If you ask Eric Baker how he went from a 15-year career as an industrial mechanic to become a librarian at campus’ Auraria Library, his answer might surprise you. But Baker says mechanics and librarians have something in common. “People bring you problems, and you fix them,” said Baker, while sitting in one of the library’s conference rooms wearing a crisp suit (his usual uniform) and with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. “They aren’t the same kind of problems, but in a very odd way, it’s a continuation of a skill that I used to use.”
Today, Baker is a Teaching and Learning Librarian for the Auraria Library and a member of the University of Colorado Denver Association of Lecturers and Instructors (UCDALI). He spends his days teaching students the best techniques for finding resources for specific courses and assignments, providing research consultations, serving on various CU Denver search committees, and answering questions—a lot of questions. “A secret perk is people will ask me things I never even imagined,” said Baker, a self-described curious person. “I learn something new every day.”
Keeping Up with an Evolving Campus—and World
Like many students at CU Denver, Baker started college as an adult in his late 20s. Raised just south of Denver in the suburbs of Englewood, after high school he settled into a career as an industrial mechanic. He thought he should start taking classes after work at night and, because it was close to home, decided to enroll at the then-Metropolitan State College of Denver. He chose to study history because “it’s intrinsically interesting, and it’s something everyone can do,” he said.
To accommodate his work schedule, he spent most nights studying at the library. Back then, he remembers, the building felt more like a utilitarian parking garage. That changed after a state-funded renovation that began in 2011 and took more than five years to complete. “[Now] it has far better lighting, more study rooms, a whole range of seating areas—and seating areas that are much more comfortable,” Baker said.
When Baker took a part-time position at the library in 1998, the internet was on the rise and access to information was expanding and becoming more instantaneous. “Finding stuff online became easy,” he said, but added that finding the right stuff was not always easy. Baker learned that he had a knack for helping people navigate the new technology. And he liked the complexity of the questions. Queries ranged from easy-to-find information, such as “How many people were in Iowa in 1994?,” to inquiries about academic research and navigating credible and not-so-credible resources. Today, 25 years later, he’s committed to helping students find quality sources online and vet what can often be an overload of information.
When he’s not in the library preparing for a class instruction session or meeting with students, Baker enjoys exploring the campus, which, after all these years, feels a little like home to him. One of his favorite spots is the library’s neighbor, and one of campus’ oldest buildings, the Emmanual Art Gallery, where he goes to see new art exhibitions. He also enjoys strolling along the Ninth Street Historic Park, which is also a short walk from the library. “I was just old enough to remember when that was a neighborhood,” he said. “The fact that [they] were willing and able to save that block means a lot to our campus.”
All About the Students
When asked what keeps him coming back to work each day, Baker’s answer came easily: the students, many whom he sees parts of himself in.
One memory that sticks with him to this day is when a student he had worked with years before came running up to him on campus, put out his hand for a handshake, and thanked him for helping him succeed in college. “When you are teaching or helping someone, you help them and then they go away and you don’t know what happens [in their life],” Baker said. “When you really do this work well, some of those people are like the student who approached me. I took those 20 minutes to help him, and that was a big deal for him.”
Those student interactions, whether they are brief or ongoing, are also a big deal for Baker. He cares deeply about his role, and it shows in his attention to the details. If you catch him at the library, he will likely be wearing a pin on the front of his blazer and on a recent day it was a small blue owl. He said he was wearing it because it signified wisdom and transformation—attributes he witnesses in the students he interacts with each day.
“If you like to work with students,” Baker said, “I can’t think of a better job than this.”