will be added that allow the user to see whether a book can be requested via BookPayback and then reserve it.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

  • BookPayback drastically reduced the time that used to be needed for residents to borrow a newly published book from a library (one month) by enabling the book to be borrowed through purchasing. Seocho-gu was the first local government in Korea to devise BookPayback, which was recently patented. BookPayback has been installed at nine local bookstores, which are currently serving as both a store and public library. BookPayback’s system is a revolutionary format that allows residents to conveniently access services without having to visit a brick-and-mortar library or being limited by time or place.
  • Many residents asked for a library to be built near their place of residence. This, however, requires the purchase of a sufficiently-sized lot. BookPayback is an economical alternative that allows local bookstores to act as an extension of existing public libraries, which is a boon for residents in that they do not have to travel (sometimes) long distances simply to visit a library.

What is the current status of your innovation?

In 2019, Seocho-gu completed its implementation plan for BookPayback as well as the system. Seocho-gu installed the system at nine local bookstores, with which it signed an MOU to ensure that they could carry out the functions of a public library (to a limited extent). After training library employees and bookstore owners on how to use the system, BookPayback was put into operation in June 2019.

BookPayback was patented in 2020. Since then, an application has been submitted for trademark registration. Consistent monitoring has resulted in increased user convenience through a new function: seeing whether a book was available via BookPayback and reserving it.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

For the smooth operation of BookPayback, Seocho-gu signed MOUs with nine local bookstores in May 2019 (including content supplying books to libraries, payment, etc.). The system was installed at each contracted bookstore. Training was also provided for staff on how to provide some of the services offered by public libraries.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The biggest beneficiaries are BookPayback’s users: local residents. It is very popular with them because they can purchase a bestseller or any other book in high demand at the participating bookstore that is closest to their home without having to wait. The recent supply of 15 bestsellers via BookPayback to local libraries, in turn, gives library patrons a better chance of borrowing them.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

By encouraging residents to read bestsellers at both libraries and local bookstores, BookPayback increased the average amount of time residents spent reading. User numbers increased sharply in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching up to 1,991 book requests per month. In 2019, it received the grand prize in the Outstanding Civil Service Contest hosted by Seoul Metropolitan Government. In 2020, it received a ministerial citation from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MOIS) as an Outstanding Example of Improved Civil Service System that is Crucial to Citizens’ Lives.

Over the two years that BookPayback has been operated, it has launched a virtuous cycle through communication with residents on reading demand in Seocho-gu. By ordering sufficient quantities of new releases and bestsellers in advance,bookstores were able to offer the latest books to both residents and libraries in a timely manner while increasing sales, which also helped revitalize the local economy.

Challenges and Failures

  • BookPayback was well-received among residents from its earliest days. However, an increase in usership resulted in them not being able to see in advance whether a book could be requested. In 2021, the “purchase-return-loan” service was given a new function: seeing whether a book could be requested via BookPayback and then reserving that book. This improvement has made it much easier for residents to use BookPayback.
  • Initially, requests for (different editions of) the same book were limited to prevent skewed demand for bestsellers. The sheer volume of requests for these, however, made it difficult to apply this rule. Eventually, Seocho-gu changed the number of multiple editions permitted for bestsellers to 15 per book (for non-bestsellers, three per book) based on analyses of the number of requests, thereby expanding the extent to which users can request desired books.

Conditions for Success

The most popular aspect of BookPayback among residents was the fact that they could “borrow” a bestseller from a nearby bookstore without having to wait. Supplying 15 bestsellers to local libraries via BookPayback gave patrons a better chance of borrowing them. The closing of public libraries due to COVID-19 social distancing measures resulted in a sharp increase in residents who used local bookstores to request and borrow books.

Furthermore, a system of coexistence that strengthens the role of local bookstores (which are declining in the face of franchise bookstores) by imbuing them with the role of a public library and receiving books from them greatly improved their sales. This, in turn, prompted active, voluntary cooperation with BookPayback by the bookstores.


BookPayback has been covered in a positive light by many national and local media outlets. It spread to Gwangju in 2021 after being designated by the MOIS as an innovative example of improving citizens’ lives. Other local governments, including Ulsan, Okcheon-gun (Okcheon Library, Chungcheongbuk-do), and Eumseong-gun (Geumwang Library, Chungcheongbuk-do), are providing similar services for their residents after benchmarking BookPayback.

Lessons Learned

Innovation began with one question about one aspect of citizens’ lives. It may also be massive in scale from the beginning. In the case of BookPayback, it was born from an idea about addressing one inconvenience. It is the ultimate “everyday library” that is the outcome of brainstorming on how to reduce the waiting time required to borrow a new release or bestseller. One creative idea not only changed residents’ daily lives but also breathed much-needed new life into local bookstores. It is hoped that BookPayback can be spread nationwide so that all citizens are motivated to renew their love of reading, while at the same time revitalizing local economies.

Project Pitch

Supporting Videos

Year: 2019
Level of Government: Local government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:



Date Published:

24 January 2023

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