Staff Interview Series: Dmitry Tartakovsky

Today, as part of our ongoing staff interview series, I am pleased to introduce you all to Dmitry Tartakovsky, the South Slavic specialist in the International and Area Studies Library’s Slavic References Service. When I first began here at the International and Area Studies Library, I quickly realized how big and how busy the Slavic References Service was. I was immediately curious about the people working in the Slavic Reference Services and was happy to interview Dmitry so that I and the rest of the Glocal Notes community could get to know him.

Dmitry Tartakovsky, the South Slavic specialist at the International and Area Studies Library.

Could you tell me a bit about your background?

I was born in Kiev, now Ukraine but then the Soviet Union. My parents and I came to the U.S. as refugees in 1978. We spent the first year in Baltimore, the second in Chicago, and then moved to Skokie (outside Chicago) where I established some stability. After Niles North High School, I attended Bradley University in Peoria for my Bachelor’s, then Arizona State University for my Master’s and UIUC for my PhD. All of my degrees are in history.

What attracted you to librarianship?

When I started the history program here many years ago, I took an assistantship in Slavic cataloging at the Slavic Library, when it was managed by Bob Burger and employed dozens of people. I was trained by Ed Napier. Much later, when I was completing my PhD, there was a place for me as an academic hourly at the Slavic Reference Service working for Helen Sullivan. I enjoyed reference the most, because each query was like a puzzle, and completion was doubly satisfying because we would later usually receive grateful replies from our patrons.

What area did you decided to specialize in and why?

I was always fascinated with Russia and Eastern Europe because of roots my there. This is what led me to pursue history of the region, in order to understand where I came from and why I ended up here. It was natural that if I offered anything to library science it would be in this region since it is the region I know well culturally and linguistically.

How many languages can you speak and did you learn them as an adult?  

I am a fluent Russian speaker, which was my first language (I began learning English at age 8). As an adult I learned Macedonian, which I still speak well after living in Skopje for more than two years during the 1990s. I also learned Yiddish, which I needed for my dissertation research, and Romanian, for the same reason. I can speak some Yiddish, but my Romanian is mostly limited to reading and listening comprehension. I can get by in other south Slavic languages like Bulgarian and Serbian, but I have not really studied them formally.

What career advice would you give to someone who is interested in librarianship or someone who wants to specialize in your area of interest?  

Honestly this is a question I am not very qualified to answer, since I never planned to be a librarian and it happened to me accidentally. Also, it is also not likely to be a field I will remain in much longer. From what I have seen, it is important to acquire specialized skills while also being knowledgeable about different aspects of librarianship, including cataloging, reference, digitization, etc. As in any field, it is helpful to read what people are publishing in order to know where the field is headed. This will certainly aid in landing a job.

In terms of specialized regional knowledge, I would make sure I understand that this is no longer what moves the field, not like it did when I went to graduate school. It seems to me that librarianship is no longer as focused on area knowledge as before, rather technical knowledge is considered paramount. Nevertheless, if one is interested in being a Slavic area reference librarian, an area studies degree is very useful, and obviously language skills are central, so actually living in the region is very helpful in additional for formal language training.

What are your proudest accomplishments as a librarian?

I was able to do several things. I explained the importance of the work of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS) to an audience of State Department officials a couple of summers ago. I have been able to contribute to the collection of SRS online reference guides. I have helped hundreds of scholars and students of the region over the more than two years I’ve been here. I have also had the opportunity to teach three courses on the region for REEEC, the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center, with which our staff at the SRS works closely. Mostly, I have had the pleasure of working with some great librarians, including Helen Sullivan, Joe Lenkart, Jan Adamczyk, Larry Miller, and Ula Biegaj.

What is something at the International and Area Studies Library that people should know about? 

This is an easy one for me—the Slavic Reference Service is without question the most unique and recognized aspect of the IAS library. The SRS is known internationally because of its nearly forty years of specialized service in assisting patrons with their research to an extent that literally no one else in the world offers. This was made possible due to the funding of the Department of State through Title VIII grants, which the SRS has received annually for more than thirty years, but which are likely now finished. Without this funding, it is unlikely, to my mind, that the SRS will be able to focus on research queries and guides like in the past.

What are your research or collection development interests?  

My research interests are within my field of history. I am interested in nationalism in Eastern Europe in the interwar years, particularly among the Jewish minority, and the impact of different political systems on the development of modern national identity.

When you’re not working, what hobbies do you have? What do you like to do around the Champaign-Urbana area?  

