A long way towards and with AGRIS and AGROVOC. Interview with Tatiana Deribon: AGROVOC Editor in Ukraine

AIMS:  Tatiana, the AGROVOC Team knows you as the Ukrainian Translator of the FAO’s multilingual AGROVOC thesaurus. Could you tell us how did you come to this highly-skilled translation work that requires an encyclopedic and cross-domain knowledge?

Tatiana Deribon (T.D.):  It is a great privilege for me to speak here today for AIMS; many thanks for your invitation to this interview! To answer your question, I have to overturn some recollections; for me it was “a long way to Tipperary”! My knowledge of the FAO’s AGRIS system and all related FAO’s products, - including the AGROVOC thesaurus (which have evolved much over the years!), - was preceded by a series of indicative events as a remarkable chain of regularities and eventualities.

In retrospect, 1976 looks for me like a pivotal year, “My way” in Life Sciences, in the best sense: I graduated from the Biological Faculty of the National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv, specialized as a Biologist/Biochemist/Translator of scientific literature (Life Sciences). Soon thereafter I joined the Plant Biochemistry Department at the Institute of Plant Physiology and Genetics (of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, NASU), where I had conducted my research on potato protein (tuberin) as part of my graduation thesis.

After graduation, I spent my time in the laboratories, working with chemicals. During that time I extended my knowledge of a number of laboratory methods (one that stayed in my memory is the “Kjeldahl’s”). Yet at the time I was thinking that I need another kind of occupation, it should be more theoretical, as I got accustomed to deal with information and, didn’t see the trees for the forest”.  

One morning, “that wonderful morning in May”, walking down the wide Institute’s corridors, I met Dr. Polina Mishustina, one of the honoured researchers of that institution, who dedicated her life to research in the field of physiology and worked there for many years and had many published scientific works. I had been introduced to her much earlier, so she knew me well. In response to my greetings she asked me: “How are you doing, Tatiana?” Having listened to my plans for the future, she said: “You know, there is a research associate vacancy in UkrINTEI (Ukrainian Institute of Scientific-Technical Expertise and Information), they are looking for a person with good command of the English language, just go and talk to them. I’m sure that job is for you!” This is how I left my research at the Institute, and "moved ahead to new horizons", to be exact, to the aforementioned UkrINTEI.

AIMS:  Could you tell us more about your work in UkrINTEI, and how did it led you to work with AGROVOC?  

T.D.:  In UkrINTEI, I joined the Department of Analysis of Agricultural Information, Sector of Agriculture, as a Junior Research Associate. I still think that it was a unique division with about 50 agricultural information specialists, divided into six groups, arranged thematically according to the main agricultural fields, headed by experts with Ph.D. in Agriculture. Each Research Associate had his/her lines of research, studied them, formulated topical subjects and prepared specific types of information materials purposed for either decision-makers in governing bodies (ministries and state departments) or those who are involved into agricultural practice (then collective and state farms specialists). Those types of users, it’s clear, differed fundamentally from each other.  A typical towns girl, I even did not know why, was lucky to experience a “deep dive” into the vortex of agricultural information and it was true!

Well, my lines of research were: weeds, their control by different methods (agrotechnical, biological and chemical, i.e. with herbicides) and herbology, in a certain period biological (biodynamic, organic etc.) agriculture and  environmental protection and other topics started to attract me. Of course, it made sense from the ecological point of view!

Our department was subscribed to many journals, both domestic and foreign, and we often visited the National Scientific Agricultural Library (NNSHB) of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine (NAAN) and other scientific libraries to find the necessary information for preparation of needed analytical documents.

During that time (the end of the 70-ies), I translated a lot for Life Science domain for my work. In the 80s and early 90s my work passed in agricultural scientific literature reviews, as well as statistical materials, mainly those of the FAO of the UN by countries, were used to prepare analytical notes for Ukraine’s governing bodies (Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, Ministry of Economy) as well as research institutes, educational establishments.

The 90s were the years of new initiatives in independent Ukraine. While working in UkrINTEI, I was lucky to be invited to take part in different agriculture-related projects. Thus, in 1996 I worked part-time in the Municipal Enterprise Kyivvodokanal, supporting their search of new no-digging methods for renewal of water-supply pipes by translating different catalogues on that matter. I also worked part-time in the Ukrainian State Seed Inspectorate as a translator/interpreter for more than 10 years since 1999 and thus came ever closer to another kind of special terminology. I myself translated the Inspectorate’s main document ISTA Rules, on the basis of which seed-testing laboratories function and keep all their correspondence with numerous foreign colleagues.  

In the 2000s, having finished my training course “Organization and Management in Seed Systems” (as a grant from the InWent Capacity Building International, Germany) I attended a number of annual meetings, for example the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) (Bologna, Italy, 2008) and the Seed Schemes of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (preceeded by Ukraine’s admittance thereto in the early year 2010, to which I contributed by my translations) (Christchurch, New Zealand, the same year). In the early 2000s the project on bibliographic description of patent applications was started, a group of translators, me included, was involved therein and it lasted for 12 years!

Besides, the All-Ukrainian Ecological League proceeded with publishing the “Ecology Abstract Journal”, and I was invited to translate on environmental topics and the project lasted the years 2004-2010. All these years-long events in my professional life can be named “intensive English language courses”!

Another exciting experience on how I applied my knowledge in the field was that I started (in 1995) to translate scientific materials (according to AGRIS requirements) that, thereafter, were assigned AGROVOC descriptors and added to the AGRIS database. Through the years, I remained motivated a lot by contributing in these activities, to help keeping updated the Ukrainian AGROVOC version in the international AGRIS network!

