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History of ARL

For more than 80 years, ARL has addressed issues of concern to the library, research, higher education, and scholarly communities. The Association was established at a meeting in Chicago in December 1932, by the directors of 42 major university and research libraries that recognized the need for coordinated action and desired a forum to address common problems.  The Association incorporated in 1961 under the laws of the District of Columbia noting that “the particular business and objects of the society shall be: Exclusively for literary, educational and scientific purposes by strengthening research libraries.” In 1962, the Association established a full-time secretariat with a paid executive director and staff in Washington, DC.

ARL is a nonprofit membership organization comprising 125 research libraries in the US and Canada representing universities, public libraries, national libraries, and special libraries. A Board of Directors is the governing and policymaking body for the Association.

ARL enjoys a rich history of accomplishments and contributions based on collaborative relationships with a wide range of communities. Over time ARL has led, co-sponsored, and contributed to many national and international efforts focused on collections, preservation, copyright, open access, diversity, global outreach, statistics, assessment, leadership, and many more.


In 1963, ARL assumed responsibility for publishing university library statistics based on data variables established by James Gerould (Minnesota and Princeton) between 1908 and 1962.

ARL established the Office of Management Services (which later became known as the Office of Leadership and Management Services) in 1970 to provide leadership training. In 2004, the Research Library Leadership Fellows (RLLF) program was established to address succession planning for senior ARL library leaders.

In 1990, the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) was established by ARL, EDUCOM, and CAUSE (now EDUCAUSE).

ARL established its Diversity Program in 1994. The Leadership and Career Development Program (LCDP) was launched in 1997 and serves midcareer librarians from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

In 1995, ARL along with a coalition of other library organizations formed the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) to address copyright issues that affect libraries and their patrons. Current LCA members are ARL, the American Library Association, and the Association of College and Research Libraries.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) was established in 1998.

In 2005, a strategic plan was put into place recognizing three key areas of focus: public policy, scholarly communication, and transforming research libraries for the 21st century.  These three areas remain the focal point of ARL’s activities along with capabilities involving diversity, leadership, and assessment.

Resources and Publications

"The Association of Research Libraries 1932–1962," by Frank M. McGowan (PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1972), OCLC record # 771692.

Association of Research Libraries: Overview with a Focus on 2001–07 (PDF)

This report highlights the programmatic work of ARL for a seven-year period.

Celebrating Seventy Years of the Association of Research Libraries, 1932–2002 (PDF)

Of particular interest are David H. Stam’s remarks at ARL’s 60th Anniversary Celebration, "Plus Ça Change…Sixty Years of ARL."

Celebrating the Career of Duane Webster: A Symposium on the Association of Research Libraries History, Accomplishments, Future Developments

In April 2008, James G. Neal, Columbia University’s Vice President for Information Services & University Librarian, hosted a symposium at Columbia’s historic Low Library to celebrate the career of Duane Webster, who retired in June 2008 after 38 years at ARL, including 20 years as Executive Director. Fifteen of Webster’s colleagues gave presentations about the many aspects of Webster’s leadership at ARL and his impact on the research library community.

Gala Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of ARL's Founding (1932–2007) (PDF)

This publication showcases the leadership and membership of ARL since 1932 and includes a selected chronology of ARL events and accomplishments.



Coalition for Networked Information Logo
Library Copyright Alliance Logo
The Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) Logo