I spend a lot of time with my son Alex. He likes swimming, climbing and going to the mall. Between him and work I don’t have much free time, but I enjoy watching movies, reading, going out to eat, playing softball, biking, and hanging out and drinking with good friends.

Describe a typical day at your job. 

I usually handle immediate emails and issues when I first arrive, such as queries from patrons here at UIUC and at other institutions, which we receive primarily via email and assistance requests from the ILL department. If there is time left after handling these questions I work on research guides. Lately I have not had much time for guides because I have taught two classes this last fall and one last spring. The summers are busy for us with the Summer Lab, when scholars from all over the world come to use the fabulous Slavic and East European collection here at UIUC. Summer days are therefore very hectic and not similar to the rest of the year. Next year I will not be teaching so I expect I will get more work done on writing research guides, at least until August, when my contract expires.

We hope that this interview has been helpful in getting to know Dmitry and some of the services available at the International and Area Studies Library and the Slavic Reference Services.

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Staff Interview Series: Antonio Sotomayor

In the third installment of our faculty and staff interview series, Antonio Sotomayor, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian at the International and Area Studies Library, tells us a little bit about his background and his role at the library.  Antonio joined the library after earning his PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 2012. He is responsible for developing the strong Latin American & Caribbean Studies collection at library and working with faculty and students researching the region. His own research interests include the culture and politics of sport, especially as they pertain to the development of national identity in Latin America.

Photograph of Antonio Sotomayor

Antonio Sotomayor, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian at the International and Area Studies Library.

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? What languages do you speak? Where did you go to school? I grew up in Puerto Rico, between San Juan and Mayagüez/Cabo Rojo. My native language is Spanish, but I’ve studied English since first grade. I did all of my schooling at Colegio Espíritu Santo, a private Catholic school in the neighborhood of Hato Rey, San Juan. I then went to college at the Universidad de Puerto Rico – Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez (or as we like to call it “Colegio de Agricultura y Artes Mecánicas”). At Colegio, I majored in Psychology and planned to become a Counseling Psychologist. That is what brought me to the US and, in 2001, I entered the Counseling program at Indiana University in Bloomington. I finished my MS in Counseling in 2004, specializing in Career Counseling. But at IU I began to question the process of identity formation of Puerto Ricans and I applied to the MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies here at Illinois. I finished my MA in 2006 and continued my studies at the University of Chicago, where I finished my PhD in history in 2012.

What attracted you to librarianship and your area of specialty? I was attracted to librarianship by my years of graduate work and archival research. Libraries are the heart of the educational experience and the basis of scholarship. I think Latin America and the Caribbean is an exciting area to study because of its diversity and rich history.

What brings you to the International and Area Studies Library? What are you most excited about working on here? I am excited to be working alongside other world area experts. Coming from outside the profession of librarianship, I have much to learn and I have a great and very helpful group of colleagues.

Briefly, describe your typical work day at the library.  I check my e-mail, answer questions, or coordinate meetings. I often meet with students to talk about sources for their research, other faculty members on multiple topics, or library colleagues regarding collection management. Sometimes I have to work on writing grants or other material about our LACST collection. If I have time, I read scholarly articles pertaining to my field and my research. On my research day, I revise manuscripts already in preparation, write new material, or analyze data for future works.

What are your research and collection development interests within your subject specialty? I collect LACST material in the social sciences and humanities, mainly history, anthropology, economics, sociology, political sciences, art history, etc. I have a particular research and collection development interest in the culture and politics of sport. I am currently working on a few articles that document the ways in which mass sport and recreation programs in mid-twentieth century Puerto Rico helped to consolidate a populist movement. I’m also working on a longer project that shows the ways in which Puerto Rican Olympism helped to consolidate both national identity and colonialism.

Tell us about a cool resource at the library that you want everyone to know about. We have close to 300 letters from the Conde de Montemar written between 1761 and 1799, mainly between Lima and Madrid.

What are some of your proudest career accomplishments? I am too early in my career to say, but I’m very glad to have this job.

Do you have any career advice for someone interested in the kind of work that you do? Get really good at multitasking and organizing your time.

Outside of work, what are your hobbies and interests? I like to watch sports and play basketball. I’m also an amateur genealogist and enjoy the science and art of heraldry.

What is your favorite thing to do in the C-U area? I have many places I like to go with my family: we love Jarling’s Custard Cup, the park on Winsdor, and going to the YMCA.

What is your favorite place you’ve visited?  I love many parts of my dear Puerto Rico: the beaches, Old San Juan, small towns in the interior and west, hiking, the museums and cultural centers.

