Carol: Travel tales

Minitex Resource Sharing Manager

How did you get started at the Libraries?

Carol Nelson
Carol Nelson

I worked as a student employee at Minitex beginning in 1977. I loved the work and had a lot of fun with my co-workers. I left after graduating but returned to Minitex after living a few years in Washington, D.C., and working in the St. Paul campus interlibrary loan office.

What was the campus like then?

Different, for sure. We lined up to take classes hoping, but not knowing ahead of time, if there was still an open spot. We used punch cards that were fed through a computer to register. You were lucky to have a typewriter or know someone who did so you could work on papers you needed to turn in up until the last minute. As a student, I spent a lot of time studying in the basement of Wilson Library — there was a massive area with table after table set up for study space. People could even go to a smoking lounge in those days.

At work, we signed up on a schedule for time on one of the two OCLC terminals to get our work done. In the 1980s we started getting a lot more computers in our offices, but it would be quite a few years until people had their “own” work computer.

How have the Libraries changed over the years?

I worked mostly in Wilson Library and when I first started there was an escalator that went from the basement to the first floor where a large portion was taken up by a huge reference collection and an enormous physical card catalog.

How did this change your work?

As a student, I spent a lot of time looking up call numbers in the card catalog, searching through bound volumes of the Minnesota Union List of Serials (MULS), and as a full-time person perusing Union List of Serials (ULS), National Union Catalog (NUC), and other print sources to locate library holdings. Today I pretty much can’t get anything done at work without my computer.

What will you miss?

I really enjoy my work and I’ll miss it. COVID means that I already miss making site visits to other libraries around the Minitex region to meet with other ILL staff. I’ll miss connecting with people at library conferences and of course, my co-workers.

What are you most proud of?

As a manager, one thing I am always most happy about is when one of the people I supervise is able to move into a new position that they are really excited about— whether that is with the Libraries or elsewhere. I always try to advocate for them and to make sure they get opportunities they need to grow and learn so they can discover what careers they want to pursue. Minitex makes that easier because of the opportunities for staff to attend our sponsored conferences.

What was the favorite part of your job?

Carol with Gov. Rudy Perpich
“The University of Minnesota Libraries was one of the first academic institutions in the United States to convert their complete paper card catalog to digital and proudly shared that at the Minnesota State Fair in the Education Building. I happened to be the library staff member who was working in the booth when Governor Rudy Perpich came around for a photo op. and I got the credit for a lot of work I had absolutely no part of … Probably 1987 or 1988.”

I enjoy traveling with work colleagues to visit other libraries — usually. The trips were never glamorous and could be exhausting. I spent a lot of hours in cars driving to libraries in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Yet, those breaks to stop for lunch or to see a site along the way were so fun and stick in my memory. I saw thousands of butterflies traveling back home from South Dakota one time, which was so cool.

Some of the unfortunate trips were funny in retrospect. I remember racing to get through a presentation in Grand Forks to try to make it to the airport before it closed for a snowstorm (unsuccessfully). In whiteout conditions, we barely made it back to the hotel but fortunately, they still had a room. The gates were down on the highways so you couldn’t leave the city. It took some work but we finally found a pizza place that delivered (vending machines were empty). It was an adventure and we made it home the following day.

What do you plan to do in retirement? 

Life has been hectic for me in the last decade or so. I am so excited and ready for a break. I am looking forward to seeing which of the many hobbies that I’ve become interested in over the years will have some sticking power. I hope to continue to do things I’ve always enjoyed like creating gardens to support wildlife.

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