James L. “Jim” Baggett (MLIS ’97) Named the 2021 Outstanding MLIS Alumnus

Jim Baggett is the 2021 recipient of the School of Library and Information Studies MLIS Alumnus of the Year. Jim graduated in 1997 from the Master of Library and Information Studies program with a concentration in special collections. He is currently the Head of the Birmingham Public Library Archives and Archivist for the City of Birmingham, Alabama. Some of his responsibilities include supervision over employees and projects, collecting and actively preserving material on the history of Birmingham and Birmingham city records, and assisting researchers who visit or contact the Archives from around the globe. He also represents his institution in professional organization, directs digitization projects, and curates exhibits.

Baggett elaborated on how COVID-19 has impacted the services provided at his institution. “For much of 2020 we were unable to serve researchers in person, so we expanded the services that we offer remotely, including digitizing items for researchers. All of our programming is being done online and we plan to keep the online component after we return to in-person programming because we are drawing hundreds more views online that we would draw in-person visitors.”

If he could come back to UA and take any class, Jim said he would probably take a book arts class. “I was never able to work that into my schedule years ago, but I always suspected they were having more fun than the rest of us.” Some advice he has for current students is to “get as much hands-on experience as you can through internships and volunteering. It’s the only way to know for sure that this is the career you want, and it will make you much more employable.”

Baggett said the American Library Association (ALA) Core Value that most inspires the work he does is diversity. “Diversity is a core value that guides how we build and operate the Archives. While we focus on preserving the history of a fairly small geographic area—Birmingham and the surrounding area—within that we have a diverse collection that includes letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, and oral history interviews from a wide variety of Birmingham’s communities. These include the African American community, Jewish community, Birmingham women, the Hispanic community and other immigrant communities, and most recently our LGBTQ+ communities. We hold records of large corporations, prominent families, and political and community leaders, but we also hold the papers of homemakers, schoolteachers, musicians, athletes, activists, labor organizers, environmentalists, and the diaries of a shoe salesman.”