Saturday, June 8, 2013

Worry of the day

Did I go too far with this request for help?

Today a patron who I haven't met before came up to the desk. He is a local artist who is putting on a open house of his works and he had made a flyer to advertise it. It was more complicated than most documents like that because was a true advertisement rather than a what/when/where sort of flyer. The patron's problem was that he is a native Spanish speaker and his English isn't very good, so he wrote the text in Spanish and ran it through an online translator to get an English version, and the English version was terrible. I mean, truly terrible. It reminded me of those memes you see of English being used in East Asia, about on par with this. He asked if I, as an English speaker, could take a look at it and help him make some minor changes, but there was no way for the translation to be salvaged.

So I asked him to write out what he wanted to say in Spanish, and I translated it myself and then talked over my choices with him. It was only four or five sentences, so it only took a few minutes. As a reader (although not a speaker or listener) I am nearly fluent in Spanish, but I have no translation training at all. I did make that very clear, emphasizing that this was only one opinion, he should probably get at least one other person to look at it, I wasn't an expert, etc. etc.

I think I did a pretty good job with the translation and it wasn't too time-consuming, but there's a slippery slope argument about the library setting itself up as a translation service. I really don't know if I was providing good customer service or whether translation should be Not A Service We Provide.


  1. I think most reference-ish librarians have, at times, gone a bit too far in a good cause. I think you did the right thing and I also don't think it'll come back and bite you.

  2. This seems pretty reasonable to me. Maybe this is an area where you could set up some sort of personal policy even if the library doesn't have one. Seems like the big line you can draw is between translating for a patron's personal use and translating for something that will be used by a business or published. You could also draw the line at translating, say, more than 50 words.

  3. I have had students and profs expect me to translate things for them. Sometimes in my polite refusal I note that legal translators charge roughly $150 a page.