The Virtual Library of Virginia
"VIVA: A Relay Race or a Circle Dance?
Changing Perspectives to Improve Management"
by Katherine A. Perry, VIVA Director
Presented at IFLA, August 17, 1998
Good morning. It is a privilege to be with you in Amsterdam. I've enjoyed this chance to reflect a bit about issues facing VIVA. It has also provided me with the opportunity to think about the links between the Netherlands and Virginia's history.
For it is fitting that VIVA (the Virtual Library of Virginia), should be represented here today in the Netherlands. We are connected through this man, William III1, born just 30 miles southwest of Amsterdam, in the Hague. He served as a Stadholder (or chief magistrate) of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Later, he and his wife, Mary II ruled England, Scotland and Ireland as dual monarchs, from 1689-1702. It was in 1693, during their reign, that the College of William and Mary, Virginia’s oldest university, was granted a royal charter -- and is the only university in the United States to have a royal charter.
As you may know, William and Mary were first cousins, with Charles I as their shared grandfather. On the other side, William III's grandfather was William I (William the Silent). William I is a very important figure in Dutch history, since he is considered to be the founder of Dutch independence from Spanish rule in the 16th century. He is especially revered for his work to maintain the identities of the individual regions and provinces while establishing the essential unity of the Netherlands as a whole2. VIVA is also dedicated to the essential unity of our region, in our case, the Virginia academic community. So with that rather convoluted logic, we return to Virginia.
VIVA: The Virtual Library of Virginia
I’ve included a description of VIVA on the handout, and there are brochures available, so I will just say a few words of definition here.
VIVA is the consortium of academic libraries of the 39 state-assisted colleges and universities (at 52 campuses) within the Commonwealth of Virginia. This includes 6 doctoral universities, 9 comprehensive institutions, and 24 community and two-year branch colleges. In addition, 28 private institutions participate where possible.
Our funding has been approximately $5 million each biennium, for a total of $10 million since 1994. Each year, we have allocated an increasingly larger proportion of those funds to purchasing and licensing electronic collections. During this biennium, which began July 1, our funding has increased slightly to approximately $6 million. In addition, our member schools are augmenting that with approximately $1 million in local funds to support collections (primarily for our Academic Press IDEAL subscription).
A great deal of work is accomplished through our committee structure and there are approximately 75 librarians serving on our standing committees: Steering, Collections, InterLibrary Loan, Special Collections, Technical Issues, and User Services (including both the Publicity and the Cataloging and Intellectual Access Subcommittees). We have a form of representational democracy in VIVA with representation on each of these committees carefully balanced according to:
Our organization is significantly different from that of other consortia in the United States, particularly in the fact that it is currently very decentralized. We believe this is because our organization reflects the history and culture of higher education in Virginia, specifically:
During our first Biennium, the majority of our efforts went into "simply" purchasing the resources. We saw our efforts to be in a straight-line progression -- individual runners3 in a relay race. It seems naive now, but we proceeded with this concept:
1. the Collections Committee would initiate the purchase of the resources,
2. the Technical Issues Committee would solve the technical problems (once and for all), and
3. the User Services Committee would be sure the local librarians were trained and that would be the end of it.
But the image of handing the baton to the next relay runner or a sprinter in an Olympic race doesn’t work well for ongoing contract management in our technically complex and ever-changing environment.
And so we have changed our approach. We now strive to operate in a more connected, matrix-management environment with links to other players within VIVA. Not exactly Matisse's "Nasturtiums with 'Dance'"4- but something similar to a circle dance -- a continuous activity involving many key players along the way as we purchase the resources, address technical issues, train the librarians and faculty, evaluate the statistics, evaluate the product, communicate with the vendor and the librarians, and renegotiate with the vendor to improve the product. And of course, all of this is to be repeated at least annually for what we hope is an ever-improving service for our members.
We have come to see that we will work best if we operate not as individuals on a short relay race, but as teams of colleagues working together. Clearly, we see that to be effective, we must have at least two things:
- key players involved throughout. To facilitate this, we have developed Resource Management Teams for each of our VIVA resources, and
- data to help us improve. For a very small staff operation, we spend a great deal of time and effort gathering and presenting statistical information on use of the resources for our members.
So it is these two issues I would like to discuss with you this morning:
Resource Management Teams
For each of our VIVA products, we have developed a Resource Management Team. Each team consists of the at least these three members:
In addition, we have added other people as necessary to the teams and as Director, I consider myself one of the members of all Resource Managment Teams.
These Resource Management Team members are volunteers from throughout the state -- from large and small schools, public and private. Some of these teams have needed to be very active:
Fortunately, not all teams have had to be very active. Some simply review the statistics as they become available and are "on call" if they are needed.
In marked contrast to our print materials, electronic resources offer the ideal of detailed use statistics. Over the past several months, we have worked to gather VIVA’s use statistics in a password-protected area of our web site. Our goal is to encourage our members to promote these resources at their institutions.
As many of you know, acquiring the statistics is not a simple task. However, to simplify the discussion, there are three steps involved in our work with statistics:
First, you have to get them. We have supported the work of the International Coalition of Library Consortia and the JSTOR group to develop a consistent list of statistical requirements (currently in draft form) we can present to all of our vendors. But we are a very long way from getting those statistics automatically. For example, it has taken months of effort to get statistics from all of our vendors, not all of them arrive in an acceptable timeframe or in an acceptable format, in some cases they still do not include all of our member institutions, and in many cases, they are still woefully inadequate.
Second, not only is it often unclear What they count, the statistics we receive can be very misleading. Quite simply, in the stateless web environment in which we find ourselves, the numbers can simultaneously both over count and under count the use. For example, they may be including meaningless ornamental images (gifs for buttons) which will inflate the count. At the same time, web statistics will under-represent the number of times an individual returns to a site that is captured in his or her browser’s cache.
Third, and I believe most importantly, we present these for the members. On our statistics web site, we gather together all of the use statistics on each of our major contracts. On the sample sheet provided here, you can see how we handle the varied information we get from the vendors:
Despite their many limitations, the statistics are valuable in revealing the use trend and identifying particular implementation problems. We have placed these statistics in a password protected area, our "Intranet" if you will, because they are designed only for our members' management and information. We encourage the members to review them at their own institutions, to compare their numbers against their peers, to run their own statistical analyses on trends and use,and to evaluate their implementation of the VIVA products.
I have tried not to weigh you down with jargon on "Total Quality Management", but we have incorporated many of the features of TQM in our daily management within our decentralized consortium. The two issues I've discussed here -- the statistical use data and the Resource Management Team concept -- have assisted us in our management of VIVA’s resources.
I've enjoyed visiting with you today and invite you to "VISIT VIVA" anytime, either in person or via our web site: http://www.vivalib.org.
1. Portrait of William III. "WILLIAM III, MARY II (1689-1702 AD)" Monarchs of England. Available: http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon51.html 10 August 1998.
2. Harrison, Frederic. William the Silent. (NY: The Perkins Book Company, 1902) p. 320.
3. Lyons, Andy, Photograph of Mary Slaney in "Back to the Future for Mary Slaney" by Bob Burns. Available: http://espn.sportszone.com/editors/atlanta96/features/names/slaney.html 10 August 1998.
4. "Nasturtiums with 'Dance ' (II)" by Henri Matisse (p. 223) in Elderfield, John. Henri Matisse; A Retrospective. NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 1992.