ALCTS Member Recognized with I Love My Librarian Award

Congratulations are in order for one of ALCTS’ own. Julie Kane, Director of Digital Teaching and Learning/Digital Pedagogies Librarian at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, is one of the recipients of the prestigious I Love My Librarian Award.

Julie KaneAwarded annually, the I Love My Librarian Award ( is jointly administered by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The New York Times, and the American Library Association. The award recognizes individuals for, “…their dedicated public service and the valuable role they play in our nation’s communities in transforming lives through education.” More than 1,000 library users submitted stories and support for nominees. Ten winners were chosen by a committee and were recognized at a ceremony in New York City at the Times Center in December 2013.

Julie and I are on the ALCTS Program Committee together. At Midwinter 2014 in Philadelphia, we met up at the convention center and found a quiet soft-seating area on the third floor, which unfortunately I did not locate until the last day of the conference, where I was able to interview her about the award, her library career, and her experiences with ALCTS.

Emily: Congratulations on the award! How very exciting! Was winning a complete surprise or were you aware that people were submitting your name?

Julie: No, I had no idea. Poor Maureen Sullivan, she called me to let me know I was receiving the award and I think I might have told her to shut up. I had no idea I was in the running and I just clammed up due to the shock. I just kept saying, “…okay, okay.”

Emily: Where were you when you found out? Did you do a little dance afterwards?

Julie: I did! I was at work and in my office. I proceeded to freak out. I ran down to my dean’s office to share the good news, but she wasn’t in at the moment. She already knew I’d won because the committee had called her to confirm the details of my employment, or something like that. It was difficult to keep my excitement under wraps. We had to keep things quiet. There was a New York Times embargo on the story. I couldn’t publicly say anything until the event – so no Facebook or anything like that. It was almost a month between when I found out and the event. It was rough! The week of the ceremony my college was allowed to send out a press release. I think the local media had one too, and possibly my library school.

Emily: How many people submitted your name?

Julie: Seven or eight people including a team of faculty and administrators, my dean, and some former students.

Emily: How did it feel to win?

Julie: It was weird! It was cool, but weird. It was anxiety inducing, honestly. I used to say that I’m a librarian, but I’m not the kind that helps people directly on a daily basis - I’m not a reference librarian. I was a tech services librarian, a cataloger, and that was going to be it. I was happy interacting with no one and to be just surrounded by books and helping people indirectly.

But, in the last year my job morphed and changed completely into this new position that deals more heavily with faculty and students. Honestly, I was outside of the library so much that I felt somewhat separated. I was having this year of change, flux, and crisis. I was thinking: being in this different building and in this new role do they even think I’m a librarian? When all of these faculty members, colleagues, and students nominated me for the I Love My Librarian award, it was an overwhelming moment of community solidarity. I appreciated the recognition of the importance of the role of the librarian in learning, scholarship, and success within the college. So, to be nominated in the first place was beyond amazing. Of course, I started crying and was just so overwhelmed by the positive feedback.

Emily: How was the ceremony in New York City?

Julie: The ceremony was so crazy special – to be at the Times Center and Richard Ford was there speaking and Vartan Gregorian. The recipients had the opportunity to speak briefly after we received our awards. I really don’t remember what I said. It was very bright and there were a lot of people. It was a beautiful ceremony with fancy food and lovely people. My husband accompanied me and we had a great time!

Emily: Can you tell me a little bit about Sweet Briar College and what you do there?

Julie: This is my seventh year at the college. Previous to Sweet Briar, I was at the Stanford Law School, where I had been for six and a half years as a serials librarian. I came to Sweet Briar to be the head of technical services. Sweet Briar College is small. We have about 600 students. It’s a private, liberal arts women’s college. And it is gorgeous. The college has about 3,200 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Sweet Briar College has a great equestrian program and engineering program. We’re only the second women’s college in the nation to have an accredited engineering program. It’s really very cool for a school of our size to have an engineering program. Since I arrived, we’ve gotten a new president, Dr. Jo Ellen Parker. She came to us from the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education that pushes for tech in liberal arts and so part of our new strategic plan is “digital sophistication” for students and, ultimately, for faculty too.

