Interview: ILLiad Creator Harry KrizBy Nan Seamans
VL What brought you to the world of interlibrary loan? Was this a planned career move or something you fell into?
HK Certainly it was nothing I planned. I don't have that much foresight. I was assigned to be head of interlibrary loan when Dean of Libraries Eileen Hitchingham noticed that interlibrary loan was becoming increasingly important. She decided early in 1996 that organizing ILL as a separate department would facilitate further development of the service. Up to that time I rarely, if ever, thought about ILL. Soon after getting involved in ILL I was delighted to learn from colleagues at many institutions that ILL is where the action is in libraries these days. So the past 3-1/2 years have been invigorating for me, and I hope for those I've worked with.
VL What exactly is ILLiad? How long has it been in use? How widely is it now being used?
HK ILLiad is an interlibrary loan and document delivery system. We launched ILLiad's borrowing functions on March 17, 1997. Then we started electronic delivery of photocopies through ILLiad on July 4, 1997. On March 10, 1999, we began automated lending to other libraries. And just on September 6, 1999, we automated document delivery to Tech's extended campus community, which extends across North America, even into Alaska.
ILLiad is now installed at about 20 library systems around the country. I like to say that ILLiad extends from coast-to-coast and border-to-border. There are installations from upstate New York to southern Florida and from Virginia to California and Washington state's Canadian border.
In describing what ILLiad is, I have to distinguish it from the simple interlibrary loan management systems that are available. We really don't think of ILLiad as merely a management system. In fact it's fair to say that the staff doesn't so much use ILLiad as service its needs. It's really our customers who use ILLiad to accomplish their goals. The ILL staff is here to assist ILLiad in accomplishing its tasks. And ILLiad is a demanding taskmaster that alerts us when we fall behind in our obligations.
Those who are interested in the details of ILLiad's borrowing functions should read the article I wrote with Jason Glover and Kevin Ford entitled "ILLiad: Customer-focused Interlibrary Loan Automation" [Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Information Supply, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 31-47 (1998)]. You can download a preprint of the article from the Tech ILL web site at http://www.ill.vt.edu/. Look for the About ILLiad link on our home page to get to more information.
VL Tell us a little bit about the circumstances that led to the development of ILLiad. What were some of the obstacles that you faced with the development?
HK I think it was on the first day I walked into the ILL office, May 1, 1996, that the staff started telling me about the overwhelming amount of paper generated by the ILL process. They thought a database would help. Well, I just love computers and software, so this was music to my ears. I successfully argued that we should fill one of the positions in ILL with a programmer. My own considerable experience writing database applications had convinced me that today's technology is so complex and changing so rapidly that it's a full-time job just keeping up with the software tools. So I hired Jason Glover, the library's shelving supervisor, to be the ILL programmer. Jason knew the library and he knew technology. Most important was that he knew how to work with people to create usable and effective software.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to building a complex system like ILLiad is understanding what you are trying to accomplish. I was not interested in doing a technology demonstration, I was interested in improving ILL. And Jason saw the futility of merely building a database to manage our data or a utility to perform some clerical task. This led us to a total process solution interfaced directly to the ILL customers. So Kevin Ford led the borrowing staff to flowchart and refine our borrowing process. Once the process was modeled as a flowchart, Jason implemented the process in the software we called ILLiad.
VL Does Virginia Tech provide an atmosphere that promotes innovative solutions like ILLiad?
HK I guess I can say it has worked for me. At Tech we are fortunate to have ample computer hardware and software and excellent network connectivity. If you believe as I do that these are the fundamental tools of the librarian's trade, then you are in heaven. If you don't believe it, then please read my essay entitled "Why Computers?" [Virginia Librarian, Vol. 30, No. 5, p. 93 (September-October 1984)].
As a manager, the rest of the atmosphere is up to me. My job is to create the conditions that make success possible. That means developing a supportive, learning environment by reducing fear, supporting training, and fostering a joy in learning. I described my methods in an article I wrote with Vicki Kok nearly 15 years ago that we titled "The Computerized Reference Department: Buying the Future" [RQ, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 198-203 (Winter 1985).
VL What are your goals for ILLiad? Do you see it changing?
HK I don't have goals for ILLiad so much as I do for the Tech ILL department. That goal is to ensure that the department remains capable of providing high quality service in the face of extraordinarily rapid growth in demands for our service. So far ILLiad has enabled us to adapt to these demands without increasing our staff. Anyone who thinks computers don't improve productivity is welcome to visit our department where we will prove them wrong.
My goal in 1996 was to have Tech commercialize the product so as to assure its continued development. University campuses are replete with software developed locally that becomes unviable as soon as the developer leaves. Thanks to the support of Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc., ILLiad has thrived, and our ILL department is assured of software support for the foreseeable future.
VL What is the potential market for ILLiad?
HK Every ILL librarian who visits Virginia Tech and sees ILLiad in action says "I've gotta have it." Of course the market depends on the importance attached to ILL by library administrators and the ability of libraries to work in modern, networked environments. ILLiad is installed at several large research libraries and also at smaller academic and government libraries. With such a broad range of applicability, there could be a large potential market.
VL Do you see ILLiad spawning a company as VTLS did?
HK In a way it already has. Jason Glover continues to work with his partners at Atlas Systems, Inc. [http://www.atlas-sys.com/] to develop and support ILLiad. We work with them on design and testing. One of the great benefits of commercializing ILLiad is that Virginia Tech is providing new and better services to the Tech community as ILLiad is expanded in response to needs of new customers.
VL Can you project a little for us? What will ILL functions, operations look like in 5 years? Do you anticipate changes?
HK I've read that prediction is difficult, especially when it involves the future. My personal experience is that most things that are predicted never happen, and that most things that happen are never predicted. Thus I'm not embarrassed to say that I don't know what ILL will look like in 5 years. And I don't know anyone else who does either. I am sure of one thing however, and that is that everything is going to change at a pace that will make many of us uncomfortable, maybe even hysterical. Since we never know what is going to happen next, I just try to wake up every morning thinking about the joy I'll feel in learning new things and adapting to or causing change. That's what makes work and all of life interesting. We need to be always learning, and that will keep us prepared for whatever opportunities, like being assigned to work in ILL, may come along.Nan Seamans, of the Virginia Tech Library, is Associate Editor of Virginia Libraries.