Since I’ve been working almost exclusively with Spanish and English documents in the last several years, I found myself surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) when confronted with scores in other languages. Very few of the scores so far have been in English, and have ranged instead from Spanish and Italian to Hungarian, Romanian, and Finnish. At this moment, there are five different languages represented on my desk, including my first score in a language featuring non-Latin characters (which I haven’t started cataloging yet).
Sometimes this presents an obvious problem: my reading skills are all in English, Spanish, and a very little French. What does one do when faced with scores in other languages? Not cataloging them is never an option.
This is not a new problem for librarians, and we have come up with a lot of methods for solving it. For some things, the internet is our friend…Google translate and online dictionaries are great. One of the catalogers here occasionally posts problems to a librarian Facebook group so the hive-mind can find an answer. Most of this I already knew before I started this internship, but it has solidified over the last month.
The internet is not our only friend, though. Knowing someone who knows Danish or Arabic or Japanese can be very useful, especially when online searches aren’t returning useful information. Plus, the score in front of me probably has all of the information I need – I just need to know how to figure what information is where. Sometimes, it is obvious because of where the information is located and how it is formatted, like the publisher’s information in the colophon (a statement at the very end of a book). Other times, resources like the Manual of European Languages for Librarians are extremely handy, with all kinds of information about the structure of a language, names, and a glossary of the most useful words to know for cataloging (like “toimetaja” meaning editor in Finnish).
Working with unfamiliar languages is occasionally frustrating, but the more non-English scores I catalog, the more I feel confident in my skills to solve a problem.