Story and Photo by Luke Cameron | Contributing Writer
James E. Walker Library staff member Karen Martin is retiring after 24 years and eight months at Middle Tennessee State University. Her last day of work as book stacks manager will be June 30.
Martin grew up in Middle Tennessee. She graduated from Riverdale High School and attended college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority and obtained a degree in broadcasting.
Aspiring to be a camera operator, she cast about looking for jobs with local television stations. The search proved fruitless, however, as her lack of on-the-job experience weighed heavily on the minds of potential employers. “I couldn’t find anybody that would give it to me,” Martin says of the experience she desperately sought.
When she couldn’t find a job, she folded up her broadcasting tent and found work at Dalton College in Georgia. She was the college photographer and media utilization specialist. “I did all the classroom setup with media,” she said.
Martin made the move to the MTSU library in 1997, back when it was in Todd Hall. She took over as book stacks manager.
Martin says the students are what she will miss the most when she retires. “Especially my student assistants,” she said. At one point Martin had around 10 student assistants each semester, but that dwindled to one or two as digitization and use of the internet for information became more prevalent.
“I feel like I’ve been a mentor to a lot of students, whether they want to admit it or not,” she said with good humor. “I want to make sure that I can teach them something that will help them out in their life after college.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was a trying time for Martin professionally. “The job sort of lost some of its meaning for me,” she said of those dark says, but with campus regaining some normalcy for the 2021-2022 academic year, the fulfillment returned.
With nearly four decades of work behind her, Martin decided it was time to turn the page and retire. She said she will miss seeing her colleagues and will miss attending end-of-semester parties thrown in honor of student assistants.
In retirement, Martin is excited to spend more time on her hobbies, which include theatre, calligraphy and reading. She is also looking forward to spending more time with loved ones and travelling, namely to Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. “I want to be Irish so bad,” she said, “I love all things Celtic.”
When she cleans out her office and bids adieu to the library she loves, she will be taking with her a trove of memories—library zombie costume parties, helping charter and advise the Alpha Chi Omega sorority chapter on campus, making mad scrambles to the campus bookstore with co-workers to buy Beanie Babies at the zenith of the craze—and leaving behind a legacy of dependability, fairness, mentorship and a love of working with students.
“That has always been my focus, is the students,” she said. “That’s why we’re here. We’re here for the students. Everything we do comes back to the students getting a good education.”
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