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Alum Ari Baker Steps Into Their New Role as Tenn-Share Director

After working 13 years at the same place, Ari Baker decided it was time to see where else they could leverage their information sciences skills. Though Baker loved being a librarian at the Blount County Public Library, they realized their entire career had been spent there. That’s when they saw the job opening for the director of Tenn-Share.

“It was a really hard decision, I am still very passionate about public libraries… I was interested in doing something new and branching out but I didn’t want to have to move. I wanted to stay in Blount County as I’ve invested a lot in this community,” Baker said.

The Tenn-Share director position was a great fit in so many ways for them: not only does it allow them to work remotely from Blount County, they also get to travel all around the state meeting with librarians and other information professionals. To top it off, the position combines a lot of Baker’s existing expertise in community organizing and librarianship, but also provides new opportunities for them to flex their grant writing and marketing skills.

Baker is the only full-time employee of Tenn-Share, which is a non-profit buying consortium for libraries of all types in the state of Tennessee. A simplistic description of what the organization does is it buys in bulk for libraries who want the same items so they can get reduced rates. But historically there’s a lot of flexibility in what Tenn-Share does for its members. For example, it was responsible for creating the Tennessee Electronic Library, which is now managed by the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It also currently operates the state’s interlibrary loan service, Firefly.

“It’s whatever its membership needs it to be. In older history, it did workshops on how to get libraries on the internet, it has done advocacy work in the past, it’s a space for libraries to show up and say, ‘Hey, this is what I need and how can we work together to impact our communities.’,” Baker explained.

They’ve met with the board and established initial goals for Tenn-Share moving forward, which include:

  • Managing the Organizational Infrastructure: Baker is looking at updating Tenn-Share’s processes and some of its software to ensure smoother operations going forward, as well as managing the organization’s data better.
  • Librarian Engagement – this is one of the areas Baker is most excited about tackling, which really just involves doing a lot of networking and listening to librarians from public, school, academic, and special libraries. “My goal for Tenn-Share is to transform it into an exciting and engaging network of librarians who know each other and have access to what they need to work together to better serve their communities,” they said. “I’ll be showing up at events where librarians will already be, and plugging into spaces that already exist.”
  • Financial Sustainability: Currently Tenn-Share is funded through membership dues and a nominal surcharge on database subscriptions. Baker is looking at how to create more opportunities for funding, such as finding what services/resources are desired by libraries and funding projects aimed to fulfill those needs via grants. Despite being a 501c3, Tenn-Share has never received a grant – and grant writing is something Baker did regularly in their last position.

In addition to all of the other things Tenn-Share does, it also hosts an annual conference – which this year is both virtual and free! It will feature panels such as one that will address how various librarians’ from different types of libraries have changed the way they work during the pandemic, and many more sessions that are led by information professionals working in the field.

Baker said those interested in attending the conference should check out the website and make sure to register.