In English, and beyond....

Does your library carry books in foreign languages? Not just language learning, but actual text in different languages? Many libraries do and yet, people are often surprised to find books in German, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, etc. on the shelves.

We carry books in a variety of languages, from the very popular (Spanish) to the more obscure (Urdu). We have 18 titles in Urdu text, all of which have circulated more than once. We have 247 Korean language books in the collection, many of them new titles, with varying circulation stats. Some have gone out multiple times, some not at all.

Because we have a floating collection, we do not have to assign books to certain branches around the city. This is a great thing for foreign language books because we haven't found any good ways to find out, in branch service areas, what languages are most popular. There is anecdata about this part of town being heavy with Russian speakers, and that part of town having lots of Chinese speakers. Spanish seems to be popular on all sides of town. The anecdata, however, often is rebutted by the fact that books in foreign languages are checked out in unexpected places. Doing a quick scan of the 35 books in Gujarati that we own, many of them have circulated multiple times in 2012, and in multiple parts of the city.

As far as sussing out hard data, it is difficult to come by. There are some statistical databases that use census data (so you can use as well) but it is difficult to navigate and, sometimes, doesn't provide the exact information you're looking to find. We keep trying, of course, with both our immigrant outreach librarians and the reference librarians who use both the SAVI database and with surgical precision.

About the books:

Some of the foreign language editions we have are single, signed copies of books by local authors, which are non-circulating and are hidden away in our Indianapolis Special Collections Room. If you're curious about the Finnish edition of Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, you'll find it there.

A lot of the foreign language books we carry are by authors in their native language. However, we also carry popular English language authors in foreign translations. I was curious about this aspect, so I asked a few authors about their experiences having their works translated into different languages. I asked them all the same questions:
How many languages have you been translated into?
Do you receive copies of your FL editions?
What languages have you been translated into?

And, of course, the obligatory: tell me anything else interesting you'd like for us to know about foreign language editions! My expectations were that all of them had been translated into at least Spanish, and a couple of them into multiple languages. Right off the bat, even in my small sample size, my expectation apple cart was upset.

I asked Lauren Dane about translations, and she told me she's been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Thai, and Turkish.

Wait...what? Not Spanish? But, that was my default "everyone has been translated into this language" language! Apparently, starting off with assumptions is a bad habit. When I asked about Spanish, she said she'd love for it to happen, but it hasn't yet. Her interesting thing about foreign language editions had to do with differing covers.

"The German covers are very sexually explicit, far more than the English language versions of the books (Taking Care of Business and No Reservations) and the Thai one for Relentless to me looks very fantasy-eqsue."

Oh REALLY? Well, you know I had to go and look! 

  <-----The German language edition.

  The English language edition ---> 

That looks like a different story......

I also asked Shiloh Walker about her experience being in translation. She's been translated into four languages: Italian, Spanish, German, and Thai.

It seems like German and Thai are hot languages for romance authors! We have very few books in Thai language but the ones we have (which we'll discuss in a minute) have gone out quite a bit. We may be missing an audience we didn't know we had (or could have). 

Speaking of Thai, one of the Thai books we have is Envy by Sandra Brown. That title has gone out 20 times, most recently in September 2012. We also have French Silk and Charade by Brown in Thai, and those have also circulated, but not nearly as many times as Envy. 

When I asked Brown about translations she said she's been translated into 34 languages, including Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Croatian, Czech, German, Russian, French, Italian, Norwegian, Thai, Polish, Slovenian, and Estonian. Very cool!

With so many editions, I asked Amy, Sandra's assistant, if they receive copies of all of them. The short answer: YES! The longer answer?

We always receive copies, some we receive more copies of than others. We save two copies of each book (at least--more in the UK/English versions) but are also very limited on storage space so we give quite a few away on Facebook & Goodreads--and are very happy to do so. We also donate to libraries. Always great to find a book a good home. 

Up until about 8 years ago all the foreign editions were stored at her house, then they started shipping them to the office. It's only been the last few years with Social networking that we've been able to give them away/find them a home. And we've shipped everywhere from Australia to the Philippines to Mauritius (in Africa), Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Norway, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal...even Canada!! LOL The list goes on. Now that we're more active online and have contact with librarians such as yourself (and goodreads and facebook) it's much easier to keep the books flowing!

We have books by Sandra Brown in English, plus sixteen other languages. Nearly all of them have circulated at least once. The ones that haven't, it would be interesting to know if it's because we don't have any speakers/readers of that language in the community as a whole, or if they're just at the wrong location. Do we have readers of that language who aren't library users, or don't know that we offer books in that language? Do we have readers of that language, who use that language collection, but they aren't interested in that particular book? It could be any number of things. Or multiple things. THAT is the fascinating thing about collection development: fitting the puzzle pieces together to get the collection that best fits your community.

Finally, I spoke with JoAnn Ross about foreign language editions. Languages she's published in?

French, Spanish (Spain, Mexico, and Latin America), German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese (the mainland and Taiwan, which may be slightly different), Turkish, Portuguese (both Brazil and Portugal, which are probably somewhat different), Japanese, Icelandic, Greek, Norwegian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian, Czech, Dutch, Hungarian, Estonian, Korean, Romanian

I do receive most of the foreign copies. Sometimes I have to try to figure out the translation of where it's published on the copyright page because I have no clue.

How strange it must be to be staring at something YOU'VE written, but you can't read it!

One fun thing: years ago HQ flew me up to a lodge in Ontario's Lake Country, to give a lunch speech to all their foreign publishers who'd gathered for a conference. I sat next to John Mills, of Mills and Boon, who was a quintessential English gentleman and shared great stories of the early days. Afterwards, I received a huge gift bag filled with books signed by all the foreign publishers AND the translators. When I got back to my hotel suite in Toronto, I sat down and started reading the inscriptions. Most read, "We love publishing your books!" or something along those lines.

But one made me teary. It was from the Romanian translator at a time when the world was discovering what a brutal regime Romanians had been living under. The book was The Prince and the Showgirl, and she'd written, "I dream about your prince." The idea that I could bring some measure of happiness to a woman who'd suffered so much, was incredibly moving. And reminded me why I write romance.

Foreign language editions, do you have them in your library? I want to hear your stories! 


Helgagrace said…
We have quite a few foreign language books here. The highest circulating collections are Spanish and Russian, although there used to be a much greater demand for Vietnamese materials and there is still quite a large number of items in the collection. Our A/V selector is careful to add foreign language DVDs--particularly Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese--to complement the written materials.
Kate Newton said…
We recently split our foreign language books out into a separate collection, arranged by language and then by author last name for easy browsing. We try to collect in all the languages taught at our school, and try to capture a mix of fun reading (Harry Potter in Latin and Greek) and school reading.
robin said…
Any idea what your most popular language is? Spanish? Other than Spanish?

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