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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Bibliographic control of minority languages

Ewa Lipniacka, Chief Cataloguer of LASER & CILLA Co-ordinator Deputy Chair, Polish Library Management Committee, Polish Social and Cultural Centre


A brief canter through the problems of bibliographic control of minority languages as found in the UK based on experience as chief cataloguer at LASER: the London and South Eastern Library Region and CILLA founder and co-ordinator (the Co-operative of Indic Language Library Authorities run by LASER), and as a voluntary adviser on cataloguing and automation at the Polish Library at the Polish Soc ial and Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

The author sees a need for an international Noah's Ark programme for languages under threat and proposes new uses for the bibliographic record, with extra annotation and qualitative assessment of boo ks to enable community librarians without language skills to select books in minority languages. She also suggests that a new bibliographic service for expatriates, of "selected top reads" annotated as above, could well be a commercially successful venture for libraries in countries with large expatriot communities.


The bible portrays the birth of languages, at the Tower of Babel not as a joyous event, but a catastrophe - God's punishment, to confuse and confound arrogant man, and there is no doubt that multilin gualism can be divisive, costly, and a plain nuisance. Who hasn't suffered "conference blues": the maddening frustration of being left out of a group which is enjoying a fascinating anecdote in an in comprehensible language? Who has not speculated on the telephone number size sums expended at conferences on translations and interpreters, and dreamed of being able to lay hands on a mere fraction o f it? Who has not wished to return to pre-Babel days and one universal language? The trouble is: which? Latin was once the universal administrative language, as arguably, English could be now. Espera nto is a nice idea, shame about the lack of interest. The Chinese have a useful modus vivendi: written script, decipherable by speakers of all dialects - if only it wasn't so difficult to master. A u niversal language, though even more desirable than the ECU, is as unlikely to happen.

Pride and Prejudice

Some past attempts at enforcing one national language might have been well intentioned. Mostly suppression of language is an act of oppression and causes bloody revolutions and wars. The reason langu age is the target of tyrants, and the banner cause of freedom fighters is not hard to find. It is the container wherein culture, literature, heritage is carried, and its defence is a powerful and end uring atavistic life force. The resurrection of Hebrew and the survival of Gaelic are proof to this. The Bangladeshis fought Pakistan in the name of the Bengali language. There are many, many more ex amples. As librarians it is our duty to humanity to help preserve language by conserving books and giving universal access to them.


Multilingualism can be a costly administrative nightmare, but need not be. Efficient use of technology can minimize mess and costs, and the advantages are many. Mastery of two or more languages expan ds the mind, both in skills and horizons. In these kinder times, our young think of themselves as citizens of a continent or even the world, alongside their membership of individual nations. They hav e grown up with the right of fellow citizens to access to their roots - and therefore language. Librarians have played a key part in this sea change. However, library provision for all linguistic min orities, as of right, is still by no means universally accepted. Resistance comes mainly from our financial and bureaucratic masters and to neutralize this opposition, we must be efficient and cost e ffective. Services must be targeted: in the right place and at the right price. Provision should be put under the same procedures, regulations and scrutiny as works in the majority language. Bibliogr aphic control must be as good, and to an appropriate standard for the requirements of the language. The following groupings of languages may seem idiosyncratic, as their only connection is their join t bibliographic needs rather than any communal geographical or physical link:

  1. Indigenous minority languages:
    Some minority languages are as old or even older than the majority one: Basque in Spain, Gaelic in the U.K..., and yours may be the only place in the world the language is spoken. The obligation, th en, on national resources is as strong and comprehensive as the majority language: the national bibliography should list all publications to level 1, and the national library should archive copyright copies. The collections and attendant staff are better sited amongst their communities than with centralized facilities, and proximity to academic and community centres is a bonus.

    Some language catchment areas cross borders, and might be collected by both countries, or neither. Some countries track the publications of their own emigrant groups especially if the departure from the homeland was involuntary, (border shifts, deportations, etc.). Others leave such things to chance and volunteers. Librarians have frequently and commendably co-operated, sometimes in the face of hostilities between their countries: bibliographic fraternity and needs transcending national animosities. Perhaps it is time for national and international agreements to formalise such co-operation in the name of conservation of collections and scant resources?

