Searching for and Finding Russian-Language Texts
Alphabets and Romanization
English is based on the Latin alphabet, while Russian is based on the Cyrillic alphabet. The website, Russian For Everyone, has made an informative page describing the basics of the Cyrillic alphabet in Russian language. For more information on the various forms that Latin alphabet has taken, the website How OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Works has an informative webpage.
Romanization is the term used to describe the conversion of non-Latin writing systems using Latin characters. Transliteration is formally a subset of romanization, where non-Latin text is converted to Latin text. The titles of most Russian-language publications in library catalogs are transliterated to allow someone familiar with reading English to re-create the Russian sounds of the title from their knowledge of written English. There also exists transcription, which converts sounds, such as recorded speech, to Latin text.
There are several methods to romanize Russian; the most common transliterations you'll encounter in library catalogs are done using the ALA-LC (American Library Association - Library of Congress) system, although several methods, including Scholarly systems and several governmental systems (denoted by the acronym GOST) exist as well. As an example, the title of Dostoyevsky's "War and Peace" is written in Russian as "Война и Мир" and can be transliterated as "Vojna i Mir" using Scholarly transliteration, or "Voĭna i Mir" using ALA-LC transliteration.
Resources and Tips for Searching and Transliterating
Transliteration.com provides a tool that allows you to romanize Russian text, either pasted or typed into the box using the in-site Russian keyboard, using multiple transliteration systems. The default romanization system provided by the link is ALA-LC, but the drop-down box on the upper-right of the text input window allows you to select other options for romanization.
Many transliteration systems include diacritics to aid in pronouncing Cyrillic letters, and some letters, such as the soft and hard sign (Ь ь) and (Ъ ъ) are denoted by an apostrophe and a single quotation mark, respectively. When searching for Russian-language titles in the catalog, you will get the same results whether or not you apply diacritics, quotation marks and apostrophes. However, if your search does not match the text you seek letter-for-letter, the result will not show up. Therefore, if you are looking for a publication by title or author, trying a couple different transliteration systems may result in finding a text that seemed absent. When searching for Russian-language titles in the library catalog, you are advised to search for titles and authors using both Cyrillic and romanized writing, as not all titles have the Cyrillic text in their catalog page.
If you are used to romanizing Russian without the guidance of a system, it may be helpful to write down your transliteration system for the entire alphabet, and compare it to several official romanization systems. You may be surprised at which letters can be written multiple ways.
If you utilize the HatiTrust full-text search function in a Russian-language text, only search using Cyrillic Russian. Romanized Russian and English word searches will not yield results, as on HatiTrust, texts are offered in the original language without translation or transliteration.
A Note about Declension
Declension is a linguistic term which refers to changing the spelling and pronunciation of a word due to the surrounding context of the sentence. Unlike conjugation, declension works with nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and determiners. In contrast, only verbs are conjugated. When searching the catalog for Russian-language titles, be particularly mindful of declension of author names, subject matters, or any other Russian-languge keywords that you are relying on to conduct your search.
Russian has six cases, or rules by which nouns are modified using declension. Declension will be observed in the final letters of the word, and will indicate the relationship of the word to the other subjects and conditions described in the sentence. In Russian, declension is called sklonenie and the six cases are called padezhy.
If you're looking at a sentence and trying to figure out case a noun is in, MasterRussian.com has a page describing how to identify case based on context.
If you have a noun that you want to revert to "dictionary form" (the nominative case), Learn Russian Step by Step has a series of tables that can help you find out how to change the spelling of your noun as case changes. This table is a useful resource for using HatiTrust's in-text search; inputting your Russian-language keywords in all six cases will broaden your results.