Reviving a Revolution: Exploring Newspapers at the Slavic Research Lab

Zohra Saulat with her poster at BOBCATSSS 2018

By Zohra Saulat

When I decided to pursue librarianship, I did not imagine that it would take me across the world. Just a few short weeks ago I had the opportunity to present one of my projects in Riga, Latvia for the 2018 BOBCATSSS symposium. Not only was this my first ever library conference, but this was the first time I traveled to Europe. The experience itself was exciting, but I was also thrilled to share my project, which had its start on campus at the International and Area Studies Library.

The exhibit about the Russian Revolution was on display in the main library for the month of September 2017.



This past summer, I assisted with IAS’ Slavic Summer Research Laboratory (SRL). Since 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Revolution, one of my duties to was to help create a banner that would accompany a library exhibit commemorating the historical event. The library exhibit featured memoirs and artifacts from the library’s Slavic collection as well as from the University Archives. My specific task was to survey how historical English language newspapers around the world were reporting on the events of the Russian Revolution. I used both microfilm copies as well as digitized newspapers.


Screenshot of a Daily Illini article about a Russian chemist

Using the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, I started local and looked to see if the Daily Illini was reporting on the Revolution in 1917. I was pleased to find a few articles that featured the Russian Revolution. One was of Illinois faculty member Dr. Simon Litman giving a series of lectures. Another was of a student, who was also a refugee from Russia, as well as a library worker, who also gave a talk on the events of the revolution. Another was a brief feature on a female Russian chemist who was continuing her studies on campus since all universities in Russia were closed at the time of the Revolution.

I further expanded my search to American newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune as well as international newspapers Sunday Times of London, Times of India, and the North China Herald.  It was especially interesting to see how oppressed groups were reporting on this particular Revolution. In all the newspapers I examined,I realized that there seemed to be a lot of information circulating regarding the Russian Revolution. There was indeed a lot of buzz as well as philosophical musings, but I noticed there was also a trend of rectifying supposed misinformation. Take the highlighted Daily Illini newspaper articles as examples. The events on campus were designed to refute certain information and present what the revolution was supposedly really like. This makes sense; In a time of war and political upheaval especially, not only is there information overload, but also misinformation.

Screenshot of a Daily Illini article about Dr. Simon Litman

Newspapers provide a fascinating historical insight. In 2018, whether a news article or a tweet (presidential or personal), a lot of information is found and preserved online. But 100 years ago, newspapers were the go-to for current information. If you are interested, be sure to check out the library guide on using newspapers as primary sources, also listed at the end of this post.

As someone who studied history in undergrad, I naturally enjoyed the nature of this project. But my favorite aspect was seeing its progression: that is,  the process from start to finish, and the collaboration with a variety of experts and specialized departments to put together an exhibit for public consumption. These resources –  whether digitized online or preserved as physical copies – are waiting to see the light of day once again. Libraries contain such valuable information. Often it takes the conscious efforts of a team of librarians and archivists to revive a revolution. I may be a little biased, but libraries truly are remarkable.

Zohra presenting her poster on-stage at BOBCATSSS 2018


Zohra Saulat
Graduate Assistant | Undergraduate Library
MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Conference Travel: BOBCATSSS 2018 and the Latvia National Library

Photo by Indriķis Stūrmanis, courtesy of

From Wednesday, January 24 to Friday, January 26, I attended the BOBCATSSS 2018 conference in Riga, Latvia. BOBCATSSS is an acronym that stands for the cities of the universities that initiated the first conference in 1993: Budapest, Oslo, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tampere, Stuttgart, Szombathely and Sheffield. Since that first year, this international library and information science conference has been held in cities all over Europe.

This year’s conference theme was “The Power of Reading,” and presenters shared their research on the social, cultural, educational, and linguistic powers accessed through reading, as well as how libraries can conceptualize their relationship with reading in the 21st-century. Poster, paper, and workshop topics included usability testing, digital resources, big data, virtual reality, reader’s advisory, and more. This conference brought together information science professionals and students from a variety of countries to discuss these issues both locally and globally, and to learn from each other’s practices. UIUC MSLIS student Lisa Morrison won the best paper award for her and iSchool Associate Professor Terry L. Weech’s paper “Reading Data – The Missing Literacy from LIS Education.” This post from the iSchool lists the names and projects of the other UIUC presenters.

