by Patricia Hardesty
1viva, n.1 and int.
A cry of "long live" as a salute or greeting; a shout of applause; a cheer or hurrah: a. As a n., in the pl. vivas.
a1700 EVELYN Diary 23 Nov.1644, The multitude were looking out of their windows and houses, with loud viva's and acclamations of felicity to their new Prince.
On September 30th, 2004, Williamsburg was the locale for the tenth anniversary celebration of VIVA - a milestone in library history. In a festive atmosphere, more than 100 representatives from VIVA's 70 member institutions raised their collective toast to a decade of unparalleled collaboration, growth, and public service. In the historical annals of Virginia's higher education cooperative programs, VIVA stands out as a benchmark achievement. VIVA is a dramatic reminder that cooperative programs, even with modest beginnings, can assume a creative and sustained presence in higher education.
"We are VIVA" became the apt mantra for the celebration. For all those in attendance, this phrase encompassed the wide participation of an eclectic group of supporters: from professional librarians and library staff in the trenches to enthusiastic advocates at the state level, including the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV), the Secretary of Education's office, and legislators in the General Assembly.
The keynote event of the afternoon was a lively panel of the "Mothers and Fathers of Invention," those who were among the first to envision a cooperative venture for Virginia's academic libraries. Charlene Hurt, Carol Allen, Donald Finley, Nancy Marshall, and Dennis Robison, all involved in VIVA's founding, tried to answer the question, "How Did We Get Here?" For an organization that would later have a huge and positive impact on higher education in Virginia, its beginnings in the late eighties were inauspicious. Charlene Hurt (then Library Director at George Mason University, and later VIVA Steering Committee Chairperson from 1994-97) recalled a dark basement room at Radford where a meeting convened to discuss finding a place for libraries to share storage for their growing collections. This idea was later discarded as librarians imagined that the new digital library resources would mean that space for tangible collections would become less urgent. The next proposal was to share an OPAC, but a feasibility study showed that this would be too expensive to pursue.
Eureka - an idea for
a cooperative project
Dennis Robison, then Dean of Libraries at James Madison University (JMU), noted that he "had always been at places in desperate need of other people's collections." This realization became more annoying after JMU subscribed to the electronic Psyc Lit index and students began finding citations for many journals not held at JMU. Eureka - an idea for a cooperative project was born! In September 1991, Document Express, a lending mini-consortium, went live with the University of Virginia (UVA), Virginia Tech, and JMU, pledging a 48-hour turnaround for ILL article requests that would be provided among these three schools via fax. The seeds of VIVA had been planted. A few years later, five academic libraries joined together to purchase a suite of full-text poetry databases, thereby making the first cooperative purchase of library resources. SCHEV recognized the potential value of this type of cooperation, especially in a time of recession and education "restructuring," and decided that it would go to bat for this effort.
Instead of SCHEV coming up with the budget, Gordon Davies, then Director of the State Council of Higher Education, and Don Finley, then Associate Director of SCHEV, turned to the group and told them, "You need to come up with something yourselves." Ralph Alberico, current Chair of VIVA's Steering Committee, noted that this was a moment of inspiration. Finley went further, to say that it was a moment of desperation! The proposal was written in 1993 and the State Council worked with the legislature to secure the $5.2 million allocation for the 1994-96 biennium for this new endeavor. July 1, 1994, marked the official birth of VIVA.
How was this enormous project to be organized? Hurt recalled the meeting held in June 1994 at Piedmont Virginia Community College, which served as the venue both for VIVA's official launch and the planning meeting to work out the operational details in a "mad rush." The lesson here, in Hurt's view, was "Be careful what you wish for." It was fitting that this event occurred at one of the community colleges, since VIVA had provided them with a large boost from the start. After receiving new computer equipment from VIVA, the community colleges felt a great impetus to get wired and connected to the outside world, which did eventually happen.
By the end of the planning meeting, an organizational plan had formed. Carol Allen, who served as the Collections Committee Chair while she was UVA's representative to the Steering Committee, and then later served as an Assistant Director of SCHEV, noted that VIVA wanted to cover basic needs and broad constituencies in the first years. The proposal provided funds for computer workstations at all public institutions, training, ILL, and an item considered crucial - software for Z39.50, which was very much the buzz at the time. The budget allocated $.5 million in the first year and $1.5 million in the second year for electronic resources. VIVA membership included all of the public colleges and universities and participating private nonprofit colleges, although the funding in the early years was appropriated only for public institutions.
One possible impediment was that the proposal did not include any administrative costs. In that first biennium, Fred Rossini, GMU's Provost, helped by assigning Kathy Perry, the current VIVA Director, as the VIVA Coordinator on a halftime basis while GMU continued to pay her salary. Over the years, Perry's assignment has become full-time, and her salary and benefits as well as those of one assistant are now paid by project funds; but VIVA can never be accused of having a bloated bureaucracy. Administrative costs have always been below four percent of the total budget. VIVA relies very much on a decentralized administration, with committee members performing a great deal of hard work.
Marshall, the Dean Emerita of University Libraries at the College of William and Mary, said that the founding group, being impressed with the diverse composition of SCHEV's Library Advisory Committee, really wanted balance on VIVA's committees as well, and decided that committees would have a certain number of representatives from doctorals, comprehensives, two-year schools, and the nonprofit independent institutions. Standing committees were envisioned for Electronic Collections, ILL Enhancements, Technical Issues, User Services, Publicity, and Special Collections. Since that time, the committee structure has been streamlined.
A great deal has happened
since that meeting in
a dark basement over
ten years ago.
Soon after the initial organizational meeting, Nancy Marshall chaired the committee to write a mission statement that has stood the test of time, with the addition of only one word in the past ten years:
VIVA's mission is to provide, in an equitable, cooperative, and cost-effective manner, enhanced access to library and information resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia's nonprofit academic libraries serving the higher education community.
A great deal has happened since that meeting in a dark basement over ten years ago. VIVA has been highly successful. The panelists were asked why they thought that it had worked so well. Perhaps it was Camelot in Virginia - the right people at the right time. VIVA brought together people with different strengths. Carol Allen used the analogy of the American Founding. While it has been criticized for being motivated by self-interest, self-interest is, in fact, a good motivator - and in the case of VIVA, working for your own good can also mean working for the common good. VIVA helped to equalize resources throughout Virginia, while preserving the unique identity of each place. None of this could have happened without the support of all of the institutions, SCHEV, the Secretary of Education's Office, and the General Assembly.
Everyone agreed, however, that VIVA's great strength lies in the scores of librarians who have given so much time to the many activities of VIVA - working with vendors, providing training workshops, drafting documentation, and creating publicity. All are invigorated by the opportunity to work and share ideas with folks from other institutions, visit one another's libraries, and see how much richer the library research experience has become during the last ten years for faculty and students across the Commonwealth.
¡Viva VIVA! indeed!
1 With thanks to VIVA for providing all Virginia public institutions of higher education with access to the online Oxford English Dictionary, the source of this extract; and to my colleague, Rebecca Feind, for inspiration.
Patricia Hardesty serves as Reference Librarian at James Madison University. She is a VIVA Outreach Committee member.