Recollections by Sage Holben

After waiting for Highway 35 to clear after a New Year’s snow storm, I drove from Iowa to begin my Metropolitan State University employment on January 6, 1999. I had been an assistant reference librarian at the college from which I recently graduated, and then filled in at a friend’s request at Vatterott College in Des Moines while job hunting. Then I answered the one-inch ad in the Mankato newspaper which read “…providing electronic reference service”. Metropolitan State University library was located in the south portion of what was then the computer lab, New Main 105. Walking in, IT Services offices and help desk were to the right. Banks of computers filled the center of the room, and Library Services was to the left of the double door, with the ‘Mac Lab’ in the far south room.

My job, I learned on my first day, was to staff the IT help desk for the first part of my day and then the library for the second half. Marty Swenson did the same on his shift. Whichever side we worked, we spent much of our time teaching and assisting students on computer usage, from how to use a mouse to helping with their Java homework.

Old library and computer lab

Old library and computer lab

When I came, Jeff Jackson was the new library director, replacing Virginia Dudley. Taking on much of the library management were Kim Scannell and Leslie Adams. Red tape at this time was a bit flimsier, and allowed Kim, without a library degree, to take on management responsibilities: writing position descriptions; working on the budget; conferring with the personnel office (before it was Human Resources); managing interviewing – setting up committees, notifying applicants, and hiring. Kim left to work on her library degree shortly after I came.

Leslie Adams, at the time I started, was the person I actually thought was the director or assistant director. She knew the budget, personnel rules and expectations, and almost anything about the university, from staff to history to scheduling and general operations. I looked to her more than anyone else as the person in charge.

Leslie Adams & Stephanie Thorson

Leslie Adams & Stephanie Thorson

Leslie, Marty and I were a library team and generally welcomed the autonomy we had. We set library hours according to available work staff; made our own work arrangements suitable for our staffing, hours, and skills. Our computers still printed onto dot matrix paper, and much of our record-keeping was just beginning to shift to computer records. At this time, with no technical librarian, cataloging and acquisitions were not part of our work flow. Adela Peskorz was our librarian; her responsibility was to teach the information classes. Again, red tape was so non-existent that I twice taught information classes when she would have had to cancel.

Who were past librarians? Colleen Coughlin was on staff sometime before I started. She stopped in one day and introduced herself to me. A 2000 obituary and obituary correction in the Minneapolis Star Tribune inform us that Jean Challman was a ‘chief’ librarian “at Metropolitan Community College, predecessor of Metropolitan State University”, retiring in 1977. I would be interested in learning more about our early librarians and where/how they connected with students.

Instructors and professors would stop in and talk about how they, in helping students find resources online, became librarians in their own rights. As a ‘university without walls’, this is true; people stepped in to help, willingly sharing knowledge and working on collections. Whether it was teaching how to use references; assisting in teaching a class; or working through personnel issues, people stepped forward with their expertise. Was it for better or worse? Neither. It’s just the way it was in this innovative institution.

A co-worker and I would beg for more structure and input from administration at times, but I loved the challenges of making decisions and taking responsibility when we were between library directors (David Barton was to be our next). It meant making decisions on our newly installed 3M security gate; how we wanted our new office space to be arranged (when we gained two small rooms in NM105, one became our periodicals and study area and the other became an office. We decided among ourselves who claimed ILL, circulation, acquisitions, etc. when our jobs began to become more specific and we gained more staff and student workers. Later we gained the Mac Lab and a closet. The closet soon became an office for Carla, our technical librarian.

Sage in action!

Sage in action!

At this time the Mac Lab became office to all our staff. People started realizing that a library WITH books finally existed as we began purchasing and cataloging our own inventory. When I came here in 1999, I had many, many more books in my home library than we had at Metro State. I remember the absolute joy and excitement when another library actually requested one of our books through ILL – we finally had a book that someone wanted!!

Our shortage of space can be exemplified in the following dynamic group action. It happened between directors and none of the maintenance crew was available. We were working on our own. The computer lab had shifted space in some way and we were able to claim another one to three feet of floor space. It may not seem very exciting to some, but every inch counted. Maintenance was tied up and we had to move on this. So, to move a large, long, semi-oval circulation desk, we placed a quantity of wood pencils beneath the raised desk and ‘rolled’ it to claim the new space! Yes, we often worked in very primitive ways.

For ten years at this time, Metro State’s campus had extended to a repurposed bank (the vault was the study room). Librarian Ruth Zietlow oversaw our Minneapolis campus library while librarian Carla Johnson managed our Midway campus. In the beginning, Saint Paul staff took turns covering the circulation desks at these campuses. When David Barton joined us, he continued the work Jeff Jackson had been doing on plans for the ‘new library’.

We are so fortunate now to have a large, beautiful space shared with the public library, the Center for Academic Excellence, the Gordon Parks Gallery, and the Metro Bookstore. Join us for a Reception (October 28th, 4:30-6:30) to celebrate 10 years of us being in a library much bigger than a shoebox.

Check out our event page for more information.


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