Photo taken by me – outside of the National Library

The first day of the conference was hosted at the National Library of Latvia, which opened its new building recently in 2014. Nicknamed the Castle of Light, the library sits on the south side of Riga’s Daugava River, and its 12 floors are visible to the rest of the city. The collection houses more than 4 million items and access to a variety of reading rooms, technologies, and exhibits.

Photo taken by me – the People’s Bookshelf


The focal point of the building is the People’s Bookshelf, which occupies five stories of a wall visible throughout the library. Each book on the shelf has been donated to the library with a written message or personal story on its title page. More than 5,000 books currently sit on the shelves, but the library hopes to fill it to 15,000 by the time of the library’s 100th anniversary in 2019. The library states on its website that:

“We want the library to have a special place, created by people themselves. Consequently, it is important that each book has its own story about the history of an individual – a story whose like can’t be found in an encyclopaedia or novel. About the everyday, fortune, feelings or beliefs. About what would otherwise be lost in the passage of time.”

UIUC students at the conference – photo from Zohra Saulat

In addition to providing an opportunity for professional development, attending an international conference is a chance to step outside of your local sphere and participate in global conversations. Libraries all over the world each have unique challenges and victories, but also some that are universal. As we all strive to improve our services and resources, it is invaluable to see what our peers are doing and to learn from their research and knowledge, as well as to celebrate in their institutions.

For students interested in presenting at conferences, whether local, national, or international, the University provides useful resources:

Undergraduate Conferences – the Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research compiles a list of professional conferences that accept undergraduate presentations.

Posters – the Scholarly Commons has a detailed LibGuide about how to design, print, and present research posters and a LibGuide about presentation skills.

Printing – Posters can be printed through Document Services.

Funding – Graduate students can talk to their departments to apply for travel grants through the Graduate College:

Additional References:

Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Walk of Faith: Camino de Santiago, Spain

Before beginning this alluring journey to walk on the sacred path towards God, I had various concerns regarding how the journey would be like? Being a solo traveler, what kind of people would I meet? With just a handful of words from Spanish vocabulary, how would I communicate with the local community? Even though I expected my whole journey to unravel beautifully at different instances, I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions. After finishing my journey, I can positively say that it has been one of the best trips I have had so far, and, one day, I am definitely going back to walk on the path of Camino de Santiago again.

El Camino de Santiago, in English is called ‘The Way of St. James’. It is a 100-year-old ritual. It is believed that the body of St. James, the Apostle was discovered by a shepherd in a field in Galicia in 9th century. The name of the route comes from the St. James’ name Camino de Santiago meaning Walk of St. James.

My curiosity to explore the journey began with my research on the walking pilgrimages of India. After studying the sacred landscapes in India, I wanted to experience Western pilgrimages, specifically Europe and build a study of contrast and similarities between the pilgrimages of both the continents. Camino de Santiago was on the top of my list because of its worldwide popularity and enriching walking experiences as described by pilgrims.

I attempted to walk the last 120 kms of the pilgrimage, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. I reached Santiago by a flight and then took a bus that took about 4 hours to reach Sarria. It is a picturesque village in the arms of Galician mountain range. I stayed at a small Albergue that was 5 min walk from the Cathedral. After lunch and a stroll in the village square, I decided to attend the evening mass in the cathedral. The whole mass was in Spanish and everyone around me in the Cathedral seemed to be in their 40s-50s. Though I don’t understand Spanish at all except “Hola!” and “Gracias!”, it was quite captivating and the aura of the place felt quite spiritual. My objective was also to talk to as many people as I could and learn about their journey, intentions of this pilgrimage and how did walking through these sacred landscapes evolve and affect them. I met a 25 year old man from France, named Florlan Ernesto, who had begun from France and been walking for 10 days to reach Santiago. He mentioned that this was his second time coming for this journey and that he was quite close to his deceased mother who had been doing it for about 50 years. He wanted to continue her tradition as a legacy and thus had started to walk on the pilgrimage a year ago. He also was a godfather to his son’s daughter and wanted to pray for her well-being that had inspired him to walk on this journey.

