By Adria Carpenter
Erik Biever was a young undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, and in 1979 he joined Minitex in the sub-basement of Wilson Library. Now over 40 years later, he’s moved up in the world. To Wilson’s fifth floor.
“I wound up staying here. Isn’t that funny?” he said. “I figured if I stayed around too long, I’d wind up working on the roof.”
Biever, an Integration, Identity, and Information Security Analyst at the Libraries, is retiring Aug. 15, and while he’s already feeling sentimental and nostalgic, he’s optimistic too. If nothing else, he’s excited to attend the Minnesota State Fair every day.
Biever participates in administration of Alma, the library services platform, as well as integrations with Enterprise Financial Systems, Identity and Access Management, course reading list systems, and electronic reserves. He also works with user authorization — ensuring authorized users have access to licensed resources while unauthorized users don’t.
Typewriters and card catalogs
“When I started working at the Plant Pathology Library, there was a typewriter, telephone, and a card catalog.”
As a Minitex student worker, Biever worked on the Minnesota List of Serials (MULS), a bibliographic database of periodicals held in libraries in Minnesota and adjacent states, which lasted from 1971 to 2011.
Later he worked on the reference desk at Magrath Library, originally called the St. Paul Campus Central Library. When a full-time library assistant position opened at the now-closed Plant Pathology Library, then the smallest library branch, he quickly applied.
“When I started working at the Plant Pathology Library, there was a typewriter, telephone, and a card catalog,” he said. “By the time I left, the typewriter had been replaced by a computer, and the card catalog was replaced first by microfiche, then a full online catalog … and my office in Wilson doesn’t have a phone in it anymore.”
Biever stayed at the Plant Pathology Library from 1982 to 1995, until the information technology support manager at the Magrath Library retired. Biever, the de facto network support person for Plant Pathology, and some of the smaller branch libraries, added IT support for the St. Paul campus libraries to the mix. And over the next two years, he worked on projects like the AgEcon Search, a subject repository for agricultural economics literature with over 180,000 records currently.
“It started here as a very small project, and I had the good fortune to be doing the programming part of it,” he said. “This is in the early days of the web, which barely existed at that point. And PDFs were new.”
Biever also worked on the CIC Virtual Electronic Library project, an early attempt at providing a unified catalog search of all the Big Ten libraries. For the next seven years, he was stationed at the Bio-Medical Library as their systems and network administrator for the next seven years.
Biever completed the Libraries circuit in 2004, returning to Wilson where he has stayed ever since.
“If I did the same work every day, and I didn’t need to think too hard about it, I never would’ve lasted here. But they kept finding interesting things for me to do,” he said.
Finding his voice at the Libraries
In 2012 Biever started to feel stagnant in his career. Something had to change. So he signed up for the Libraries’ Individual Development program. It was “a big win” for him, and the people he met in the program are still “very dear and close friends.”
With the help of career coaches and anonymous peer evaluations, they diagnosed some of those stagnant areas and places for improvement, like his fear of public speaking.
“I had this one response that really, really, really rang true for me,” he explained. “It said that I was in some ways holding the Libraries back by not sharing my expertise and perspective at meetings.”
From there, he discovered the Golden Toasters Toastmasters Club, a group that helps people develop their public speaking and leadership skills. And it didn’t take long to overcome his fear. After years of pre-conference dread, he found himself actually enjoying public speaking.
“My real joy is helping other people get over that hump because that’s a terrible fear,” he said.
Around the same time, Biever began biking to the office. He originally set a goal of twice a week. Soon he was biking every day but swore he’d never be “one of those crazy winter bikers.”
But when the leaves changed colors and the fall breeze came, Biever didn’t want to leave his bike in the garage. With studded tires and some trepidation, he became a crazy winter biker.
“My all-time record is 25 below. I did that one morning just to prove that I could,” he said.
Fewer computers, more scarecrows
“I’ll miss the people, cause I’ve been working with wonderful, wonderful people all these years.”
Besides biking, Biever will miss facing challenges at the Libraries and figuring out how to make programs like AgEcon Search work. But mostly he’ll miss his friends, coworkers, and students.
“I’ll miss the people, cause I’ve been working with wonderful, wonderful people all these years,” Biever said. “I already miss being around the students ever since the pandemic. The campus just doesn’t feel like it used to.”
But retirement has its perks. He’s excited to have more time for volunteering and art projects, like screen printing. He’s a seasonal worker in the State Fair Creative Activities Building and usually enters the scarecrow competition, even bringing home the occasional blue ribbon.
If not at the State Fair, you’ll find Biever at Minnesota Hockey games, which he’s been attending since 1980, though since 2012 he’s switched to women’s hockey since it’s “more fun.”
Cheers to an amazing career!