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VIVA Library Consortium Federates PBS Video Content

Library Consortium Offers Access to PBS Video Resources Through InCommon

April 8, 2008

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Solution Summary

The Virtual Library of Virginia used InCommon to authenticate over 400,000 students at Virginia colleges and universities to distribute and stream videos from the Public Broadcasting Service.  The implementation minimized startup IT resources, and created a standardized identity framework to connect existing identity management systems of all sizes.

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The Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) is a publicly supported consortium of libraries at more than 70 public and private non-profit higher education institutions in Virginia. Members include research universities, liberal arts colleges, and two-year colleges. VIVA is guided by three fundamental principles: equitable access to information, cooperation across institutions, and cost- effective use of public resources.

In 2006 VIVA licensed the rights in perpetuity for close to 400,000 students and faculty at Virginia colleges and universities to use more than 500 hours of video content from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The license includes popular series like Frontline, the American Experience, and Scientific American Frontiers; as well as specials and mini-series on such topics as Thomas Jefferson, the Tuskegee Airmen, and World War II.

The Problem

The agreement with PBS allows VIVA to make these videos available by streaming (they cannot be downloaded or distributed on tape or DVD).

How, then, to distribute the videos and make the streaming process work at more than 70 institutions with various levels of IT capabilities and support?

“The initial plan was to get everyone up and running with local hosting,” said Ralph Alberico, dean of libraries and educational technology at James Madison University and a member of the VIVA steering committee. “But there didn’t appear to be an easy solution to meet the licensing requirement to authenticate and authorize each user with a user ID and password.”

Other potential roadblocks included different amounts of bandwidth available at each school, varying levels of IT support, and the potential strain on the resources of the smaller campuses hosting the content. Not to mention, as Alberico said, “the tremendous amount of duplication of effort and waste of money by doing it that way.”

The Solution

“InCommon membership and the ability to make this type of content easily available helps us meet our goals as a consortium.”

Ralph Alberico, James Madison University

“This is a poster child for federation,” Alberico said. “Jim Jokl volunteered the resources at the University of Virginia for hosting, and we were on our way.”

“This seemed like an ideal case for Shibboleth and the InCommon Federation,” said Jokl, director of communications and systems for the University of Virginia’s IT department. “We could just run it here [at the University of Virginia] and end-users could watch the videos from anywhere.”

Under this arrangement, the videos are located in, and streamed from, just one location. Each of the VIVA institutions will authenticate their own users, leveraging their existing identity management systems.

“From a resource provider perspective, it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Jokl said.

The Result

VIVA federated access to the videos, with the University of Virginia providing the hosting and streaming resources. Now, any VIVA member can join InCommon and gain access for its users through Shibboleth or other federating software.

“Our goal is to get the vast majority of VIVA sites to use this,” Jokl said. “Over time, I expect that VIVA members will take advantage of their InCommon participation in other ways.

“We are approaching critical mass,” said Alberico. “We have eight schools who are now members of InCommon. In addition, James Madison University has developed a legal template, made available to the other state universities, to help them join InCommon.”

“Our goal as a consortium is to level the playing field,” Alberico said. “Our institutions are different sizes with different academic programs and different sized budgets. InCommon membership and the ability to make this type of content easily available helps us meet our goals as a consortium.”