The next day, I stepped out of the Albergue with confusions as to how to move forward in the journey. The warden of the Albergue told me that the yellow arrows, scallop shell and a couple of other symbols mark the clear legibility on the way and GPS or any map is not required to reach the next destination which was a village named Portomarin. The scenic path towards Portomarin was through a dense forest, rolling grasslands with beautiful mountains around and meandering roads. I met a German woman, Wiebke, who must have been in her early forties. After introducing myself, I couldn’t stop myself but ask her about her reasons for doing the walk. She mentioned that her friend had done it a couple of years ago on the route that goes right outside her house in her hometown. She had seen the movie “The Way” and was also reading about personal experience of a man who had done the walk. This all inspired her a great deal that motivated her to give it a try. She had a family in Germany but she decided to walk by herself. She was a lovely companion. The journey was also made interesting by a group of young Spanish men I came across while walking, and who were singing lovely Spanish songs.

Portomarin is a beautiful village on a hill near the river Minho, 15 miles from Sarria. After walking for 15 miles, I was exhausted and drained with energy but the approaching view of Portomarin was profound. I met a Chinese girl in the Albergue who told me she had a few days off from work and this walk sounded adventurous to her that’s why she had been walking for 15 days and had planned to walk even further for 20 days. She wasn’t religious or soul searching, this was just a fun trip to her. A quick lunch and short nap later, I went to explore the village. It had an interesting spatial design with a big open square in the center and the cathedral, shops and restaurants around the square. The topography was a little steep with streets going up the hill towards the square.

Departing from Portomarin next morning, I began walking towards Palas de Rei, my next destination for the journey. This time, the route led me towards hill top and the view from there was breathtaking. The hill top was surrounded by open tracts of grasslands, trees and other hills with patchy farmlands and clusters of settlement at places. I could gaze at the view for hours if I stayed. Halfway through my destination, I was reunited with Wiebke, the German woman. That’s the remarkable thing about this journey. You see the same faces, who you started the walk with, at different instances of the walk. Apart from the signage that make one feel associated with the feeling of a pilgrim, the wish “Buen Camino” becomes a delightful tradition that you follow whenever you pass a pilgrim/pilgrims on the way.


Palas de Rei was a bigger town than the previous two. The evening mass at the cathedral used to be the perfect way to end the day even though I didn’t understand what they said in the mass. I would always see lot of familiar faces showing up at the mass and it became an important pilgrim ritual for me. The next day, I left for Melide that was 12 miles from Palas de Rei. This part of the walk was mostly thorugh forests and farms. Even if I would walk alone, I never felt lonely or vulnerable in my pilgrimage. Beautiful rolling landscapes and Spanish villages felt safe.

Melide was more developed and bigger than all the previous ones. The streets were busier, there were more shops, restaurants, café and a commercial center. There were local markets and streetside vendors for clothes, food, shoes etc. that made the local galician ambience more vivid. I met two Spanish girls in the Albergue as we shared a room. They had come from Seville to walk the last 100 kms as they had graduated and wished to get a job. Through walking, they believed that they are paying respect to God who would fulfil their wish. One of them translated the evening mass for me in the Cathedral. The priest praised the pilgrims and congratulated on their journey so far. He said with each step, we were reaching closer to God. The small town square was enlivened after the mass with restaurants and coffee shops with pilgrims dispersed and explored their options.

The next destination was Arzua. What was surprising about one of the bars on the way was it had a slot machine. After reaching Arzua, I explored the town and local food, highlight of which was spicy fried green chillies. The next morning, I began walking towards Amenal. With reaching closer to Santiago each day, my curiosity was increasing to see the final destination. The spatrial fabric of the landscapes was slowly transitioning into more urban from country as the walking paths became wider, even the ones next to highways. Amenal wasn’t really a village but an extremely small settlement with a hotel for pilgrims to stay at.


