Cultivating Non-English Collections: a unique partnership that alleviates the pain of librarians in multi-language communities

Sue Henczel

Education and Business Manager
Caval Collaborative Solutions

Annette Monester

Foreign Language Bookstore


Public, community and school libraries endeavour to provide equitable services to all of their clients and therefore provide collections in a multitude of languages. Some librarians have the skill to select and acquire materials in a handful of languages, but what about the many other languages that are required in a modern multicultural society?

In Melbourne, Australia, CAVAL Collaborative Solutions (CAVAL) and Foreign Language Bookshop (FLB) have joined forces to provide shelf-ready materials in over 70 languages to libraries in Australia and New Zealand. This four-year partnership has enabled non-English language collections to be established and developed for new and expanding ethnic communities. It has enabled the streamlined incorporation of these collections into existing library collections.

The skill of selecting LOTE (Languages Other Than English) materials for library collections extends far beyond the language, and must incorporate the religious, cultural, social and political sensitivities that are fundamental to client groups. Providing catalogue records to support the collections requires expert language, transliteration and translation skills. By combining the selection and acquisition skills of Foreign Language Bookshop and the language and cataloguing skills of CAVAL, libraries are now able to support an equitable service to all client groups regardless of size of group, language or cultural background.

This paper describes the process that has been established to provide shelf-ready, non-English material to Australian and New Zealand libraries and discusses the issues involved with selection, acquisitions, cataloguing and access. It also introduces case studies that outline the benefits of the partnership to the libraries and the communities they serve.


The 1996 Australian Census found that 23% of Australia’s population of less than 19 million (Australia's current population is just under 20 million) were born overseas. Of these, 57% were born in Europe and the former USSR, 19% in Middle Eastern and African nations and 18.6% in Asian countries. It also recorded that 240 languages other than English are spoken in the homes of Australians.

Australia’s land- mass is almost as large as that of the United States (without Alaska) and more than 30 times the United Kingdom. Most Australians live along the East coast in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, while smaller numbers populate the other capital cities and towns. Some small rural towns boast populations of 20-100 persons (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002).

The Australian Government and State and Territory Governments promote and support multiculturalism and devote some library funding to LOTE collections. The City of Brimbank library in suburban Melbourne (see case study 1) comprises a population of 74,678 speakers of more than 30 languages other than English (City of Brimbank, 2000) and holds an average of 1.6 books per capita in those languages. Brimbank has the second highest overseas born community reporting poor English proficiency in the State of Victoria.

The role of libraries in the Australian community varies from state to state and local community to local community. The importance of funding, local government interest, community group lobby, available LOTE resources, qualified LOTE speaking library staff, portability of special collections, effective stock selection, cataloguing and processing services is widely accepted.


How it began

CAVAL Collaborative Solutions is a consortium comprising the libraries of the nine Victorian Universities and the State Library of Victoria. Since its beginnings in the late 1970s CAVAL has provided training and cataloguing services and collaboration opportunities to its members and to the Australian information industry on a commercial basis. Since the mid 1980s it has provided a unique service by offering cataloguing and other services in a vast range of languages to those research and public libraries attempting to integrate non-English materials into their library collections.

In the mid-1990s CAVAL was approached by a customer to source and acquire some LOTE library materials and provide them shelf-ready (catalogued and processed). This initiated discussions between CAVAL and the Foreign Language Bookshop and the partnership that began in 1997 is now providing shelf ready LOTE materials across Australia and New Zealand.


Foreign Language Bookshop (FLB) has supplied language materials to Australian libraries for many years. For most of that period, those libraries with limited funding resources ordered books from FLB only in the languages their library staff could process, often to the detriment of services to the other language groups in those particular communities. Better funded libraries employed CAVAL to provide cataloguing and some processing, in a wider number of languages.

FLB carries a basic stock of books in around 40 languages at any time. These books have been acquired from publishers and wholesalers in the country of origin, and represent the best sellers and most popular books of that country.

Annette Monester, FLB Managing Director, travels overseas every three months to learn about publishing trends and to assess the available publications. Each country and culture has a different reading profile that is noted and reflected in the buying patterns. Politics, religion, regional economics and literacy standards influence the collection of library resources, both in quality and quantity. FLB attempts to achieve the greatest value for money by stitching and binding poorly presented publications as soon as they arrive into store. Books in some languages are circulated to a great number of readers and need to be durable.

By selecting the titles most attractive to the readers of a local community rather than those titles deemed to be suitable by intellectuals, the library offers a more popular selection. Categories include popular fiction, light non-fiction such as health, cookery, sport and hobbies, juvenile fiction and light non-fiction. The aim is always to provide very recent publications, but often classics – both fiction and non-fiction, form the basis of a sound collection.


CAVAL employs a pool of 40 language experts who currently catalogue in over 60 languages. MARC records are created in accordance with each customer's unique requirements while adhering to international standards. Records are created and then stored centrally where the customer can download them, or created directly onto the customer’s library system.

To further consolidate the partnership, CAVAL's language experts have been able to transliterate non-Roman materials for entry on to the FLB database, and to assist with buying trips.


Spine labels, barcodes, security tags, stitching, book pockets, covering, and stamping are just some of the end-processing options offered by CAVAL. Procedures are developed for each customer that define the formats for labels and the placement for stamps, labels, barcodes and security tags.

Pre-selected packages

Usually there are economies of scale when many libraries purchase the same titles. FLB and CAVAL have for some time offered pre-selected packages of 20 books per package, shelf ready – that is catalogued and processed to a basic level. These packages yield savings of 20% over purchases of individual titles because of single purchasing, single data entry, cataloguing and basic processing. Content is usually the most popular recent fiction and light non-fiction. These packages are particularly attractive to libraries with small groups of users in a particular language where the library does not wish to commit to a substantial collection.

