Access to Multilingual Materials

by Jing Liu ~ July 7th, 2006. Filed under: Uncategorized.

I am now working on the World Cultures Committee at FVRL. One of the tasks assigned to me is to find out ways for access to our multilingual collection (it’s a 12 non-English collection) through OPAC. As far as I know, this is one of the most challenging topics in our profession. Many organizations and individuals have ended up with despair because of daunting contraints such as language expertise, lack of funding, and technology. I think as new librarians working in a non-Chinese speaking environment, everyone of us will take on a task of this kind one day or another. So, I invite you all to join the discussion.

There are organizations, such as large academic libraries and national libraries jointly across countries, working on the issue. To me, they are in a good position to tackle the issue as they have better resources. However, my concern is what we can do for a minor system with less resources, i.e. individual local libraries with a growing multi-ethnic population. I am thinking of providing access points through OPAC, such as subject headings and name headings in English. Are there people out there who have experience in this field and can offer me some advice?

2 Responses to Access to Multilingual Materials

  1.   Jing

    Most of integrated library systems nowadays are unicode-based and can handle many different language scripts including Chinese. Union online catalogues, such as OCLC covers millions of non-English records that you might be able to copy to your local system.

    I am not an expert, but it seems to me you need an Unicode-based local ILS first and a consistent subject heading and classification system such as LC’s.

    I saw a similar question on CALA’s Listserv, will be happy to dig out some useful info. By the way, RPL has upgraded its OPAC and it’s small enough to be a good example to make it happen with limited financial and technical support.

  2.   Henry

    Thanks, Jing, for the tips. Can you elaborate a little bit on “Unicode-based local ILS”, please? Your advice is a good way to tackle the issue. However, there are still two main problems. First, say we have the “Unicode-based local ILS”, we then need to have the expertise of understanding different languages in order to download records from Union online catalogues. Am I right? A minor library system like FVRL can’t afford expertise in 12 languages. Another problem is budget. How much does it cost roughly to have such a capability? At FVRL, the total budget for the 12 languages collection is only $50,000 per year. Judging from this, it would not be feasible if it is expensive. I’ve checked several public libraries in North America, what seems to be realistic for public libraries is to provide access points through name headings, subject headings and titles, and they all have to be in English, a way to save money even though not most desirable. RPL is pretty unique in the public library world by providing access points in Chinese. I bet they are not capable with other foreign languages even though they have a collection in these languages.

Leave a Reply

Spam prevention powered by Akismet