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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National Libraries: Working to Preserve a Nation’s Cultural Heritage

Libraries are important cultural institutions that work to not only provide universal access to information and knowledge, but also preserve the cultural heritage and identity of the communities they serve. National libraries such as the United States’ Library of Congress or Spain’s Biblioteca Nacional de España work to achieve these objectives on a national scale.

Now, imagine the United States without the Library of Congress or the National Archives? What would happen to the Constitution? The Declaration of Independence? Or even the papers of our past Presidents? These materials are vital to understanding the values and tenants that shape our national past and future.

Unfortunately, the people of Afghanistan face this very issue. Decades of conflict have decimated the Kabul University Library, which also served as Afghanistan’s National Library.

An article written by Abdul Rasoul Rahin, a former director of the Kabul University Library, describes the once impressive holdings of the library. The Kabul University library held “200,000 books, 5,000 manuscripts, 10,000 books on Afghanistan Studies, 10,000 bound volumes of periodicals, 3,000 rare books, 10,000 electronic materials, 2,000 photo albums, 5,000 calligraphic specimens, and a strong collection of national archival and documentary materials.”[1] Like libraries all over the world the Kabul University Library worked to collect, preserve, and make accessible these valuable informational and cultural materials for the people of Afghanistan.

Sadly, the Afghanistan Civil War and other international conflicts have left the nation of Afghanistan in a state of turmoil since 1978. Since that time the materials of the Kabul University Library and other Afghani cultural institutions have been dispersed clandestinely over the black market or destroyed by fire and neglect. In the 1990s alone, “tens of thousands of books in both the Kabul Public Library and the Kabul University Library were destroyed under Taliban rule.”[2]

While conflicts continue to occur, positive efforts such as the Afghanistan Digital Library are working to both rebuild the libraries of Afghanistan and also preserve surviving Afghani collections and materials. A project of the New York University Libraries and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities the Afghanistan Digital Library works with public institutions in Afghanistan and private collectors throughout the world in order to collect, catalog, digitize, and make available over the internet as many Afghan publications from the periods of 1871-1930, the earliest period of publishing in Afghanistan. Digitized materials will include rare books, historic photographs, newspapers, government documents, and journals.

In doing this the Afghanistan Digital Library will not only help in the process of “constructing a national bibliography for the country,” but also “reconstruct an essential part of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.”[3] Most importantly however, the project will help bring the contents of Afghanistan’s history back into the hands of its people.

To visit and explore the Afghanistan Digital Library please click the link here.

[1] Rahin, Abdul Rasoul. “The Situation of Kabul University Library: Its Past and Present” World Libraries 8.2 (Spring 1998). Web.

[2] Lee, Felicia R. “Protecting an Endangered Afghan Species: Books.” New York Times 29 March 2003. Web.

[3] “About the Afghanistan Digital Library.” Afghanistan Digital Library. n.d. Web. 22 October 2012.


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Arabic Manuscripts There and Here


Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons under the Public Domain License

Quran in Maghrabi Script

Released during the Algiers Book Fair on September 20th, the Association for the Protection of Heritage of the city of Bou-Saada has joined E-Corpus to disseminate their Arabic manuscripts digitally. By the time that the book fair had started, the stand for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region (which co-financed the operation with the European Union) were already offering 4,600 pages from across 50 manuscripts. (Retrieved from Project Menumed)

Within the University of Illinois Archives, there are actually quite a few Arabic manuscripts, hidden away, ready to be found.

For example, the Papers of Charles C. Stewart contain copies of the text and commentary on the Koran, correspondence on obtaining the text, as well as research materials contained on 104 microfilm reels, including 2054 works from various libraries. These manuscripts and printed documents are primarily from the 19th century and delve into subjects such as literature, law, Islamic religious text and commentaries, Arabic language, and history.

Naturally, the Papers of Charles C. Stewart are not the only collection of manuscripts within the archives.

Poking around the archives with simple search terms like “Arabic” will actually yield some pretty interesting results. From there, it’s fun to surf the archives to see why certain items (like the Alaxandar L Ringer Papers in the Sousa Archives) pops up.

Moreover, it’s also interesting to look under the subjects to see where they might take you. Using the C. Ernest Dawn Papers as an example this time, under the subject line in the left sidebar, you can take control of the vocabulary used to build the archive to your advantage. Although only Middle East and Ottoman empire show up they both lead to other archived items with more descriptors, such as the William Yale Research Collection, which brings in materials from the Near East.

Run with your search. See where it takes you!

University Archives Entrance

The University Archives can be found within the University Main Library, at 1408 W. Gregory Drive in room 19, at the start of the tunnel that links the Main Library with the Undergraduate Library (UGL). The best way to reach the archives is either via the tunnel from the UGL side (door will be to your left) or down to the basement from Marshall Hall and walk towards the UGL (door will be on your right).

To gain access to the materials, it is best to contact the staff confirm the material’s availability a few days ahead of your visit. Click here to view their contact information.

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