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Highlands Librarian Receives Academic Librarian of the Year Award

Valerie Nye and April Kent pose in masks with Academic Librarian of the Year Award.

Valerie Nye presents April Kent with the Academic Librarian of the Year Award

August 30, 2021

Highlands Public Services Librarian, April Kent, has received the 2021 Academic Librarian of the Year award from the New Mexico Consortium of Academic Libraries.

Kent was nominated for the award for her dedicated work with the consortium and her investment in resources and programming at Donnelly Library. She is the first librarian in the state who is not a library director to receive the award, and she will be honored in October at the annual banquet for the New Mexico Library Association.

Kent studied English for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but she said that teaching composition in graduate school at Penn State helped her understand that classroom teaching wasn’t the right fit. When a fellow classmate shared his experiences with being a librarian, Kent said she knew she had discovered a path that suited her strengths.

“I liked teaching, and I loved interacting with students and helping them with their writing, but I really didn’t like grading,” Kent said. “I liked supporting people and helping people find information. I’ve always loved libraries.”

As a member of the Consortium of Academic Libraries, Kent said she and her colleagues pursue professional development and pursue legislative initiatives, such as the bi-annual General Obligation, or GO, Bond that provides financial support to libraries across New Mexico.

Valerie Nye, president of the Consortium, said April has done a lot of work for the organization in the past five years.

“April has taken on some significant leadership with the legislative committee, working with legislators and really helping to set the agenda for the NMCAL organization—specifically in our activities related to the library GO Bond funds,” said Nye. “She’s been key in getting over $9 million GO Bond funds last time to libraries around the state.”

According to Nye, the committee that works on securing state funding for libraries is largely composed of library directors.

“April doesn’t need to be on the committee, but she’s doing it because of her interest,” Nye said. “The GO Bonds she works to support is something that comes before voters every two years, so it’s essentially nonstop work. It really shows her commitment to the whole process.”

“It’s a great organization to be part of, and there are a lot of really dedicated academic librarians in the state,” said Kent. “One thing libraries do very well with this organization, and in many other ways, is to work collaboratively. We share ideas, we share resources, we share training.”

As the Public Services Librarian at Donnelly, Kent is passionate about creating a welcoming space for the community, providing library instruction, and offering a wide range of public programming. Because streaming movies is often challenging in for people in the area, Kent has built up a large DVD collection for the Highlands and Las Vegas communities and she’s helped expand the leisure reading collections, too. In addition to serving Highlands students, Kent is eager to bring in community members and she said she is looking forward to providing programming in the re-acquired coffee shop when it is safe to do so.

“The idea is for libraries to not be just quiet warehouses for books, but to be lively places for programs,” Kent said.

As the Public Services Librarian, Kent oversees circulation and reference, facilitates library instruction in research and source evaluation, selects books for the library, and helps plan public programming. Donnelly is small enough that she is able to wear many hats, which she says is one of her favorite parts of being an academic librarian at Highlands.

“I love public programming,” Kent said. “I’ve been able to do that through several generous grants I wrote several with other people.”

Discussions built around a series of books on one theme, scholar-led book discussions, and trivia challenges have been among the library’s most popular events. Unfortunately, the pandemic put some of these on pause.

“Collectively, academic libraries were able to pivot very quickly, and that was true at Highlands, too,” Kent said. “We made sure we had Zoom reference desks open the same way that we would have a physical reference desk. Some things about the Zoom format actually work very well for reference questions because showing people how to use databases, how to create a citation, how to enter search terms—those are all very visual things.”

Nye was pleased to present the Academic Librarian of the Year award to Kent, and says she appreciates Kent’s commitment to the profession.

“April’s just a great colleague; I’ve known her for a long time, and we’ve grown in our careers together,” said Nye. “She has a really strong commitment to Highlands and to the profession and is curious and passionate, and willing to get into the weeds with politics and law, which I think is really admirable.”

For her part, Kent said she is not doing it alone.

“I would never be able to do all these different things if I didn’t have a great team backing me up,” said Kent. “My colleagues do everything else, and I’ve had partnerships with all the programs we’ve done, and faculty have been a great resource, too.”

Looking forward, Kent said she wants to ensure that community members know that Donnelly Library is open to the public.

“Community members can get a free borrowing card with us,” Kent said. “We are a public space with computers the public can use, we have children’s books, popular reading, DVDs—we are a resource.”