The final day of my journey towards Santiago was very exciting. I reached a hill while walking from the top of which I could see Santiago de Compostela. Each walking step towards the city was pumping energy into me and my enthusiasm levels were at its best. My arrival was anounced by decorative boards along the roadside that were decorated by embellishments from pilgrims. After reaching the town square, I made my way towards the cathedral through through fervent crowd in the narrow streets. The first sight of the Cathedral was eternal. Beautiful scupltures carved all over on the walls described the story of years and years of pilgrimage the cathedral has witnessed and it stood as a palimpsest of built material and pilgrims’ emotions. The inside was equally beautiful. Main chamber was adorned with glitterinmg gold sculptures of Jesus, angels and other saints. The whole aura was quite heavenly. The evening mass was in Spanish and I could ony understand a handful of words but it still gave me goosebumps and I felt proud as a pilgrim. After collecting my certificate of pilgrimage, I started exploring the town that felt as if it belonged to a different era, with talented musicians giving a wonderful background score on the streets, local ice cream shops and restaurants with authentic flavors and a charming pink sunset sky. I felt light as air, melting slowly in the cool winds, absorbing my journey into my soul.



Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign



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Attendees Reflect on TRCCS Opening

Pop-ups and other unique books from Taiwan will be on display through December.

On November 14, 2017, the International and Area Studies Library opened the Taiwan Resource Center for Chinese Studies (TRCCS), with support and material donations from the National Central Library (NCL) of Taiwan. The ongoing collection will include more than 800 contemporary publications from Taiwan, which are available for checkout. The exhibit, which features rare items from the NCL about the history of books and book-making, will be on display through December in the International and Area Studies Library. The opening ceremony included a signing of cooperation agreements, book donation exchange ceremonies, and a lecture from Professor Kai-Wing Chow titled “Printing Technology, Book Culture, and the World of Print in Imperial China.”

Students and faculty reflected on the opening ceremony and on the value they see in the TRCCS:

Representatives from the National Central Library of Taiwan visited IAS to open the TRCCS.

Kezhen Zhang, a student worker in the International and Area Studies Library who graduated from the iSchool in August with a concentration in special collections and archives, both attended the event and helped to coordinate it. She said:

“I was pleased to be an assistant for the TRCCS opening ceremony. During the preparing time prior to the event day, I established a TRCCS page on the Library’s website,  where I added an introduction to TRCCS and the exhibit, and information about the event as well. I also designed a poster for the hallway. When preparing this event, I not only got chance practice various tools, such as WordPress, Adobe Photoshop, and MS Publisher, but I also collaborated with other members in our division. On the event day, I played an administrative role. I loved the atmosphere of collaboration while everyone was trying to make the event great! I was also glad to meet members of the National Central Library of Taiwan, and I appreciated seeing their efforts for a partnership with our library.”

The National Central Library of Taiwan provided more than 800 books for the TRCCS.

Bonnie Mak is an associate professor, with joint appointments in the School of Information Sciences and the Program in Medieval Studies. She teaches courses in the history and future of the book, reading practices, and knowledge production. Her first book, How the Page Matters (2011), examines the interface of the page as it is developed across time, geographies, and technologies. Mak said of the TRCCS event:

“By examining the history of printing from a global perspective, Prof. Chow immediately exposes assumptions around the so-called ‘print revolution’ of the West that is said to have precipitated major social and political change in the 15th century. He usefully reminds us that moveable type was being used in Asia by at least the 12th century — 300 years before its adoption in Europe — and operated in conjunction with the traditions of woodblock printing and handwriting as means of graphic communication. The continued co-existence of all these techniques is worthy of further investigation, and Prof. Chow invites us to consider under what circumstances one might have been preferred over another.”

The TRCCS will be ongoing in the International and Area Studies Library, room 309, but the rare book exhibit will only be available until the end of December. This includes an interactive stamping display, where you can create a layered stamp card to take home. Stop by the IASL to see the exhibit while you can!

Room 309 of the Main Library is now the Taiwan Resource Center for Chinese Studies.

Visit the IAS Facebook page for more photos from the event.






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