Virginia Van Vliet
Virginia grew up in Montreal, graduating from Bishop’s University with an Honours Degree in English, followed by a Master of Library Science from McGill University. She worked as a librarian with Toronto Public Library for 35 years, the last 17 as a District Manager. She was involved in a number of professional organizations, including serving as President of the Canadian Association of Public Libraries from 1994-1996 and as a trainer on Effective Management for employees of the City of Toronto
Virginia became a member of the ROM after moving to Toronto and is also a member of the Currelly Society. She joined the Department of Museum Volunteers in 1997 and is active in the Gallery Interpreters, ROMWalk and ROMTravel. She has served on the Executives of all three groups, including as Chair or Co-Chair. A lover of history, Virginia is a leader for 19 different ROMwalks and has served as a trainer and mentor for new walkers. An enthusiastic traveler, she has led two trips for ROMTravel to Newfoundland and the Faroe Islands. During the pandemic, she has cleaned out her basement, worked to improve her French, completed 27 jigsaw puzzles and read 252 books.
Both as a former librarian and as a longstanding museum volunteer, I understand the key role the stories we tell play in forming our cultural identity. This is why I believe ROM must be, not only a keeper of history, but also a teller of our changing stories as our society evolves. As a library manager involved in community engagement, I know how important such connections are in positioning an institution as a focal point for the boarder community. As a Trustee, I would look forward to helping ROM enlarge its outreach to attract new visitors unfamiliar with the museum.
Responses to Candidate Questions
1. What is it about ROM that aligns most with your values and attracts you to want to serve on the ROM Board?
My passion is for history and how ROM serves to introduce people, especially children, to the long and diverse history of our world. The idea that ROM “Transforms lives by helping people to understand the past, make sense of the present and come together to shape a shared future” is central to my vision for the museum. History is the telling of stories and, as our culture changes, our stories need to change too. I am particularly interested in how Canadian museums can reinterpret their collections and redesign displays to challenge people to rethink their understanding of our past. As a ROMWalk leader, I work hard to introduce our guests to the Indigenous, Black and immigrant history that has shaped Toronto. When I work with children I tell them that, unlike what they might think, history is not about big events but about the lives of everyday people. By serving on the Board of Trustees, I hope to help bring this passion for telling everyone’s stories to help reshape ROM for the 21st century and beyond.
2. What skills and experience do you have that you feel would contribute most fully to your success as a Board member?
Having worked as a manager for Toronto Public Library for 17 years, I understand the complexities of a government directed institution. I have strong interpersonal and team skills and was chosen as a leader to teach effective management skills to employees of the City of Toronto. I also have experience as a board member having been on the Executive of the Cabbagetown Preservation Association for 10 years and the International Board of Books for Young People. I also chaired several professional organizations including the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians and the Canadian Association of Public Libraries. Having been a ROM volunteer for 20 years, I have gained an understanding of ROM’s structure and collections and some of the challenges it faces. As a volunteer I often attend events such as community fairs, serving as a passionate advocate for the museum and introducing our services and collections to new audiences.
3. What elements of ROM’s new strategic direction, ROM – 21st Century, do you find most compelling? What do you see as the most critical element required for ROM to achieve its vision of becoming a distinctly 21st century museum?
To move forward in the 21st century, and to make ROM known globally, the museum has to embrace technology as a way to take our collections and knowledge out into the community. Following the model set by Charles Currelly, who went on the radio to talk about the museum’s artifacts and sent displays by train to rural Ontario, today’s ROM has to find ways to use technology to reach people who, through distance, economic challenges or unfamiliarity with museums as an institution are unlikely to visit the ROM. We have to take the museum to the boarder community by digitizing the collection and developing interactive online programmes and displays. For example, by offering our ROMWalks, docent tours or curator lectures as digital presentations, we can reach out to people who can’t come for an in-person experience. We must find dynamic ways to tell our stories, to draw people into the museum that have never been before, while at the same time making our collections more accessible for research.
4. ROM aspires to be an “undisputed focal point of cultural and community engagement for the people of Toronto and Ontario.” How do you think that would be reflected in the ROM of tomorrow? Describe what you imagine?
As a library manager one of the issues I dealt with was convincing people that the library was not just a musty collection of books controlled by women in glasses and buns whispering “Sssshhhh!” Instead we worked to reposition ourselves as “the living room of the community” and technological hubs open to all. ROM faces a similar challenge. If it is to be a community focal point it has to look at the barriers that prevent engagement including distance, cost and a sense of exclusivity. The ROM of the future will have a visitor-centered mindset and have developed technological applications to overcome the barriers of distance. It will have developed increased opportunities for equity seeking groups to engage in the physical space. It will be inclusive, having formed strong partnerships throughout Ontario by responding to the needs of diverse communities. It will have exhibits and programmes that allow everyone to see themselves reflected, to feel welcome and included. It will be relevant, respected – and loved. As Charles Currelly would have wanted.
*Personal statements, biographies and responses to questions have been provided by the candidates.