Julene Butler, from weakness to strength


Former BYU Head Librarian Julene Butler would have never believed where she would end up.  Her lifelong goal of being a teacher was thwarted in college, by a fear of being in front of people.  The detour she chose, however, eventually led her to her goal of teaching and beyond.  Described by others as a kind, compassionate woman, she not only overcame her biggest weakness, but it eventually became one of her biggest strengths and biggest joys.

“When I came to college, I wanted to be an English teacher,” Butler said. “Then I started taking the education classes. I’d get up to do the practice teaching in front of the group and I’d stammer and stutter, and my teeth would chatter and I was just terrified, and I could not present in front of the group.”

After realizing her fear of teaching, Butler decided to take an alternate route, one where she could hide behind a stack of books.  She continued her education to receive a master’s in library science, then began working at the BYU Library.

“Still I was just terrified,” said Butler. “Even the thought of being at a reference desk and answering questions and looking dumb, it just terrified me. So I thought I would just be a cataloguer.”

Paula Watkins, Butler’s sister, thought differently. She said Butler has always been a teacher.

“She has always been a teacher to my children, she was like their second mother,” Watkins said.

Watkins said Butler would tend her children regularly while she was in classes. Butler was patient teacher and the children grew to love her.

“She has always been a teacher, but as she became a teacher in a public sense, we saw it as her coming to her own. We knew that’s what she was and that’s what one of her beautiful gifts was.”

Butler worked as the a cataloger behind the scenes for about four years. Then she realized that she needed to do more.  She pushed herself a little further and began teaching some classes and working at a reference desk.

“I finally got brave enough to each that class and I just discovered just how much I had been right, I wanted to be a teacher; I just had to overcome my anxieties and find some confidence inside myself.”

Marvin Wiggins, an associate at the library, said he had no idea she was a timid teacher at one point.

“I’ll just admit I didn’t know; she was very confident,” he said.

Again, Butler said she felt as though she had to do more, so she rekindled her dream of being a teacher and set off to New Jersey to obtain her Ph.D.  She said she was still terrified and lacking in confidence, but she took the advice of her adviser, to take things one bite at a time.

That is exactly what she did, but after a couple of years of biting away at the degree she took a hard swallow when she found out that her dream job of teaching in the library science master’s program at BYU had been cut.  With lots of encouragement from her family, she persevered and finished her degree.

With her Ph.D., she came back to BYU and began working in library administration, and, in a roundabout way, had reached her goal of being a teacher.

“I had hoped I would teach students who wanted to become librarians, now I had the opportunity to teach freshly minted librarians,” she said.

She eventually worked her way up to be the University Librarian, where she served for almost three years before stepping down on Oct. 1, 2012.

Kali O’Connell, promotion and outreach manager at the library, said she too was very surprised when she found out Butler was fearful of teaching.

“The first time I heard her tell the story about how terrified she was, it was like, ‘No, Julene?’ Everyone is surprised when they hear that,” O’Conell said.

Butler taught by example. Others can learn  so much by simply watching how she interacts with others, O’Connell said.

“The way that I learned from Julene, really was just observing her day to day, not observing her as she was trying to teach just observing the way she conducted herself,” O’Connell said. “You can’t help but learn from Julene.”

Perhaps another factor that led Butler to be a librarian was her love of books. As a child, she would spend hour after hour poring through many different books.  She found that her favorites were biographies and autobiographies of women.

“I loved ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,'” Butler said.  “She was such a hero in terms of someone who had experienced diversity and was an optimist through it all. I just thought she was a great example.”

Butler’s friends and associates said that Butler has become quite like the heroines from the books as she overcame many obstacles, the biggest being her fear of teaching, and ultimately turned that fear into her biggest strength.

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