Z688.F6 → Foreign Language Reference

One of more difficult things I've encountered in my co-op experience is dealing with reference services in foreign languages. Now, working in a federal government library in Canada of course means that one would be dealing with both English and French - but one thing that really surprised me was the amount of reference work done with other foreign languages, such as Russian and German. Much of my initial difficulty when dealing with foreign language reference services lies in the fact that you as a librarian are starting from a disadvantage in that there isn't a full understanding of the language. If you're lucky, your library may have a good collection of foreign language materials. If not though, it often means turning to the Google machine to get more information.

Recently, I had the challenge - but ultimately, a good learning experience - to search for about a half a dozen purely Russian articles about ornithology. Ornithology is a relatively small field of interest for scientists, and a simple Google search for a publication title may not yield many results. There are a few leaps of faith that have to occur in order to trust that you're requesting the correct item through interlibrary loan. I'm certainly thankful for having a well-stocked reference collection of translation dictionaries, if only to get even a vague idea of what publication titles could mean in English. Furthermore - especially when you're working to order an ILL - you're also hoping that you've provided enough information in a request for the librarian on the other side to find the publication. This can be particularly difficult when dealing with journal articles - if even a page number is off or wrong, it can mean a world of difference between getting an ILL filled or not.

When I first began my co-op placement, I thought it was a little excessive when my boss told me he was beginning to teach himself Russian because of all the foreign language reference that goes through the library. After six months, however, I see that it isn't excessive at all. Some minor knowledge of another language can be extremely beneficial in a library environment. It comes in hand more than you'd think.

For a little more information, check out: Librarians and languages by Brian Vetruba (2005)

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