As part of that, I was tapped to lead an iPad pilot when they first came out – gosh that seems like a long time ago – for faculty to begin using them in the classroom. That led to our Y:1 program where – not all, but certain – first-year students sign-up for a group of classes and as a part of that get an iPad to use for these core classes. That was a jumping off point for my involvement in the e-portfolio program, which launched as a pilot two years ago. Our dean tapped me for the pilot and asked if I was interested in leading it. And I said sure! It all snowballed from there and turned into my new job when the pilot turned into a full, college-wide roll out of the e-portfolio, because handling both jobs just got to be too huge. So, I left the aspects of my old job behind and moved into this new direction to become Director of Digital Teaching and Learning/Digital Pedagogies Librarian. I took on managing the e-portfolio program for the college totally and started thinking more about assessment and curriculum planning. I also started moving towards digital humanities work, which I’m really excited about. We hired a new Access Services Librarian who has taken on many of my old responsibilities.

Emily: What is an e-portfolio? What goes in one? Is it for everyone from engineers to lit majors?

Julie: Yes, it’s for everyone. The way it’s often described is: what Moodle does for faculty, e-portfolio does for students. It’s sort of an online binder where they can hold all of their coursework and organize it however they want: video, images, text - any kind of digital media. They can submit work to their professors through their e-portfolio and the college can pull from there for assessment. It also archives. And the students get to keep it forever.

Emily: Are they able to share it? If I were hiring one of them, could they send it to me as an example of their work?

Julie: Yes, and they can pull from it and create a showcase portfolio highlighting their academic career.

Emily: What does a typical day look like for you in this new position?

Julie: It changes. I’m also in school right now; I’m getting a second Masters in English, so it definitely changes. It’s the beginning of the semester at Sweet Briar and I’m doing a lot of running around getting classes set up with e-portfolios troubleshooting, helping faculty. I help faculty who are new to e-portfolio. Sometimes the faculty member wants me in the classroom to help students set them up, so I’ll do a visit and assist in that manner.

Emily: So, how did you get into librarianship? What gave you “the bug?”

Julie: I think kind of by default, honestly. I was an English major in college and thought I wanted to be an editor and go into publishing. But, I discovered that I wasn’t a good writer. And, I felt I couldn’t be an editor if I couldn’t write. My mom encouraged me to go to grad school and be a librarian and after a moment of incredibility, I decided it was a good idea. I went to Simmons focusing on cataloging. As soon as I took my first cataloging class, I thought, “This is it. I’m going to organize the heck out of this place.”

Emily: I noticed in the write-up that you had made mentoring an important part of your career. Can you talk a little bit about that? As a person who has definitely benefited from mentoring, I think it’s a cool thing.

Julie: That kind of happened accidentally. Some kids got shuttled to me when they expressed an interest in librarianship, or we just find each other because it’s such a small campus. And, I work with them and find things to talk about and we hang out and it happens naturally.

Emily: How did you get involved with ALCTS and ALA?

Julie: I don’t know! These things just kind of keep falling into my lap. I wish I could say I had some sort of dastardly plan to realize it all and I don’t. I came to Sweet Briar and got involved with ALA. At Stanford Law, I always went to American Association of Law Librarians (AALL) conferences. When I got my first chance to start with ALA, I was really excited. I filled out my volunteer form and I got onto the ALCTS Program Committee. I knew ALCTS was going to be my home, because I was like “tech services, tech services, tech services!” I got involved with NMRT and ALCTS, but the first thing that happened was I was appointed to the program committee. I was shocked. I thought it was a mistake because the program committee is such a high-level committee. I’m on the ALA conference program coordinating team (CPCT) too. I’m still kind of new to that, but we’re taking a look at ALA programming going forward. And asking: How can we better organize the conference?

Emily: What has been the most rewarding part of your library career thus far? Or, some of the most rewarding parts; I won’t make you choose just one.

Julie: I really love the community at Sweet Briar. The support and flexibility that we have is great. Some days I can’t believe that I have it. It can be frustrating too if I choose to look at it like I’m being pushed to explore and learn. It’s actually everything I want in my career, but it’s also scary! It’s terrifying to do new things. But at the same time the fact that they think I can do it is awesome. I’ve found my little niche. I can’t say enough about how this is their award much more than it’s mine. They have been so supportive of this whole process and in giving me the opportunities that facilitated the award.

Emily: What’s next?

Julie: I’m in the middle of my degree. I’m hoping to finish that up next year. I’m getting going learning about digital humanities. I’m hoping to get a program relating to DH up and going in the next couple of years at Sweet Briar.

Emily: Congratulations again on winning the award and for representing ALCTS and librarianship so thoroughly and so well. All the best!

Visit the I Love My Librarian Award site to learn how to nominate someone you know for the award in 2014.

—Emily Sanford, Michigan State University Libraries