Inspiring Ideas: UT Libraries

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Innovative teaching. Encouraging demeanor. A passion for the subject. Contagious enthusiasm. All of these traits help inspire students to great ideas. Here are two faculty members from UT Libraries whose teaching, research, and community service are both inspired and inspiring.

Gayle Baker

It’s always a challenge for faculty to stay on top of the advancing technology in their fields. That’s especially true for those who work in libraries.

Professor Gayle Baker, the electronic resources coordinator for UT Libraries, said the technological advances in her field are growing more and more complex each year.

“Publishers of electronic resources are coming out with mobile apps and special-purpose widgets to add to browser toolbars,” she said. “They also are creating new electronic resources, including scanned images of centuries-old documents, as well as collections of streaming videos.”

It’s Baker’s job to stay current on electronic resources for faculty and students, and then make sure they know how to use them.

“More than anyone, Gayle is responsible for the excellent electronic resources available to UT faculty and students,” said Steve Smith, dean of the UT Libraries. “She leverages her deep knowledge of scholarly databases to bring the very best library resources to our campus scholars.”

Baker also brings her vast experience to bear on research. She has been a key partner in a recent study of return on investment in academic libraries.

Baker became interested in library science as a graduate student at The Ohio State University in the early 70s, though that course of study wasn’t offered at the time. She earned a master’s degree in computer and information science and later earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Alabama. She came to UT in 1990 as the science and technology coordinator, where she supervised science and technology librarians in Hodges Library. She’s been the electronic resources coordinator since 1993, when librarians performed the vast majority of database searches in the libraries at UT and the cost of access was based upon the amount of time connected with the database and the number of records with citation. There were very few databases of newspapers at the time, and none of scholarly journals.

Baker has served on UT’s Research Council and is a member of the International Advisory Board of Project COUNTER, an international initiative serving librarians and publishers by setting standards for recording and reporting online usage statistics.

When she’s not in the library, Baker and her husband spend their weekends on their farm in the Cumberland Gap area of southwest Virginia where they grow vegetables and hay and raise cattle.

Thura Mack

Thura Mack has been working in libraries since she was in high school. As a student worker, she was assigned to work with an outreach librarian who delivered books on tape for the blind in the community.

“Since I was close to graduating from high school, she made me promise that I would go to college to become a librarian one day,” said Mack. “She provided the coaching to make sure that I had a plan for my education and professional success. I think she would be proud that thirty-three years later, I am still a librarian and now have a role as a coordinator for outreach services.”

Mack is the coordinator of community learning services and diversity programs for UT Libraries. She holds a master’s degree in library science from UT and has worked at the university since 1980.

Since 2003 she has been a member of the Life of the Mind committee, helping to select the common reading book for each year’s incoming freshmen. Mack is currently working with colleagues on the Big Orange STEM Symposium (BOSS), an outreach project for high school students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Mack and her team are working with UT’s Outreach and Engagement Council, the L&N STEM Academy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and high schools from around the state.

“In my mind, BOSS is a success story because it has generated interest, collaboration, and enthusiasm in the community and has intellectual promise beyond the program itself,” said Mack. “We hope to make a huge impact in the lives of these high school students and encourage them to pursue their passions at UT.”

“Thura is an expert at community building,” Smith said. “She gives tirelessly of her time and talents to high school students and to faculty colleagues, always thinking of what will benefit the community and the library profession.”

Smith said Mack also has been key to the success of the library’s Diversity Residency Program, a program that enhances the ethnic and cultural diversity of UT Libraries by bringing recent library and information science graduates into the library for work experience.

“Thura is a committed advocate for diversity and one of the best mentors I have ever seen,” Smith said.

In her free time, Mack enjoys spending time with her daughter Niyia, who lives in Los Angeles, and traveling to visit other family members. She also works with toddlers and the elderly at her church.

C O N T A C T :

Rebekah Winkler (865-974-8304, rwinkler@utk.edu)

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