Have you ever had a patron send a request via email that came through looking like this:
This is Cyrillic text that needs decoding. One online tool that has been fairly successful is
This tool can make errors but in general it is a really good way to solve what seems to be an intractable problem.
In Russia and Eastern Europe, orthographic changes have been happening for centuries, with varying effects on access. "What difference does it make?", you might ask. "Isn't everything converted to the modern spelling?" In a world of full-text searching, with less than perfect interfaces, it is useful to at least be aware that you may not find the item because of changes in the orthography. We have heard many times from scholars: "Oh, I thought this wasn't available in the U.S." This is usually because they did not search in different spellings.
The Russian Cyrillic alphabet, introduced in the mid-eighteenth century, saw some revision in 1917-1918. At that time, certain letters were determined to be redundant and were eliminated from usage. These letters were:
Ѣ ѣ - transliterated as i︠e︡ ("ie" with ligatures on top)
I i - transliterated as ī ("i" with line on top)
Ѳ ѳ - transliterated as f
Ѵ ѵ - transliterated as i
Certain endings having to do with feminine vs. masculine nouns and grammatical cases were also abolished or changed at this time. Practically speaking, what this means is, if you have a Russian title that was published before 1917, then alternate spellings are possible. Depending on the capabilities of your catalog or search engine, some of them can be retrieved by the judicious use of truncation or wild-card characters.
Common examples are:
Izvestiia => Izviestiia
Vedomosti => Viedomosti
Below are listed the various forms for a Russian pre-revolutionary title.
The first two entries show the two variant spellings in Russian. The first is the pre-revolutionary spelling, the second the modern or post-1917 spelling. You can see that the final characters of the first two words are different in the old and new orthography.
1. Московскія церковныя вѣдомости / Moscow ecclesiastical news (pre-1918 & émigré Russian orthography, as it actually appeared in the vernacular)
2. Московские церковные ведомости (post-1918 Russian orthography, commonly found in post-1918 footnotes)
Now two romanizations found in U.S. catalogs. These are the LC transliterations for the pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary spellings. Here again the spellings are very different. This is a fairly generic title and was used both before the revolution and after the fall of the Soviet Union.
3. Moskovskīia tserkovnyia viedomosti (ALA-Library of Congress transliteration of #1)
4. Moskovskie tserkovnye vedomosti (ALA-Library of Congress transliteration of #2)
Below, German transliterations for the title.
5. Moskovskija cerkovnyja vjedomosti (DIN transliteration of #1--this system is commonly used in Germany)
6. Moskovskie cerkovnye vedomosti (DIN transliteration of #2)
The East European countries who have heavily collected Russian materials use yet another transliteration system as you can see here.
7. Moskovskìâ cerkovnyâ vědomosti (ISO transliteration of #1--this system is commonly used in E. Europe)
8. Moskovskie cerkovnye vedomosti (ISO transliteration of #2)
Should you be responsible for knowing all these? Not necessarily. It depends on your individual ILL unit and its search protocols. But knowing all these possibilities exist can alert you that your patron may need to talk to someone with linguistic expertise that can help him/her locate the title they are seeking. As most librarians know, scholars will frequently give up if the search strategy they try fails. They are unaware of the complexities of the catalogs when it comes to transliteration or have not worked with foreign catalogs before.