  2. Minority languages under threat
    Another strong claim on mandatory care and preservation is from those immigrant communities whose homeland and culture is under threat, sadly a world growth area. The obligation is more moral than t erritorial, but still strong. Poles preserved their cultural heritage when it was being suppressed at home by founding two libraries: in Paris in the nineteenth and London in the twentieth centuries. A cohesive, literate and highly motivated group, they achieved this mainly under their own steam. Should there be some national / international obligation for public support, especially for groups l ess technically able? We protect the animal kingdom, should we not also "list" our own? At the very least, the host country has a duty to collect, catalogue and preserve copyright copies of publicat ions of these communities produced in the host country, Enlightened nations would also embrace wider duties by starting "Noah's Ark" collections, centred on university or voluntary sector expertise. The obligation should continue even when the community itself no longer uses the collection. It is a part of the history of the host country, as well as a world resource to be kept in store for post erity and better times at home.

  3. Established immigrant groups
    These are, usually, the best catered for in pure monetary terms. Often represented in government at national and local level, with at the very least, a working knowledge of the host language, these groups can and do put forward special pleadings on their own behalf, and most have already established core services. However, these are often ad hoc collections with few defined guidelines and their quality is not matched by their quantity. The need is for current, useable public library services. Provision should track changing needs: in the right parts of town, and not to groups which have di spersed; expensive translation services only for those who can't speak the language; no text books when only recreational reading is required; no books in original scripts and languages, when the com munity has lost the will and skill to read them.

    The duty to provide a public library service is now universal. However, archival responsibilities and comprehensive national bibliographical recording are best left to the home national library, for this is Extra Marc Material, where EMMA means "out of scope of the national bibliography". Works of local authors, in whatever language, however, are within the national bibliography remit. Collect ions should only be kept for as long as they are actively read or used. Nor need records be to a full level one national bibliography standard. There is an economy of scale to be gained from centrali zed production of working bibliographic records, but only current material of interest to the immigrant group should be included. Even accuracy can be compromised if this improves usage. In any event , accuracy is not always possible: in particular the thorny problem of original scripts raises its head. Conversely there are new uses for the bibliographic records: of broadcasting to a wider publi c, a scant resource - the skill and knowledge of specialised, mother-tongue speaking librarians.


CILLA has adapted the MARC record to include the functionality of a Michelin guide by adding a local field with between 0-3 stars for literary standing and 0-3 smilies to denote expected popularity a mongst readers. Between the two devices, any variation on the theme can be accommodated, from "very worthy but deadly dull" = 3 (quality); 0 (popularity), to "Tacky but un put downable" = 0 (quality) ; 3 (popularity). Extensive annotation, of fiction and non fiction, supplements Dewey to guide those who might not know the language, but know their readers. Some recent examples:

"...heroine is physically disabled - uncommon theme in Bengali"
"...new writer - beginning to gain popularity" The adjudications are the personal opinions of the cataloguers, nonetheless, these are the highly qualified opinions of working librarians, with an in-depth knowledge of language, literature and read ers. These devices, unique to CILLA, upgrade the bibliographic record into a book selection tool. Add bookseller's name and list number and it becomes an acquisition system. A quarterly book selectio n meeting gives members direct access to specialists, feedback to and from suppliers, and is a forum for exchange of information, amongst fellow community librarians. Thus: a complete bibliographical control system: hinging on a unique use, or some may say abuse, of the bibliographic record.

