Openers: Money Won't Be EnoughBy Cy Dillon
By the time you read this the Virginia library community should be less confused about the fate of "Infopowering the Commonwealth," the effort to put a variety of electronic resources in all public libraries. The current confusion is caused by mixed signals from Richmond. In the last session of the General Assembly, money was allocated to begin planning for the ambitious project, and the Library of Virginia was designated as the planning agency. Hopes were high for millions in legislative funding. Then, the first draft of Governor Gilmore's budget was said to leave the project out, but the Governor presented the project as his own proposal in the annual State of the Commonwealth speech.
Let's be optimists and expect the issue to be resolved in favor of funding this most worthy of library projects. Will the information needs of Virginia citizens be met because of funds provided by a wise legislature and a governor who wants Virginia to take a place of national leadership in the information age? Will "Infopowering" immediately begin to save public libraries money comparable to the $30,000,000 claimed for VIVA? Not necessarily.
Those of us who have worked through the first five years of VIVA, the well-funded initiative to give Virginia's colleges and universities the very best in electronic resources, know all too well that funding is only part of the process. According to a 1998 presentation by Kathy Perry, VIVA's internationally known Director, over seventy-five people are involved each year in the vital committees that make the consortium run. In addition the State Council of Higher Education, the various state-supported institutions, and Virginia's private colleges and universities all have to work in concert to identify, evaluate, and purchase resources. Several institutions provide computer support of various kinds, and others handle the financial transactions associated with spending over two million dollars per year with a wide variety of vendors.
For example, Sweet Briar College acts as the financial agent for all the independent institutions, billing us as appropriate and paying vendors or reimbursing VIVA as needed. While their costs are covered for this service, it is remarkable that they are willing to undertake this additional burden. Everything VIVA has accomplished has been the result of unusual and unfailing cooperation among its members. How much work has that been? Take a look at the VIVA Outreach Committee's web page (http://libra.jmu.edu/viva/outreach/). Under "Publicity and Promotional Materials" you will find a set of articles and talks that present a history of the organization since it was an idea of Charlene Hurt and Dennis Robison in the early 1990s. Look carefully at these materials and you will be amazed at the number of librarians who have invested significant amounts of time and effort in every phase of the organization's progress. My own experience with VIVA has included literally weeks of work getting our private institutions ready to participate in VIVA's contract with Dow Jones Interactive. But, I count those hours among the most productive I have ever spent when a student or teacher at Ferrum tells me what they were able to accomplish with the resource.
Kathy Perry has said that "We now strive to operate in a more connected, matrix-management environment with links to other players within VIVA. Not exactly [the painter] Matisse's "Nasturtiums with Dance"-- 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." The magic of VIVA is that this is done with a tiny central staff and with totally committed librarians scattered around the Commonwealth.
So, in that spirit of optimism mentioned earlier, I wish Virginia's public librarians the best in funding, and I warn them to hang onto their hats when the ride begins. They will, if they are to be successful in getting the most out of the state's investment, be challenged both to cooperate like never before and to work on difficult and demanding projects whose outcome often depends on individual initiative. The alternative is to create a potentially pointless and ineffective level of state bureaucracy that can all too easily lead to one-size-fits-all decisions and budget busting spending on staff and offices. Don't let that happen to the libraries and citizens of Virginia. You public librarians have the vision and the energy to manage the information resources that will become the heart of libraries of the future. Virginians are counting on you.
Virginia Libraries on the Web
According to statistics from the Virginia Tech Digital Library and Archives, Virginia Libraries was requested from their server 20,718 times between April 28 and December 31, 1999. The resulting average of 83 sessions per day translates into over thirty thousand per year. We are also still published by the H. W. Wilson Company in OmniFile, and various articles are posted as reprints on sites such as VIVA's Outreach Committee Page.