First Featured Alumna of 2012: Rebecca Tolley-Stokes!

The featured alumni series took a break this past fall, but it has returned for 2012 to continue to feature our fantastic alumni! Our first alumna for 2012 is Rebecca Tolley-Stokes. Rebecca graduated from the UNCG MLIS program in 1996. She is currently an Associate Professor and Librarian at East Tennessee State University but has worked in public, special and academic libraries in her library career. She recently co-edited two books, both of which have UNCG connections – Mentoring in Librarianship: Essays on Working with Adults and Students to Further the Profession, which includes a chapter by UNCG librarian Keith Phelan Gorman, and The Generation X Librarian: Essays on Leadership, Technology, Pop Culture, Social Responsibility and Professional Identity, which includes a chapter by UNCG librarian and alum Lynda Kellam and UNCG alum Kathy Shields. Read on to learn more about Rebecca!

  • Had you worked in other areas before entering library school?

Yes, I worked at a call center, as a bookseller several times at different stores, as an art teach and arts & crafts director for a summer playground program operated by my city’s parks and recreation department, as a fresh and frozen seafood processor when I lived in Alaska, and then as an historical interpreter at Rocky Mount before almost exclusively working in libraries.

  • What was your first library job?

I volunteered at Johnson City Public Library (TN) when I was 13 or 14 and spent most of my time in the children’s department. The Children’s librarian at that time had me clean the picture books’ covers, and cut our felt pieces for story times. My first paying job was also at Johnson City Public Library after I had decided that I wanted to go to library school, but before I had earned my bachelor’s degree. Given my prior volunteer work , when I approached the head of circulation about the possibility of part-time work, I was s shoe-in and then worked as a page for two years prior to attending UNCG.

  • What do you remember most about your time in the UNCG LIS program?

Many fond memories of the semesters I studied at UNCG’s LIS program readily come to my mind. I can’t decide whether the people or the information was most valuable, because both were—and still are—so important to my professional identity.  I became a librarian because I loved books and information and libraries as place; they offered sanctuary to me when I was bullied in junior high. But learning the philosophy and history of our profession and what values we hold dear—like freedom of information, intellectual freedom, and equity of access— correspond with my democratic ideals. My professors made lasting impressions on me:  Dr. Kovacs and Dr. Carmichael taught me so much about being a librarian. The friends I made were lasting and whether I run into classmates at ALA, see each other at weddings, chat on Facebook , or plan weekend getaways, I’m grateful for the power of bricks-and-mortar UNCG that forged our friendship.

  • What is your current position and what does it entail?

Since 2009 I’ve served as the faculty outreach librarian at the Charles C. Sherrod Library at East Tennessee State University which entails a little bit of everything, really: Reference-by-appointment and library instruction. I coordinate library instruction for the public services team. We licensed bePress this fall and I’ll work directly with faculty to help them with Selected Works. Our systems librarian and I are writing our institutional repository policies, taxonomies, etc. Finally seeing this IR come to fruition is exciting since I’ve dreamed of nothing other than it for the past two years.

  • Do you have any projects going on that you’re particularly excited about?

Other than the IR I mentioned above, my second co-edited book was published earlier this month Mentoring in Librarianship: Essays on Working with Adults and Students to Further the Profession and one of the contributors, Keith Phelan Gorman works at Jackson Library, UNCG.

  • How do you feel the profession has changed since you graduated from UNCG?

Librarianship becomes more exciting with each passing year. Library school curricula amaze me. I envy what students learn and wish I could return and upgrade my skill set.  But that doesn’t really answer the question, does it? My observations are not very original. The rate of change that librarians experience in our profession nowadays is phenomenal. Keeping up with all the trends that may affect library services or programs seems barely possible. Perhaps when I earned my degree it was easier to be complacent in your professional development, but today constant improvement or lifelong learning so that librarians retain a competitive edge is key, especially given the rate at which libraries close and librarians’ jobs may be in peril.

  • Anything else you’d like to say to the UNCG Alumni?

Let your curiosity and passion drive you. Seek phenomenal mentors. Take risks that force you out of your comfort zone or you’ll never learn what you’re capable of professionally.

Many thanks to Rebecca for taking time out to answer our questions in the midst of teaching her first Intro to Women’s Studies course this past fall!

Do you know an alumnus that you think we should feature? Email Lynda Kellam at or Kathy Shields at with the information!


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