Library visit: European Commission – Directorate-General for Translation

The library staff recently attended an edifying presentation given by the Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) library team in the Commission. It was initially conducted by their knowledge management team, a relatively new unit. They identify, capture, share, store and (re-) use knowledge through a variety of methods which they shared with us. They’ve identified two different types of knowledge to be harvested: explicit knowledge (public, documented and fixed) and tacit knowledge (personal, experience-based). They recognize the importance of preserving knowledge and are deeply committed to upholding this ideal. For instance, when a colleague retires, it is imperative that they have preserved the knowledge in some form. The translation service of the Commission is huge, with over 2500 translators and support staff split evenly between Brussels and Luxembourg, and the knowledge management team is dedicated to improving the working life of each and every one of their staff members.

  • access the European Commission – Directorate-General for Translation website

One of their proudest achievements are the info sessions that they co-ordinate between policy Directorate-Generals and the translation service. In these sessions, there are presentations given by experts from the policy field and the translators prepare terminology questions in advance. The benefits are twofold, the translators get more precise terminology and the policy-makers are more attuned to the linguistic nuance of translation. They’ve also created thematic communities of translators who work on the same type of text, for example Energy, in order to widen and deepen the knowledge base. Also, when someone is professionally trained, at a university seminar for example, when they return to work they must teach a class on the topic for other colleagues.

These sort of practices save time and effort for individuals in an organization, and on the organisation’s side, it avoids the duplication of work and increases the productivity and the quality of the work. They even make sure to bridge the digital divide by training older colleagues in IT, and pairing them with more computer-literate colleagues. This is indicative of a general shift within libraries as physical books and tools are being replaced by digital resources. Nowadays, since there is less books bought, cataloguers are being used less and less. The knowledge management team capitalized on this and put the cataloguers to work on indexing their new search tool, called Sophia, in order to make it as effective as possible.

The discussions then shifted from these ambitious projects into territory that is smaller but no less vital for DGT, the day to day management of the library. Unlike our own library, they avoid e-books because of their technical complexity and the fact that Adobe does not work on Commission computers. However, their e-resources are considered essential as they are besieged by a flood of e-mails as soon as anything goes down. Notably, teleworkers have the exact same access to e-resources as people in-house. One team of the library deals with customers in the Commission while another deals with acquisitions and publishers. All French, English and German dictionaries, the working languages of the Commission, have been made available to all employees in the Commission. Their focus, like our own language library, is to serve the translators in the most efficient and effective manner, and they seem to be achieving that brilliantly.

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