In Fall 2013, Antonio put together the exhibit Unity in Diversity: Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of Illinois Library. Take a look at the exhibit website if you would like to learn more about the history of our rich collection of area resources. To meet with Antonio, contact him to schedule an appointment or come by the International and Area Studies Library offices in Room 329 of the Main Library.

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Staff Interview Series: Atoma Batoma

For the continuation of our staff introductions, I interviewed Atoma Batoma, who is an Associate Professor, CAM/Metadata Services/Monographic Cataloging. While his office is just a couple of steps away from my workstation, I only get to speak with him every once in a while. I was curious to find out more about Atoma, so I decided to interview him in order to get to know him better.

Atoma Batoma: African Studies Librarian

Atoma Batoma, our African Studies Librarian

Could you tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up and what school did you attend?

I grew up in a small village called Koukoude located in a mountainous region in North Togo. I attended a Presbyterian school until sixth grade.

What attracted you to librarianship?

After several years of teaching French and philosophy as a part timer, I decided to go back to school and get a practical degree that would help me get a more stable job. I have a degree in philosophy of language from a European University and I wanted an American degree in a discipline that complements my PhD.

What area did you decided to specialize in and why?

I decided to specialize in cataloging because the cataloging process is somewhat similar to the rule governed nature of philosophical reasoning.

I am aware that you speak several languages, how many? And how and why did you decided to learn them?

It depends on what we mean by “speak”. I can say for sure that I speak French and Kabye which is my mother tongue, as we call it in English. I have been using English since I came to the United States, but for me, English is my survival language. I still have to learn it in a formal way. I used to speak German back when I was in Europe. I still speak it from time to time with friends. I read it on a daily basis. Swahili is another language that I am fond of and which I try to speak on a daily basis. I am now learning Spanish in an intensive way and hope to spend some time in Latin America next year to improve my speaking knowledge.

What are your research or collection development interests?

My research is on African onomastics, that is, the study of African names: their characteristics, structure and functions. I am particularly interested in three onomastic research areas: anthroponomy or the study of personal names, toponymy (or the study of place names), and zoonymy (or the study of animal names). My main approach is socio-pragmatic; I am interested in finding out how African names are used as means of social and interpersonal communication.

When you’re not working, what hobbies do you have? What do you like to do around the Champaign-Urbana area?

Gardening and reading children’s books are my favorite pastimes. Once in a while I drive to Meadowbrook Park on Windsor Road and walk around the park for an hour or so. In the summer time I go to the Farmers Market at Lincoln Square almost every Saturday morning. After the market I stop by Urbana Free Library or Strawberry Field for a cup of tea.

Describe a typical day at your job

I start my day at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. by checking my e-mail and answering urgent messages from patrons and colleagues both on campus and from other institutions. In case I do not have meetings to attend I spend the rest of the morning working on committee-related projects (I am on local as well as national library committees). I take my lunch time at noon or 1:00 p.m. depending on the progress I made on my morning work. I prefer to eat lunch at the Espresso Royal where I can hide in the back of the café and read a children’s book or news in a foreign language (usually in Swahili or Spanish).  My afternoons this month are dedicated to meetings with patrons and/or colleagues, working on the IAS division related projects and on the third edition of Al Kagan’s Reference Guide to Africa.

What career advice would you give to someone who is interested in librarianship or someone who wants to specialize in your area of interest?

It is important to learn at least one foreign language and take classes in African Studies. To specialize in African librarianship it is important to learn at least two major African languages (Swahili, Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, etc.) in addition to at least two colonial languages (English, French, German and Portuguese). It is also important to take classes in African Studies.

What are your proudest accomplishments as a librarian?

Helping with the training of RDA both at this Library and at two African Libraries: The Tanzanian University library in Dar es Salaam, and Makerere University in Uganda. RDA (Resource Description and Access) is the new cataloging standard which replaced AACR2 (the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules) in 2013.  Prior to becoming the new African Studies Librarian this year I worked in technical services division for several years and as a cataloger I helped eliminate the Africana backlog.

What is something at the International and Area Studies Library that people should know about? (a service, collection, or book?)

Check out the impressive Africana collection and the Brown Bag presentation on Shea Butter Production in Africa that we have just added under the Category of “Africa and Gender”.

(Author’s note: This event has passed, but for other Brown Bag Lectures, be sure to check out the outreach website )

I am happy to say that I know more about a staff member at the International and Area Studies Library (IAS). Keep an eye out for our interviews with more staff members! For more information about IAS’s Africana Collections and Services, make sure to visit their website.



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