To find a book in translation, the information that is needed (ideally): Author, English language title, Title in the original language.
Then, search the catalog by author's name and limit to English language! This is the broadest search possible, and it helps to eliminate some of the problems below.
Pitfall #1 Books that do not translate easily into English
Question: "I need a translation of "Woe from Wit" into English.....I have the English title, but I don't know the Russian title."
A simple search of the MSU Library Catalog shows only one copy of "Woe from Wit."
HOWEVER, if you click on the author's name (Griboyedov), you can see that we have a number of copies of that book in both Russian and English. Unfortunately, "Gore ot Uma" is also translated as "The Misfortunes of Being Clever," "Distress from Cleverness," "The Mischief of Being Clever," and probably others.
Uniform titles help in many cases! When a uniform title is used, all translations of the story are unified under one title in the catalog.
Quick tip: If you have trouble finding a translation in the catalog by title, do an author search, limit it to English language materials.
Pitfall #2 Translations of English language books into other languages.
Question: "I would like a translation of "Wuthering Heights" into Spanish..." Other examples:
French, Japanese, or Russian translations of Shakespeare's works. Russian translations of John Steinbeck or Jack London
It is very likely that we will NOT have such books in the library. The exception might be for Shakespeare, but purchasing these items is generally outside the scope of the academic library. A search of Worldcat for such titles will reveal that many public libraries have such titles: this is because many public libraries serve the needs of their local community: for example, if you have a large Polish community, you might buy Polish translations of Ernest Hemingway, etc.
Often, though, such translations are received as gifts and are cataloged for the library. Some types of translations, say a Turkish translation of Don Quixote, unless it is a special faculty interest, we would not generally have at all.
Pitfall #3 Finding translated poems or short stories
Question: "I need to find Chekhov's 'The Long Tongue'"
These are most likely going to show up in collected works or anthologies. You can try searching by Keyword--this sometimes works; otherwise try:
Unfortunately, the vernacular title will not help in these sources because the translated title is the one indexed, however, stories and poems with varying titles often have cross references.
Pitfall #4 (a big one) Scientific Translations
Question: "This article says it is in Russian, but the title is in English. Is it in Russian or English? Can I get it in English?" Many scientific databases that we subscribe to (including Medline, Agricola, and Chem Abstracts) contain references to articles in Russian or other non-English languages. Source titles are given as the original vernacular title. Students and faculty may be discouraged from trying to get these articles if they cannot read Russian, Japanese, etc.
However, an enormous number of journals are translated cover-to-cover into English in separate publications. We subscribe to a number of translation journals, unfortunately, there are often no clear ways to find if the journal cited in the article database is available in translation. Chem. Abstracts often cites the translated version, but other databases will not give this information. To complicate matters, translated journal titles are often not the same as the original:
Ekologiia (Ecology) = Russian Journal of Ecology
You can often search the library catalog by the title listed in the article database and retrieve the corresponding translation. This does not always work, however. And, since translation journals are so expensive (and we don't have that many), try the search on the cited title in Worldcat as well.
The Chemical Abstracts Service Source Index (CASSI) (Z5523.A25 Reference) is an excellent resource for finding what language a journal is in, and if there is an existing translation journal. It covers the years 1907-1999, and the three volumes are the most comprehensive (and current) listing of titles available in a broad range of scientific fields. It will show translations that exist when Worldcat does not.
Pitfall #5 Transliteration
Yes, transliteration. It is one of the main reasons that people cannot find the journals that they need.
Non-latin alphabets have to be transliterated into our alphabet so we can catalog them. Of course, no one agrees on a system to transliterate, so misspelling is rampant and a big pitfall. Transliteration is a problem in all kinds of translations, but in scientific journal indexes it is particularly bad: many of the indexes do not use Library of Congress transliteration, so cited journal titles are often spelled differently in the index then they are in the library's catalog. Transliteration tables may help--but only if you have the title of the book or journal written in the original script (Russian, Chinese, etc).