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UT has recently garnered significant national accolades, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Trailblazer award for retention and graduation rate gains and the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for outreach. These successes are due to the hard work of our innovative employees. Here’s a look at two Libraries faculty members who are trailblazers in their roles.

David Atkins

Atkins Pic oneDavid Atkins considers today’s library “a crossroad of people, services, and spaces.”

As the head of branch libraries and collection logistics, he tends to the UT Libraries’ 2.9 million items and the places they’re housed.

At the top of his to-do list right now: helping colleagues at the UT Space Institute figure out how to modernize their library. He’s also juggling the holdings of Pendergrass Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine Library while that facility undergoes a four-month renovation and is always making decisions about what items need to be kept on library shelves, relegated to storage, or withdrawn from the collections.

As a UT undergraduate, Atkins figured he’d be a history teacher or park ranger. But he fell in love with libraries while working part time in Hoskins Library, assisting people in viewing old files on microfilm.

“I thought, ‘Working in a library is a way to learn a lot about a lot of things and get to help people,'” he said.

After graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, he worked for a while at Louisiana State University. He returned to work for UT Libraries in 1997.

He formerly was head of the Resources Sharing and Document Delivery Department.

He helped transform Library Express from a photocopy service that delivered paper copies of journal and book excerpts into a sophisticated delivery service that allows users to go online and check out virtually any item to be picked up at a library desk or delivered to their office.

Atkins also led Info-to-Go, providing Knox County Public Schools interlibrary loan access to Knox County Public and UT Libraries. And he spearheaded the development of the Firefly Courier, a courier service that allows hundreds of libraries statewide to share their resources.

Steve Escar Smith, dean of UT Libraries, said Atkins impact has been far-reaching.

“In 2012 he was honored with the Resource Sharing Award by Tenn-Share, the Tennessee state library consortium,” he said. “David has also led research teams and established cooperative library projects around the world, including Australia, Africa, and Tasmania.”

To Atkins, it’s all about the library playing multiple roles in today’s world.

“For libraries to remain important and vital they have to be able to help people wherever they are and whatever they are doing,” he said.

For Hodges Library, a key piece of real estate in the center of campus, that means viewing the library as a space, a service, and a collection—and figuring out what will best contribute to student success.

When he’s not working, Atkins hits the trails in the Smoky Mountains to peruse nature’s library.

His favorite hike?

“The next one,” he quipped.

Alesha Shumar

Alesha Shumar pictured herself being a history teacher. And, as university archivist, she is.

“It’s kind of like working with history firsthand,” she said.

Shumar earned her undergraduate degree in history and geography education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a public university in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Her love of archives was sparked by working in that university’s archives and special collections. It grew when she studied abroad in Cyprus, processing artifacts from an archaeological project for a local museum.

She earned her master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Pittsburgh and came to UT in 2010.

Alesha Head-shots 2015-2

On any given day, Shumar might be teaching students how to use the library archives or building a display to showcase some of the unique items in UT Libraries Special Collections, such as the Andrew Jackson family Bible or the papers of Dr. William Bass, professor emeritus and founder of the Body Farm.

“You learn something new every day,” she said. “This job makes you really, really good at trivia.”

One of her biggest projects involves digitizing old UT documents, including yearbooks, football and basketball programs, student newspapers, course catalogs dating back to the late 1800s, and handwritten ledgers of the Board of Trustees from early 1900s. They are scanned so they can be viewed and searched online.

“In the archives and Special Collections, we are really focused on access and getting information to our researchers where they are,” she said.

Smith said Shumar was one of the first archivists in the country to become a certified as a digital archives specialist by the Academy of Certified Archivists.

“She has revolutionized the operation of our University Archives and is the expert on UT history,” he said.

Shumar is compiling tidbits of UT history for displays in the new Student Union. She’s building timelines, piecing together stories of illustrious faculty members, and providing details of many longstanding traditions on campus.

“Not all campuses involve their university archives when they build a new student center,” she said. “The campus community is going to love it.”

Shumar’s pet project has been creating an interactive historical map of campus. In time, she hopes it can be incorporated into the university’s mobile app. As a person walks around campus—passing, for instance, Hodges Library—a historical photo of the building will pop up along with some facts.

When she’s not at work, Shumar enjoys traveling and relaxing with her French bulldog, Pierogi. His name, taken from a Polish dish, means “little dumpling.”

She indulges her love of history by collecting old maps—her prize is a rare colored map from the 1800s that she found in Cyprus—and old postcards gleaned from bookstores. Her favorites are the World War II–era postcards written by soldiers to their families back home.

“You wonder what happed to those people,” she said.

Other than those treasures, she tries to streamline her life.

“Personally, I don’t collect a lot of things,” she said. “With this job, you really know what is important to keep. When I go home, I don’t want to be around things piled up.”


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,