Electronic Databases for Readers' Advisory Services and Intellectual Access to Translated Fiction Not Originally Written in English

By Dilevko, Juris; Dali, Keren | Library Resources & Technical Services, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Electronic Databases for Readers' Advisory Services and Intellectual Access to Translated Fiction Not Originally Written in English


Dilevko, Juris, Dali, Keren, Library Resources & Technical Services


Electronic databases for readers' advisory services are increasingly prevalent in both public and academic libraries. Librarians rely on these databases to suggest new fiction titles to patrons, many of whom are interested in various types of foreign fiction translated into English. Using a case study approach, this paper examines the NoveList database from the perspective of intellectual access to novels originally written in Russian and subsequently translated into English. The number of subject headings assigned to these novels--as well as the number of accompanying book reviews in the NoveList record for each novel is--compared with the number of subject headings and accompanying book reviews present in the NoveList record for novels originally written in English. Translated Russian novels have substantially fewer subject headings and accompanying book reviews than do novels originally written in English. In addition, existing subject headings are often misleading, erroneous, or inefficient. Such shortcomings may be interpreted ideologically, since they have the effect of isolating and excluding translated foreign literature from the general realm of fiction works originally written in English. Impaired intellectual access to translated fiction in NoveList prevents a complete integration of translated fiction with English-language fiction--a circumstance that may lead librarians and patrons to overlook valuable titles. Careful reading of book reviews to extract contextually relevant keywords from which accurate subject headings can then be created is recommended as a simple way to improve the quantity and quality of subject headings and, more broadly, to strengthen intellectual access to translated fiction.

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In the past ten years, there has been a renewed interest in readers' advisory services in both public and academic libraries, and in library education for readers' advisory services. Recent books such as The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction by Joyce Saricks (2001) and The Readers' Advisor's Companion, a collection of essays edited by Kenneth Shearer and Robert Burgin (2001), are emblematic of this renaissance, as is the Genreflecting series under the genera] direction of Diana Tixier Herald (2000). The latter includes individual reference volumes designed to help librarians recommend titles in such genres as science fiction, horror, fantasy, Christian fiction, mystery and suspense, adventures and westerns, and historical fiction. As Ricki Nordemeyer (2001) pointed out, many public library systems in the United States and Canada have Web-based readers' advisory home pages. Many others subscribe to electronic databases such as NoveList and What Do I Read Next? to help staff members deal with readers" advisory questions. NoveList is a fee-for-service readers' advisory tool available from EBSCO, consisting of books lists, reviews, and other resources for locating fiction titles. What Do I Read Next? is a similar readers' advisory product available from Gale Thomson.

Fiction, after all, accounts for between 65% and 75% of the total circulation in public libraries (Wiegand 2001, 8). Universities also are beginning to realize the importance of providing readers' advisory databases. The library systems of the University of Louisville, the University of Rhode Island, and Murray State University are only three of the rapidly growing number of academic libraries that are making such electronic databases available to students and staff members. (The list of databases provided by the University of Rhode Island library system is available at www.uri.edu/library/reference databases/ref.html [accessed February 17, 2003]; for the University of Louisville, see http://library.louisville.edu/research/hot/path.html [accessed February 17, 2003]; for Murray State University, see www.murraystate.edu/msml/databasesatoz.html [accessed February 17, 2003]). Finally, Dana Watson (2000) discusses how an increasing number of universities with graduate programs in Library and Information Science (LIS) are resurrecting or implementing courses in readers' advisory services. …

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