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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Latin America: The most dangerous place to be a woman

Nabila Riffo is a Chilean woman who barely survived after her former partner took her eyes off, battered her, and left her moribund on the pavement. Lucia was 16 years old when she died after being drugged, raped, and impaled in Mar del Plata city, Argentina. Between 2013 and 2016, in El Salvador, 90 percent of cases of rape to girls 15 years-old or under have resulted unpunished; Indeed, judges have considered the victim “seemed a grown-up woman”, have “recognized” the rapist embraced good intentions, and they have even encouraged marriage between offender and victim. Florencia was 9 years old when her step-father locked her in the woodshed, burned her up, and buried her. Yuliana was 8 years old when a wealthy architect abducted her, drove her to his apartment, and killed her by suffocating. Since the early 1990s, around the Mexico-U.S. border close to Ciudad Juarez, hundreds and hundreds of teenagers and young women have been kidnapped and killed. Just a few of their corpses have been found in the desert surrounding the city. Many of them have died as a result of grotesque and sexualized torture and most of the cases are still unsolved due to a pervasive impunity. There are countless likely cases of Latin American women brutally raped, battered, and killed by their partners or by other relatives.

All these women dead by gender-based murders suffered a post-mortem humiliation; Authorities, criminal systems’ officials, judges, and media have portrayed them as irresponsible, sexually provocative, or risk-taking individuals by circulating through dangerous public spaces or at night or by exposing themselves instead of focusing on the actual offenders. These past femicides – the killing of women based on their gender – have motivated public outrage, massive marches across Latin America, and several public campaigns oriented to trigger social awareness, expose pervasive machismo, violence, and discrimination against women, and advocating for legal protection.

The United Nations Development Programme released the report “From Commitment to Action: Policies to End Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” in November 2017.

In that vein, thousands and thousands of women marched and publicly manifested last November 25th in several Latin American cities on occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Indeed, sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage, honor killings, girls and women sexual slavery and trafficking are global

problems and an increasing number of women speaking out about their personal experiences of sexual harassment have been flooding into the U.S. media. Nonetheless, Latin America is the most dangerous continent to be a woman, as official U.N. statistics recently released demonstrate. Indeed, among the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are from Latin America and the Caribbean.


Latin American origins of the international day

In 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Resolution 54/134 designating November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in order to raise awareness that violence against women constitutes an obstacle to reach equality, development, and peace and that its persistence dramatically damages the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women. Nonetheless, the day’s history goes back in time: Assistants to the first Feminist Encounter of Latin America and the Caribbean celebrated in Bogota, Colombia, in July 1981, chose the date to commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters – Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa -, assassinated in 1960 by the Dominican secret police under Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship. Only one of the sisters has survived – Dedé.

This novel is available for checkout through the University Library.

The full recognition of the Mirabal sisters as political and feminist activists gained momentum as the dictator was killed and the political circumstances were little by little improving in República Dominicana to build a memory of the political resistance, as this article published by The New York Times in 1997 highlights. The Mirabal sisters’ story has been portrayed by Julia Alvarez in her novel The time of the butterflies, which reached global spread when it became a movie in the early 2000s starring Salma Hayek as Minerva Mirabal, Edward James Olmos as Trujillo, and the singer, Marc Anthony, as Minerva’s first boyfriend.

Awareness and outrage in Latin America

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women started in November 25th and lasted until December 10th. In these past days, thousands of women have marched in Buenos Aires and several other cities, in Argentina, a country where there have been 2,384 femicides in the last nine years, according to the NGO, Casa del Encuentro, a feminist organization specialized in registering these crimes. In Bolivia, official data show that during 2016, occurred 66 femicides and the police registered more than 30,000 reports of violence against women. Several feminists and LGBT organizations organized a march on November 24th in La Paz, demanding more safety, non-discriminatory policies, and and end to the violence against women and other people suffering different sexual violence, too. Meanwhile, several public buildings and iconic, tourist, attractions, such as the Cristo Redentor, in Brazil, were especially highlighted in orange as a way of warning about the fact that the country is among the top-five countries in the world with higher rates of violence against women and 1 woman is killed every two hours. In Chile, the Red Chilena contra la Violencia Hacia las Mujeres maintains a detailed register of femicides: Indeed, just in 2017 there have been 62 of those crimes, ten more than the femicides occurred in 2016 and the year is not even over. Several organizations and thousands of women have joined protests across the country claiming for stopping the violence against women and improving the general conditions

This book is available for checkout through the University Library.

of them, too. According to official data from the health and justice systems, in Colombia the number of cases of violence against women has increased between 2016 and 2017 and gender-based violence within the long-standing conflict in the country just makes things worse.

Most of the public manifestations and marches peacefully developed across the continent, except in Nicaragua, where the government restricted marches even by force, deploying the police. Indeed, the public manifestations protesting for gender-based violence in which millions of Latin American girls and women live have mushroomed in the last days. Sadly, these are not the first time: Triggered by several cases of femicides in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, or Peru, Latin American women have flooded their cities in the past years protesting for the increasing lack of security to enjoy freedom and basic human rights. They will probably do it again once the pervasive machismo and discrimination against women will trigger a man kills the next Nabila, Lucia, or Yuliana.

Further reading and resources

The Latin American & Caribbean studies library collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a wide range of material to better understand phenomena such as gender-based violence and violence in general in Latin America, the extent and specific features of feminist activism in the continent, and the complex interplays between feminist agendas and democracy in Latin American countries.

For instance, “Silence and complicity” is a documentary providing startling testimonies of women who were mistreated and sexually abused while seeking care in Peruvian public health facilities. The film was produced by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and the Flora Tristan Centre for Peruvian Women and released in 2000.

The documentary Hummingbird (2004) describes the efforts of two women to try to break the cycle of domestic violence in the city of Recife, in Brazil. The film follows the story of Adriana, a girl who left home at the age of six and had a daughter at age 11. After seeing the cycle that leads kids to the street, these women began addressing family issues at the root of the problem and working with both the mind and body to overcome their trauma.

In Haiti, the documentary Poto mitan gives the global economy a human face. Each woman’s personal story explains neoliberal globalization, how it is gendered, and how it impacts Haiti by telling the compelling lives of five Haitian women workers. The documentary offers in-depth understanding of Haiti, its women’s subjugation, worker exploitation, poverty, and resistance as part of global struggles.

For more information about gender in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Library, please contact Prof. Antonio Sotomayor, Librarian for Latin American and Caribbean Studies,, or visit the website at

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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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