If you’re not familiar with the holdings of the University of Exeter, you may be slightly confused by the title of this post. Exeter holds, in its Special Collections, Middle East Collections, and Arab World Documentation Centre, a significant collection of resources on the Arabian peninsula and Middle East, including over 15,000 books in Arabic.
Books written in non-Roman scripts have always been a slightly tricky issue for the cataloguer: is it transliterated correctly? Does there need to be a colloquial translation? What about classification, and subject indexing? Does my OPAC support searching in different character sets? Will my OPAC return results in Arabic if the search is performed in English? Will searching in Arabic (which Copac allows) return transliterated results?
This is where we come (if you hadn’t guessed it) to the â€˜ayn and the hamza. The â€˜ayn is a letter in the Arabic alphabet, while the hamza represents a glottal stop, and they are both often (incorrectly) transliterated as apsotrophes.
This makes the cataloguer’s job even more tricky. Add to this the fact that we deal with the records of over 50 libraries – records which have been created over a large number of years, during which cataloguing practices have changed – and you can see that we have a bit of a situation.
Apostrophes are, as a general rule, non-filing characters in catalogue records. But what do you do when an apostrophe is not an apostrophe? This problem with â€˜ayns and hamzas (which can occur at the beginning, middle or end of words) was making it very difficult to find Arabic records on Copac: whether you included the correct character; an apostrophe; or nothing at all, you were unlikely to get the results you wanted.
Paul Auchterlonie, Librarian for Middle East Studies at Exeter, took the opportunity of being interviewed by me about Exeter’s experiences of being a member of Copac to raise this issue. He not only raised it, he entirely convinced me (who had never heard of either an â€˜ayn or a hamza before in my life) of its importance. Then the Copac staff fixed it. Simple, no?
Well, not that simple. The fixing did take Shirley and Ashley some time and effort. Then the data had to be reloaded. And all is not entirely well yet: records in Farsi and Hebrew which have similar problems still need to be reloaded. But the moral of the tale: have a problem with Copac? Let us know! We like fixing things 🙂
DISCLAIMER: While Copac staff do like fixing things, there are issues which we can do nothing about (in the short term, at least – we’re looking at long-term solutions for many issues). This makes us sad. If we can’t fix your issue immediately, please be assured that it’s not because we don’t want to!