Rita Smith Honored for Extraordinary Service to the University

RitaSmith_April2014Rita Smith, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Libraries’ executive associate dean, is the 2014 recipient of the UT Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Service to the University. Her extraordinary accomplishments and dedication were celebrated at the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet on April 23.

The Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Service to the University is a singular distinction, awarded to an outstanding individual who “goes above and beyond the call of duty to make lasting contributions to the university.”

Rita Smith’s career at the UT Libraries exemplifies this exceptional level of commitment. Her award nomination read in part: “[Rita] has come to work every day of her career with no other desire than to go above and beyond the call of duty for the students, faculty, and staff of the University of Tennessee.” Her nomination further notes that her commitment to excellence is only surpassed by her modesty and commitment to collaboration—most are not aware of the breadth and depth of her contributions because “she is a consummate team player who thinks of others first and never seeks the limelight for herself.”

Rita Smith first joined the UT Libraries 38 years ago, rising from the position of reference librarian to reference coordinator to department head to her current position of executive associate dean. Along the way, she has been a major force behind many of the Libraries’ successes.

As head of the reference department, she helped guide the UT Libraries’ entry into the online age, assuring that the Libraries adapted resources and services to fit the changing needs of scholarship and learning at the university and that librarians and staff were well trained to implement new technologies and services.

Smith is a campus champion for diversity. She serves on UT’s Council for Diversity and Interculturalism and leads the Libraries’ Diversity Residency Program, an initiative that brings ethnic and cultural diversity to the Libraries, the library profession, and the campus. She mentors the Diversity Residents, who serve two-year post-graduate internships within the UT libraries.

Over the years, she has mentored dozens of library faculty and staff, many of whom have risen through the ranks to be great leaders at UT and elsewhere.

Smith has demonstrated a talent for managing both people and projects. As executive associate dean, she has primary responsibility for the library as space. The present Commons is largely a result of her foresight and efforts to meet new demands on library spaces to accommodate quiet study, collaborative work, and the use of technologies for knowledge creation and online learning. She led the team that investigated student needs, brought in consultants, and conferred with campus stakeholders to create the learning commons in 2005. The multi-million-dollar renovation of the Commons in 2012, under her direction, was by far the largest single renovation to the Hodges Library since its opening in 1987.

Had Rita Smith chosen to pursue her career elsewhere, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville would be very different today.

Smith is highly regarded by her colleagues for her work ethic, love for the students, and dedication to the UT community. Among her many virtues are a zealous devotion to the UT Vols (particularly the Lady Vols) and an amazing knowledge of players, stats, and sports trivia.

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