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New Cataloguing Strategy for World Languages Material

Ottawa Public Library
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Problem Statement

Newcomers have difficulties searching the library catalogue for material in their native language, as well as finding material in the library. The problems identified were: The difficulty of reading and understanding transliterated titles by the patrons, the turnaround time for world languages material, which took several months before material got to the shelves and the patrons, the level and utility of the cataloguing of the bibliographic records, which did not meet the expectations of the targeted groups, and the Dewey classification that did not resonate with the targeted groups, nor was it needed to locate the resources on the shelves of the Main library and 32 branches.


The department took advantage of the native language skills that the staff had for 4 of the 11 languages that were acquired during that year. These 4 languages happened to be the most in demand by newcomers: Chinese , Persian , Arabic and Russian. The department applied the Touch an Item Once concept to all world language cataloguing, i.e., the cataloguer who worked on a title, searched OCLC or other databases for a copy record, edited the title if needed, assigned a genre call number for non-fiction material, downloaded authorities if needed, and put the copies through for linking. Brief record templates were created for all original cataloguing. This cut down on the time it took for a title to get through significantly, as it didn’t wait any longer for a supervisor’s availability to review the cataloguing. Cataloguers were instructed to work on 5 to 10 titles every day, so that there would always be new titles showing up on the new titles list available from the website. Vernacular script was keyed in for every title, if it was not included in the copy record.

A list of most popular subjects that are acquired by the Library was created. Instead of a call number, every non-fiction title got a subject from that list for the call number. The department plans on making the vernacular script for the subject become part of the call number after the migration to the new ILS SirsiDynix-Symphony. For other languages, and wherever possible, the department requested bibliographic records with vernacular script from the vendors, which were uploaded into the database. The new titles catalogued were made available to newcomers from the OPL website, by clicking on a link to new arrivals in their language. They could then see them displayed in their original language, which made it easy to just click on a title to reserve an item.

There were no additional costs incurred for cataloguing or keying in vernacular script. The records acquired from vendors were also free of charge. Cataloguers with native language skills also collaborated with the Collection Development department on the selection of material, and the communications with vendors to ensure better selections are sent to OPL.


Circulation of Arabic material increased by 70% in 2009, circulation of Russian material increased by 33% over 2008, circulation of Persian material increased by 9% over the previous year. BiblioCommons, the new PAC interface that the OPL launched in the fall of 2009 allows searching by vernacular script, and patrons took notice. They wrote back to the Library to share how pleased they were with this new functionality. Efforts continue to be placed on the marketing of the OPL services to the identified groups in cooperation with the NIO (Newcomer Information Officer) agents stationed in most branches. Even though newcomers do not always have a strong public library background, they are finding it much easier now to find material to take home. More efforts will be placed in 2010 on publicizing these collections and the easy access to them for both the browser and the online user.