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Updated 10:00 AM February 9, 2009

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Spotlight: Utter maps course through history

On the third Thursday of every month Tim Utter transforms the ostensibly esoteric Map Library in the 8th floor of the Hatcher Graduate Library into a venue for a social gathering.

Utter, a senior information resources specialist with the Map Library, conceived the aptly named Third Thursday events to showcase the library's resources. The event typically draws a large crowd of guests who come to see a display ranging from literary maps, such as Middle Earth, to oceanic and nautical maps.

"I enjoy sharing my love of maps with others," Utter says. "Hopefully these events will get people interested so they come back."
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Utter is passionate about bringing exposure to this often overlooked area of Hatcher Graduate Library. In addition to assisting professors with projects that require maps from the extensive library collection, Utter organizes exhibits and leads student tours. "Making the exhibits is the best way to present things in an interesting way to more people," Utter says.

Maps are a lifelong interest for Utter. As a child he was drawn to National Geographic Magazine, and he took an interest in geography in his social studies classes. Utter, a Flint native, then attended U-M as an undergraduate only to find the geography department no longer existed.

"The department was gone by the time I was around," he says. "Most of the professors were still there so I was able to take geography classes."

Utter also took time off in the early 1980s during his college years to work on a dairy farm in Scipioville, N.Y. The organic, biodynamic farm produced cheese from their milk. "That was the most difficult work I ever did in my life," Utter says.

He first began working part time as a student assistant at the map library in 1984. In 1987 he worked full time at the library and continued as a part-time student. He graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of General Studies and a concentration in geography. Other than a stint at a public library in Portland, Ore., Utter has worked at the map library his entire career.

"In college I knew I was interested in geography, but once I started working here as an undergrad I figured out this is what I wanted to do," Utter says.

Aside from his interest in maps, Utter enjoys gardening and working outdoors. He maintains an apple orchard and vegetable garden on his 8-acre farm in Dexter, where he lives with his wife. He also volunteers with For Generations to Come, which is based on a 145-acre nature sanctuary in Sharon Township. "We preserve the land so people can better relate and connect to nature."

In the same spirit, Utter created the Third Thursday events to share a place he loves with a larger audience. "I hope these events will make the map library a destination," Utter says. "We have so much fascinating material that people aren't even aware of."

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the University. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at

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