Peter Jarnstrom Interview
Peter Jarnstrom began his career at the library of Minnesota State University,
Mankato in 1980. He started out in cataloging and moved into interlibrary loan where he works
at present as ILL Technician.
In his interview Peter discussed: using the new OCLC Interlibrary Loan system in the early 1980s;
major innovations (custom holdings and interlibrary loan fee management) to the OCLC interlibrary
loan service that resulted in less manual and more automated workflows for staff; development of
PALS (Project for Automated Library Systems) to include a fully integrated interlibrary loan
module, making it easier for libraries within the consortium to borrow and lend materials; and an
early 90s periodical disaster at Memorial Library.
Peter also shared his experience working on two major projects that Memorial Library underwent in
the 1980s when he was in the cataloging department. The first project involved reclassification of
their entire library collection from the Dewey Decimal Classification system to Library of Congress
classification system. The second major project involved retrospective conversion of catalog cards
to tape, eventually forming the basis of the first union catalog of the Minnesota State Colleges
and Universities, PALS.
Interviewed by Sara Ring, Minitex, on August 31, 2012.
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Quotes From the Interview
On students and faculty adapting to the new online catalog:
With the beginning of the PALS online catalog, things gradually shifted, now keyword searching
became an option and so people were able to find things much more easily than they could before...
Then as now young people were quicker to adapt to new technologies. We deliberately set up our
first few PALS catalog terminals in such a way so people had to walk around them to get to the
card catalog. And students stopped at the terminals and figured it out pretty quickly with or
without help from the library staff. Professors on the other hand systematically passed the
terminals and walked to the card catalog and continued using it, in spite of the fact that we
had very large signs posted saying that we had stopped filing cards after a certain date so for
the most recent information please consult the online catalog... this went on for about a year
until we finally got rid of the card catalog altogether. (15:16-16:32)
On finding OCLC interlibrary loan suppliers:
...if the item wasn't available anywhere within the Minitex region then we would look farther
afield... Maybe there were 200 libraries that owned it and they were scattered all over the place.
We had endless checklists that we would type up... it was almost as if the ILL office was papered
with checklists... We knew which libraries lent for free, and which ones were rapid suppliers,
which ones took a long time, which ones lent certain categories of AV materials, and which ones
didn't. And all of this had to be reduced to checklists. So the decision making process was very
much manual and it meant consulting those lists... it was very much a high level task that we only
entrusted to permanent staff and a few graduate assistants. (24:00-24:54)
On finding information in libraries:
If a student had an assignment, they had to first learn how to use those indexes and abstracts,
which meant pouring through one volume after another looking for anything on your topic. And of
course, without keyword searching, it meant figuring out what subject terms did they use and how
do I locate what I want... current university students have no grasp of how much manual labor was
involved for their parents' generation... a gentleman who used to work here, one of our reference
librarians, said that it was his view that for the first 2500 years or so of organized libraries
the challenge was to help patrons find enough information on the topics that interested them.
Suddenly in the 1990s and early 2000s, that got turned on its head and now we have to help them
wade through a universe of information, most of which, doesn't help them. We have to help them
find those nuggets that will actually allow them to meet their needs... (17:45-19:02)
This Oral History Project interview by Minitex is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.