AIMS:  Can you tell us shortly how your institution was admitted to the AGRIS system and in which way you mastered AGRIS input preparation?

T.D.:  When Ms. Blanka Bajankova (at the time the Slovak AGRIS/CARIS Centre manager) visited UkrINTEI in 1993, she conducted a workshop on the AGRIS database. By April 1995, all the necessary measures were taken and Ukraine was admitted to the international AGRIS-FAO network. Here I should thank Dr. Anton Mangstl, at the time the Director of the Central Archive of Documents and Information on Agriculture (ZADI, Bonn, Germany), then the Director of the Library and Information Systems Division at FAO and Mr. Michal Demes, at the time the Director of the Institute of Scientific-Technical Information for Agriculture in Nitra (Slovakia), then FAO’s Information officer, and, of course, on the part of Ukraine, UkrINTEI’s directors Dr. Mykola Yermoshenko (1989-1997) and Dr. Volodymyr Parkhomenko (1997-2007), with the latter in the late 90s UkrINTEI became the main institute of scientific-technical information in Ukraine, and Ms. Galina Khurmanets, then UkrINTEI’s Head of the Dept. of Analysis of Agricultural Information (1990-1997) for their contribution in establishing the AGRIS system and AGRIS/CARIS Centre (National AGRIS Resource Centre) in Ukraine!

Already in October 1995, Ms. Helga Schmid, Head of the AGRIS Processing Unit (APU) at the IAEA of the UN in Vienna, delivered two AGRIS workshops in Ukraine on the special software AGRIN and CARIN and details of AGRIS information input. During these workshops, many Ukrainian specialists from different research institutes and higher educational establishments got also acquainted with AGROVOC, its purposes, hierarchical relations between its terms, and were made aware of the necessity of use of AGROVOC descriptors while describing agricultural information sources.

Thereafter, the UkrINTEI’s Centre of Information Resources provided me with a personal computer and I proceeded with AGRIS input preparation. After visiting the aforementioned APU at the IAEA of the UN in Vienna in May 1996, my firmness in preparing AGRIS inputs raised significantly. And, of course, special attention was paid to assigning AGROVOC descriptors! Soon after I was designated both as a senior research associate and the national AGRIS-FAO coordinator!

Over the last years I managed to use FAO’s aforementioned software, purposed for AGRIS input preparation, and, as time passes along, WebAGRIS and the last tool AgriMetaMaker.

Of course, then and at present, many kinds of software are developed and proposed but I recollect the words of Mr. Vladimir Golubev, the former director of the Belarus Agricultural Library, who told at one of the consequent AGRIS meetings that “the use of the same software ensures uniformity of information processing and easier access thereto”.

AIMS: Could you please also tell us how do you organize your work to proceed with AGROVOC translation in Ukrainian?

T.D.:  To be “on the top of the wave”, I am always keen of reading all AIMS resources, including AIMS Newsletters, as well as all FAO’s news about AGROVOC-based semantics products and services.

My motivation to keep AGROVOC translated into Ukrainian is also due to the fact, that I see it as a crucial tool for Ukrainian producers of monographies, scientific journals, collections of scientific articles, patents, theses and so-called “grey literature” to make their research results more visible online on the international level!

Though, it is pity to say, that there is still a plenty of agricultural research outputs in Ukraine that are not catalogues with AGROVOC descriptors and categories, neither with English abstracts ... Said that, it would be great that the use of AGROVOC - as a valuable multilingual semantic product - spreads across Ukrainian research environments on support of indexing of agricultural and related scientific outputs.

Besides my professional dedication to AGROVOC/AGRIS, also my understanding of all present obstacles motivate me even more to proceed with translation of the AGROVOC thesaurus into the Ukrainian language.

Even if this is “a little drop in the ocean”, through my translation work, AGROVOC remains updated (also in Ukraine!), gains richer language features, and consequently, serving as a source of Ukrainian language descriptors, it makes it possible to find Ukraine’s results of research, which are absent in the AGRIS database, on the Internet for users from all corners of the world!

In 2008-2009 I translated AGROVOC in the free format. It was a kind of preliminary activities, but then – from 2011-2012 – after I mastered Vocbench (thanks to FAO’s Ms. Gudrun Johannsen who provided me that time with all the necessary settings), I keep contributing with my translations through this online editor tool.

I should say, that even though there are no sophisticated approaches to AGROVOC translation in my case (unfortunately, right now – there are no projects, no group of experts, although, I recognize, it is very important, to push AGROVOC promotion in Ukraine), and although I translate AGROVOC alone on a volunteer basis, I use all possible authoritative knowledge resources, including electronic dictionaries, my own collection of various paper dictionaries and reference books as well as Internet publications.

The Ukrainian Wikipedia also contains a lot of useful reliable data (entered by Ukrainian research institutes of different profiles), say, on plant and animal classification that I find really of great use! Of course, my knowledge gained by means of my “backbreaking” translation work and professional intuition helps me a lot. Besides, if there are any doubts as to translation of certain terms, I always can discuss this matter with experts from agricultural Ukrainian research institutes and universities. By now, more than 3,000 AGROVOC concepts of 34,000 are already translated into Ukrainian.   

It has been a privilege to me to contribute to AGROVOC evolution through all these years and there is a great deal to do in the future!

AIMS:  Thank you so much, Tatiana, for taking your time and for sharing with us this interesting experience and, of course, for your professional dedication to keep Ukrainian translation of AGROVOC alive and updated in the evolving AGROVOC knowledge base!

T.D.:  Thank you again for the opportunity to speak and for your attention, and my best regards to the international AGROVOC and AGRIS communities!