A short conversation with Alejandro Garza from Tecnológico de Monterrey (itesm.mx) prompted a look at the design of library systems that handle multilingual collections and multilingual user populations. He writes in a post Creating a Multilingual OPAC
Do you have students that speak different languages (say spanish, german, english) visiting your Library? Do you offer an OPAC in different language? Do you do keep subject headings in different languages in your MARC records?
As we are trying to build a new OPAC based on Drupal, and our users are coming more and more from other countries, what should we do?
It turns out that as Drupal has some great functionality for multilingual content, as well as doing some of that for categories. You can set up "automatic" translation for certain phrases (you tell Drupal to, say, always translate the english phrase "Chemical Engineering" for the spanish equivalent "Ingeniería Química"), and it just goes and translates wherever there´s a complete phrase (and case-sensitive) match.
One way around this issue, at least from a display side, is to use an external translation system. The Ann Arbor District Library home page translated into Spanish by Google is probably not a shining gem of Spanish prose, but it allows some level of access to the collection in any of the languages that Google supports. You still have to know the English words to search.
A quick search turned up several more systems: the E-Cats Multilingual OPAC catalog from Japan searchable in Japanese and English; Ryukoku University with search in both Kanji and Pinyin for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English materials; a paper by W Schallier on a multilingual search at KU Leuven in Belgium.
The most thorough survey of multilingual web sites that appeared is this report on multilingualism from the Minerva project in Europe. I won't be spoiling it by saying that it's illustrated with this Bruegel painting of the Tower of Babel.