Sense and sensibility: transliteration

Indic material presents specific problems. Transliteration is one, lack of cataloguing rules is another. There are many voices raised against transliteration. Certainly, one of the main needs for it -ie. machine needs, is fast fading, and there is no doubt that it is a barrier between the books and their readers. But however desirable multi-script records may be, an efficient service without tra nsliteration is impossible in libraries where staff are without language skills, and in an urban public library the number of local languages can be up to three figures. CILLA is also attacked for no t following existing LC transliteration standards. We do as far as we are able. Our paths diverge on just a few points:

Sense and sensibility: cataloguing

The CILLA cataloguing rules, are the essence of 10 years of practical experience of CILLA specialists and advisors. Published several years ago they have also been purchased by non-members of CILLA, and are now a UK national standard amongst public libraries, so we can interlend. With a very few exceptions, we only created new rules where AACR2 was silent yet the needs were not. Wherever our hea dings did diverge it was for sound practical reasons and we explain why. e.g.:

The West Midlands Regional Library Service's SEALS project, a co-operative buying venture for the major languages of the EEC, asked for advice from librarians of the originating country. Could not na tional bodies or library associations of countries with large and scattered expatriot communities be persuaded to produce regular, current bibliographies of "best reads" with CILLA type adjudication and annotation of recommended titles for purchase for their nationals abroad. This would work, obviously, only in cases where emigration was voluntary, and the links with "back home" still very stron g. Public library issue control systems or the public lending right mechanism could be tapped for data on the top titles. It could be a popular and commercial proposition to add to the range of bibli ographic services now available from libraries.

Complete works

As librarians we now all accept the duty to document and preserve the written word, whatever language it is written in. The only restriction is that we have to do this to a budget. Duty then has to b e tempered by the art, or more accurately, the science, of the possible. Obviously, our first duty is to our own: no one else will do that for us - and our own includes all ethnic groups residing wit hin our borders. Thus the authoritative cataloguing of all material produced by indigenous linguistic groups within the country, should fall to the national library and have priority call upon nation al resources. By preference, native speakers should catalogue the material, to avoid embarrassing mistakes, and there is no reason why the voluntary sector cannot be called upon to help if qualified to do so. Any language or culture under threat should have second call, on a humanitarian basis. Perhaps international bodies could act as brokers in the allocation of foster library to orphaned lang uage. The needs of all other linguistic minorities must be allocated resources according to their needs, and the most cost effective way of bibliographic control adopted. This may take lateral thinki ng and new models. But resource sharing growing as the world shrinks, the all singing, all dancing, world wide web of bibliographic book selecting, stock controlling MARC records is in sight, if we a ll put our minds to it. Let's confound Babel.


110.20 $a 	Co-operative of Indic Language Library Authorities
       $k 	CILLA
245.10 $a 	CILLA quarterly booklist
       $b	a selected, annotated booklist of recent fiction and 
                non-fiction publications in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, 
                Panjabi, Tamil and Urdu, suitable for a public library 
       $e 	transliterated, catalogued and annotated by leading 
                  librarians, who know the language, know the books 
                  and know the readership
260.00 $a 	Wapping, London $b LASER $c Every quarter, with a 
                  cumulation every winter
513.00 $a 	The only way to select your Indic language material
525.00 $a 	Also available: CILLA transliteration and cataloguing 
                manual, and, CILLA headings authority file, to ensure 
                that your backstock is also correctly catalogued
530.00 $a 	Booklist also available on MARC Exchange Tape to load 
                  straight into your own computer system
546.00 $a 	Authors and titles transliterated into the Roman 
                      alphabet, with annotation in English and a 
                      standard grading scheme to indicate quality 
                      and expected popularity.
910.20 $a 	CILLA 
       $x 	See 
       $a 	LASER's annual report for an account of last years 
                   activities and the CILLA leaflet for details of 
                   the scheme and an application form
910.20 $a       LASER
       $x       See
       $a       London and South Eastern Library Region      


110.20 $a    Polish Social and Cultural Centre
       $k    POSK
       $c    Library
       $e    Hammersmith, London
245.10 $a    Reference, lending and circulating services 
       $b    includes Joseph Conrad Study Centre & collection and 
             other important manuscript and archival collections, 
             including unique wartime photographic archives and 
             post war underground press collections 
       $b    open to all Poles and all those interested in Polish 
       $e    financed and managed from voluntary contributions 
                from the Polish community 
260.10 $a    London
       $d    238 King Street, London W6. Tel: 0181 741-0474
       $b    Polish Library
       $c    Office hours, most days.