Grover Baker chose an unconventional path to professional harmony – that literally put him in the books.
The only thing music librarian Grover Baker loves more than his job is music. Which is why, 30 years ago, he enrolled at University of Tennessee sure of one thing: he wanted to be in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band.
“At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My one ambition was to play in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. So, that’s about all I accomplished… while I was there the first time,” says Baker, who in 1977 graduated high school in Nashville suburb Goodletsville, Tenn..
Baker never completed his music degree at UT. Instead he went on to graduate with an undergraduate degree in Church Music on piano from Belmont University in 1992 and a Masters of Church Music in Conducting and Voice from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky in 1995. Baker says he envisioned a career for himself as a music teacher. However, his third and final degree, an MS in Information Sciences, actually allowed him to meld his passion for music with his desire to teach. He took an unconventional path to professional harmony that, literally, put him in the books.
Baker discovered his calling in the music library while working and studying at Belmont University. He spent ten years working at Belmont’s music library and getting classroom experience with the hope of being hired to teach on the collegiate level. However, his boss, Tim Gmeiner, encouraged him to become a professional music librarian. Baker says, “That’s the main reason I took the [Belmont] job, because it was a way to get certified so I could teach, but as I was working and doing that I guess my focus changed. I realized I enjoyed working in the music library. I liked what I was doing.”
With a new sense of direction, Baker returned to UT in 2000 to start earning his MS in Information Sciences. But during the previous decade, Baker acquired a full-time job, a wife and a growing family at home in Franklin, Tenn., while also faithfully playing piano for his church each week. The geographical and familial obstacles made completion of his IS degree difficult. Thankfully, UT offered a unique opportunity that made it possible.
Baker’s graduating class in 2006 was particularly special for CCI and the IS graduate programs. “I was among the first cohorts. We called ourselves the pioneers, that did the entire program via the Internet,” Baker says. “At the time it was really a blessing because it was the only way I could get the degree. Having the full time job and the family, I couldn’t just uproot and move to Knoxville.” It took him almost six years, but he finished the entire degree despite the distance, using online video technology to interact with teachers and classmates to learn the latest information management possibilities.
Baker’s unique knowledge of music coupled with his new degree made him the ideal candidate for his current job as head librarian at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The IS program equipped him with lots of technological experience as well as cataloguing knowledge that shaped him into a research expert. At MTSU, he is a resource for countless students learning about music while also offering practical skills to help the Center for Popular Music excel beyond any others of its type.
Today, Baker spends the majority of his days helping others navigate their own research. The Center provides students and the public music community with the oldest known researchable collections of texts, recordings and sheet music for the promotion of all research and scholarship in American vernacular music. The Center houses more than 300,000 items, including 10,000 books in the reading room, and to Baker’s delight, at least 5,300 hymnals and songbooks.
“There’s just not anybody out there like us,” Baker explains of the CPM staff. He takes pride and pleasure in what they do, and he’s a willing accomplice on many a musical journey. “It’s an amazing collection, and I really enjoy working with it.”
by Sarah Waldrip, photo courtesy of Grover Baker