Blount County Public Library’s Ari Baker is bringing an institution to Blount.
Exiting his job as the library’s education services manager, Baker will become the executive director of nonprofit Tenn-Share, a resource-sharing consortium with more than 700 members across the state, including libraries, museums and archives.
Tenn-Share — what Baker describes as a sort of “Costco of databases for Tennessee” — is the state’s premier hub for institutions that want to share, send and subscribe to resources: everything from movies to interlibrary loans to scholarly databases.
Baker has worked for the BCPL for almost 13 years, he said. But next week he’ll drive a cargo van to Nashville and pick up 25 filing boxes, essentially moving Tenn-Share’s offices to Blount County.
Soon after, he said he plans to hire an accountant in the area. Then, for the foreseeable future, he’ll manage the organization from home and travel across the state when necessary.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to who know what Tenn-Share is have said, ‘So, you’re moving to Nashville,’ because it’s always been based in Nashville,” he said. “But I think it’s going to be shifting to be based here.”
Moreover, Baker said if the job required him to move to Nashville, he wouldn’t have applied.
“Blount County is beautiful,” said Baker, whose family moved to the county from Florida when he was 12. He graduated from Heritage High School, earned his undergraduate in sociology with a certification in nonprofit management from Maryville College and then his master’s degree in information science from the University of Tennessee.
“Other than natural beauty, I’ve found a beautiful and supportive community here and I think there’s a lot of work to be done,” Baker said.
He might know that more than most.
Years ago, he volunteered for the library in high school by shelving books and later serving in its cafe during college. By the end of his time there, he was part of the administrative team.
Of his years in BCPL education services, Baker said one of the highlights was working with Blount County Recovery Court participants, a program that uses library staff and resources to help former inmates with education and social needs.
“All of the community outreach-type programs are my favorite,” he said, noting the library’s significant role in finding and supporting local service, education and communal activities. “Not only is that because these programs are less resource- and time-intensive, but also there’s a built-in audience and it gets people in our building. Things like D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and the bluegrass club. ... Building inclusive and sustainable communities and being able to thrive no matter who you are and what you look like and what you do in your home community I think is really important, so that’s part of my motivation also.”
After years of helping make space and opportunity for things to thrive at the library, Baker now will be dedicated to helping many libraries in the state share and acquire resources.
“Facilitating is probably my biggest skill,” Baker said, adding he looks forward to coordinating ways Tennessee librarians can get together, address needs and network. “Organizing information and people is hopefully why I’ll do good at this job.”
Leaders including Library Director K.C. Williams and board of trustees Chair Andy Simon praised Baker’s work, noting he’d be sorely missed.
“Ari has been a valued member of the Blount County Public Library,” Williams said. “While I am sad to see him leave us, I am very excited for him as he takes over the directorship of Tenn-Share.”
The library posted an opening for a full-time education services manager at the beginning of April.