Cataloguing Multilingual Materials: Journey into Farsi and Arabic

I’m an anglophone living in a multicultural society. With two official languages in Canada and a mozaic of other cultures and nationalities, it is only fitting that the library collect materials of numerous languages.

Because I am responsible for cataloguing the multilingual collection, I must find ways around my own lanugage limitations. There is no copy available for over 90% of the mulilingual collection that we have. Thankfully, I can read Spanish and Italian. Also, thankfully, I am surrounded by fellow colleagues who speak French – the other official language of Canada. As well, there is a wonderful woman in our processing department from China, who translates the Chinese books based on an in-house form we’ve created. This form provides us with all of the necessary information for cataloguing including: title, author, publication information, language (ie. simplified or traditional Chinese) and a summary.

Many staff members throughout the branches contribute to the cataloguing process in this way. Unfortunately, at this time, I have found no one to assist in the translation of Farsi and Arabic materials. These are also the collections we are bulking up on, given the expansion of this diverse community.

I have to admit, my first experience in cataloguing a book in Arabic was painful. It took me forever. The text looked more like beautiful artwork and I continually wanted to hold and read the book as if it written in our western style. With no more than an odd looking ISBN for each book, I was given the task of cataloguing it. All of it. I don’t even want to remember how long that first batch of books took!

Today, with over a year’s experience in cataloguing this collection, I’m finding it much easier. (However, I’ll be the first to admit that I still have A LOT to learn). The books are familiar and I’ve learned how to read both Arabic and Farsi numerals. This helps tremendously when deciphering ISBNS, dates of publications and page numbers. I’m also gaining familiarity with book distributors of multilingual materials and often refer to their websites when seeking book information.

Many vendors, if you ask, will provide you with an invoice that lists the author, title, genre and date of publication. This is extremely helpful and I’m thankful to those lovely people in acquisitions who remember me and provide me with a copy of the invoice.

Although cataloguing in any language other than your own can be difficult, it can be made even more challenging in languages that do not use western characters. The following is a list of resources I use to assist me in cataloguing Farsi and Arabic lanugage materials. There aren’t that many, but I find them helpful. If any of you can suggest additional resources, please do so.

Iran Book Shop
Multicultural Books & Video
Saint Ignatius High School – Arabic Numbers



Filed under Cataloguing tips

5 responses to “Cataloguing Multilingual Materials: Journey into Farsi and Arabic

  1. I’ve also worked with titles in other languages. Have you tried searching the library catalogs of the countries where the book was published? Although there may be no copy in OCLC, you’ll more often than not find a bibliographic record (usually in UNIMARC) by searching these opacs.

    If you need a calendar converter (very handy for periodicals), there’s this one:

  2. Laurel Tarulli

    Yes, I do find it helpful to search the countries where the books are published. We use Bookwhere at HPL, which is extremely handy and offers a wide variety of libraries to search. And I absolutely agree with you – never solely rely OCLC, or any other consortium. However, Farsi and Arabic are more difficult due to the fact that many do not have ISBNs, or don’t include any western characters. Many that do have ISBNs do not provide anything to scan, it is just written in Arabic/Farsi.

    I have much more luck when searching for copy in Italian, German, French, Spanish, etc. Mainly, because I can search for them, because they use our western characters.

    What languages have you had to catalogue? Thanks for providing your link. Do you have any more helpful cataloguing resources?

  3. muhammad etubi

    I catalogue arabic materials for my institution’s library.My knowledge of arabic language enable me catalogue our collection. However, I use to browse the website of American University Library catalogue in Cairo to check for those I could not catalogue due to lack of ISBN, IMPRINT, etc, and it often work. Secondly, if you read through the introductory part of some the arabic text you could get information you could use in cataloguing.
    good luck

  4. muhammad etubi

    Try browsing this : website for American University Library catalogue in Cairo, and if you understand arabic language, read the introductory part of a book.These options often help me catalogue my institution’s arabic collection.
    Good luck.

  5. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Muhammad,
    Thanks for the resource, I’m going to add it to my resources when cataloguing multilingual materials.

    I could use you in our library! Unfortunately, I don’t read Arabic, but the Arabic community is growing here in Halifax and our collection is reflecting this. I’m hoping I can work with our frontline staff to find community volunteers to assist in translating the essential elements of our books so that we can catalogue them properly.

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