Collection Evaluation

In the past few years, FLB's role as collection advisors has widened. Most clients have collections of materials acquired in several ways – donations, blanket orders and community overseas purchasing which have resulted in uncoordinated and patchy collections.

Collection experts at FLB have been able to advise libraries on the suitability of the content, quality of binding and print in relation to what is available in the country of origin. Suggestions of titles and categories of newer publications and current authors can rejuvenate the collection. A visit to the library, a meeting with the collection developers and a written report are usually sufficient for evaluation completion. This ensures that the collection will be representative of the best available.

Benefits to Libraries and their Communities

Many libraries with funds committed to the purchase of shelf-ready materials are finding that the exercise is efficient and cost-effective.

When library staff do not share that language it is difficult to provide an appropriate and community focussed collection of materials, especially to small language-groups. The costs and difficulties associated with providing representative materials for that group compared with the costs of providing English language materials often make it impossible to provide equitably. The provision of shelf-ready collections of current material catalogued and processed at a fair price is an attractive solution. This method allows a single library to provide multiple language collections for community groups of all sizes without the necessity of employing suitably qualified staff.

Case Study 1 - Brimbank

The City of Brimbank is situated in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne within one of Victoria's major growth corridors. The population is currently 166,802 (in June 2001) and increasing rapidly.

Brimbank Library & Information Service operates through six sites including four Branches, the Home library service and the Internet. The service provides information, recreational and educational resources including books, magazines, CD's, videos & CD-ROMs. The collection includes LOTE materials and two lending toy libraries.

There are 31 different language groups represented in the population mix of the Brimbank municipality. Of these 31, at present the library has LOTE holdings in 16 languages with the number of volumes held per language ranging from Ukrainian (7 volumes) to Chinese (3477 volumes). There are currently 36,761 LOTE items available and these make up 18% of the total items circulated, and 11% of total acquisitions (Holmes & Associates, 2000).

It is not possible for this Library to employ staff with proficiency in more than a few of these languages, so the acquisition of books ready for shelving – selected, catalogued and processed, is appealing and economical. Consequently Brimbank Library has utilised the FLB/CAVAL partnership for the provision of shelf-ready language materials.

Brimbank provides FLB with a profile of materials required. This profile details the languages, relative proportions of fiction/non-fiction/juvenile and non-book materials, dollar values, cataloguing levels, processing requirements, delivery requirements and delivery times. A brief summary of the readership of the particular language groups is included, for example housebound/elderly/recently arrived/print handicapped. This profile becomes the specification for matching against current stock and selection on buying trips.

Case Study 2 - LISWA

LISWA (the Library and Information Service of Western Australia) provides public library and reference services to the people of Western Australia.

Western Australia covers one-third of the Australian continent spanning over 2.5 million square kilometres (1 million square miles). Bordered largely by desert to the east, Western Australia is bound by 12,500 kilometres (7,813 miles) of coastline to the west.

Western Australia is a multicultural state with over 32% of its population born in countries other than Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics figures 1996-1997). Western Australia has a population of just under 2 million with Perth, the capital city of the State, having 1.38 million people.

LISWA holds more than 50,000 LOTE items (books, including large print, talking books/audiocassettes and videotapes) in 45 languages and makes them accessible through 235 public libraries throughout the State.

LISWA purchases multiple copies of books in the highest usage languages. The provision of these books ready to ship to the various branches reduces costs and waiting time as they arrive catalogued and processed. The FLB/CAVAL partnership has provided stock in more than 20 languages for circulation throughout the state.

The system of circulating collections is very efficient. It is recognised that these collections are very quickly “read-out”, and a constant stream of new materials has to be provided. The remote location of many of the branches suggests that there may be a higher ratio of volumes borrowed in those areas due to the lack of other ethnic community leisure activities.


The partnership of CAVAL and FLB is flourishing as it responds to the changing factors of community and funding issues. Libraries are discovering that their limited resources of skilled staff and funds can be stretched by employing the partnership to locate, select, catalogue, process and deliver LOTE materials. The communities served by the libraries have access to a range of materials in languages that suit their reading preferences and consequently the libraries become supporters of their total communities regardless of language.

The problems facing librarians in serving their multicultural communities are global. The FLB/CAVAL partnership offers the perfect solution. Libraries throughout the world are able to make inquiries and place orders of any size in up to 90 languages by phone, fax or e-mail to a single contact point and receive immediate confirmation.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 1996 census of population and housing. [accessed April 2002].

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) Regional Population Growth 2001. Canberra ; Australian Bureau of Statistics. Cat.No.3218.0.

City of Brimbank (2000). Annual Report 2000. [accessed April 2002].

Holmes & Associates (2000). Statewide LOTE Collections & Services Strategy 2000-2003. Melbourne : Holmes & Associates.

About the Authors

Sue Henczel is the Education and Business Development Manager at CAVAL Collaborative Solutions, a cooperative owned by nine Victorian universities and the State Library of Victoria in Australia. Sue was the initiator of the now very successful collaboration between Foreign Language Bookshop (FLB) and CAVAL.

Annette Monester has been Managing Director of Foreign Language Bookshop (FLB) the oldest and largest language booksellers in the Southern Hemisphere for the past 26 years. Annette has been involved with library promotion committees, ethnic community groups, bookseller associations and schools for 20 years. She has also acted as consultant to US and British publishers planning to produce new series of books or to extend their range of language teaching materials.