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Translating reference expertise

Diane VanderPol (Zayed University, Dubai, UAE)
El Shaimaa Sakr (Zayed University, Dubai, UAE)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 13 November 2017




Librarians have expertise in helping patrons to define their information needs, develop search strategies and navigate the information environment. At Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, the authors saw a need for the university’s staff to translate that expertise to help patrons to find materials in their native language, even when they cannot speak that language.


The authors, one Arabic speaker and one non-Arabic speaker, developed a workshop for their peers outlining strategies for translating our expertise as library professionals. In this paper, the authors share both the strategies for translating expertise that they recommended in the workshop, and information on their process in developing those recommendations.


The balance of expertise between the library staff and the patron is somewhat shifted when the search is being conducted in a foreign language. The librarian provides expertise with issues of access. The patron is the expert in her language, the transaction will not be successful without the patron’s contribution and full engagement. Demonstrating a willingness and capability to contribute to the process of searching in the patron’s native language is what is most important.


While there is evidence that libraries are providing foreign language collections and that librarians are considering how to deliver services to English as a Second Language (ESL) patrons, the literature suggests that the profession is not generally focusing on how English-speaking librarians can use their expertise to help patrons to access materials in their native languages.



VanderPol, D. and Sakr, E.S. (2017), "Translating reference expertise", Reference Services Review, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 575-583.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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