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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Introducing New Librarians: Laila Hussein and Antonio Sotomayor

Laila Hussein

Laila Hussein comes to the University of Illinois Library after working as a cataloger and Reference Librarian at New York University. Prior to that, she was a human rights activist in Egypt , and worked in the United States  with Landmine Survivor Networks, International Torture Survivors, and did outreach to the HIV positive community in New York. She holds two Masters degrees, the first from New York University in Near Eastern Studies, and the second is from Long Island University in Library Science. Laila brings to the International and Area Studies library lots of great experience in both libraries and international outreach!

As the Middle Eastern and North African Studies Librarian, Laila is looking forward to working with Illinois’ community of faculty, staff, students and scholars to help build the Library’s Middle Eastern collection. She also hopes to help students with their research needs by working with instructors to develop tailored library guides for classes. Her plan also included to work with other universities in the United States and around the globes to develop relationships that will benefit the scholars in the field of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, Laila’s dream project is to develop the Middle Eastern and North Africa minorities collections and have Illinois University become the main resource for these types of collections to both international and local scholars. She has also recently developed a new LibGuide on the Arab Spring, concurrent with her display in the Marshall Gallery (the open area on the first floor of the Library) on this important topic. Be sure to check them both out!

Laila is a native Arabic speaker, and she is also proficient in Persian, Hebrew, Old Ottoman, and German. In her free time, Laila enjoys exercising and listening to audio books.

Her office hours this semester are Tuesdays 10:00am – 12:00pm and Fridays 11:30am – 1:30pm, and you may also reach her by email at lhoussei AT

Antonio Sotomayor

Antonio Sotomayor is originally from Puerto Rico, and completed his undergraduate education at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez before coming to the United States for graduate school. He holds a Masters’ degree in Counseling from Indiana University, another Masters’ degree in Latin America and Caribbean Studies from the University of Illinois, and a Doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. His research interests lie in Latin American studies and Brazilian cultural and political history and the history of sport, which brings him here to work at the International and Area Studies Library.

As a new librarian, Antonio has been evaluating the breadth of our library’s existing Latin American collection, which is among the top five in the United States. Our collection’s specialties are Andes, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Caribbean Area materials. Antonio believes his primary goal as the Latin American Librarian is to promote and continue developing our Latin American collection. He plans to improve the collection’s online presence by redesigning the Latin American and Caribbean website, and by digitizing some materials for online access. He is also reorganizing our current journals and magazines for better access and easy browsing in the IAS reference room.

Antonio seeks to connect with to departments that have Latin America related research around the University to promote our collection and services. Right now he is working closely with the Center of Latin America & Caribbean Studies, and the Lemann Institute for Braziian Studies. Antonio is also the co-planner on an exhibit in the library for this coming fall which will promote the 50th anniversary of the Center for Latin America and Caribbean Studies.

Antonio is a native Spanish speaker, and is proficient in Portuguese. In his free time, he enjoys genealogy, watching football and other sports, and both playing and watching basketball. He is also a photographer, and his photographs have been presented in different exhibits.

His office hours this semester are Monday and Tuesdays 9-11am, and you can visit his library web page.

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The Spring Since 2010: Conflicts, Demonstrations, and Civil Wars in Arab World

Often taking as an allegory to the “Springtime of the People” or the Prague Spring in 1968, the term “Arab Spring” was “unintentionally coined in a January 6, 2011 article” by Marc Lynch. From the end of 2010 to the present, the calls for revolution from the Arab world only grew stronger. Demonstrations, protests, and even wars have broken out in countries such as Tunsia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and lately, Iraq. More seem to be following in many parts of the world.

Often attributed to the dissatisfaction of local governmental rule, the Arab Spring has been a point of interest to both academics and the populous – a movement that is both reaffirming and changing history. Although the waves of protests are not a new phenomenon, through the movement, this revolution has been turned towards the problems within the Arab society, rather than ending the liberation from colonial rule.

Continuing demonstration on Monday, January 28th captured via a camera phone. (Mostafa El Shemy/AP)

Internationally, various countries and people have reacted differently to Arab Spring. Overall, the protests have attracted support from the international community while the governmental responses were met with condemnation. Moreover, the Arab Spring has, over the past few years, been an inspiration to social movements in other countries, including the Occupy Movement across the world. Marking the continuation of Arab Spring, the escalation of protests continues even today.

Curious about the progression of Arab Spring for these past two years? From February 4th to the 28th, the International and Areas Study Library and the Middle East and North African area specialist will be showcasing the major players and events that brought forth the movement, as well as related library resources in the Marshall Gallery on the 1st floor of the Main Library. And, for more information and readings regarding Arab Spring, there is a guide maintained by the UIUC library as well as multitudes of resources maintained by collaborating scholars across the field.

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Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Friday September 30th was the 2012 Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival, which is a holiday celebrated in Chinese and Vietnamese culture. The IAS had our own Mooncake festival celebration on Monday Oct 1st.

The tradition of eating mooncakes during this festival allegedly began with a “14th-century uprising against the Mongols, when word of the revolt was spread by concealing the message in cakes that were then smuggled out to compatriots.” (From “Mid-Autumn Festival (Singapore).” Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 2010. Credo Reference. Web. 02 October 2012. Retrieved from Credo Reference) Regardless of their origin, the eating of mooncakes is now an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Moon festival.

Traditional fillings include salted egg yolks, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and nut pastes. More modern filling options include durian fruit paste, chocolate, cream cheese, and even ice cream!

Cut mooncake showing a traditional lotus seed paste filling around the salted egg yolk “moon.” Image by flickr user avlxyz, courtesy Wikipedia. 

Mooncakes have been growing unfashionable in recent years, due to their richness and caloric density (usually about 800 calories per cake), but they still remain the go-to gift around this time of the year. They have even been called “the fruitcake of China.”

In defiance of fashion, all of the 88 mooncakes the IAS library bought were gone within a few hours!

Mooncakes and tea! Photography by Elizabeth Svoboda. 

Some students enjoying mooncakes. From left to right: Jijin Xue, Zhao Miunyn, Fengna Su, and Thaddeus Andracki. Photography by Elizabeth Svoboda.

If you’re interested in learning more about the mid-autumn moon festival, check out these resources:

Library Books

  • Folk customs at traditional Chinese festivities. Compiled by Qi Xing ; translated by Ren Jiazhen ; illustrated by Yang Guanghua. Main Stacks, call number 394.26951 F718. Catalog record.
  • The Chinese at play: festivals, games and leisure. Edited by Anders Hansson, with Bonnie S. McDougall and Frances Weightman. Education and Social Sciences Library, call number 306.480951 C441. Catalog record.
  • Chinese traditional festivals. Marie-Luise Latsch. Main Stacks, call number 394.26951 L355C. Catalog record.


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