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ARL Strategic Thinking and Design Report Charts New Course for Research Libraries

arl-strategic-design-meeting-philadelphia-23jan2014
ARL strategic design meeting

ARL has released a report on the Strategic Thinking and Design work (PDF) that the Association undertook from the fall of 2013 through the spring of 2014. Fueled by the deep desire of the ARL membership to rise up to the challenges facing higher education in the 21st century, the Association engaged in this unprecedented project to reimagine the future of the research library and reshape its organization to help bring that future into being. The report includes a detailed description of the innovative process as well as the Framework and the System of Action that emerged from the process.

Inspired by the work of John Seely Brown and led by architect and design consultant Ann Pendleton-Jullian, ARL’s Strategic Thinking and Design process engaged more than 360 people—drawn from throughout the library community, both within ARL and beyond, and from the academic, funding, and association communities—in a technique called “worldbuilding” to develop a System of Action for ARL to achieve its desired future. In fall 2013 and winter–spring 2014, ARL convened 10 regional design meetings—singular workshops of large groups of people who offered ideas, experiences, insights, and concepts related to the future of research libraries—and 5 design studios—sessions with sustained participation over time by a smaller group of people who identified, synthesized, and designed convergences coming out of the regional meetings.

In February 2014, the ARL Board of Directors held a retreat during which they built upon the work of the early regional design meetings and design studios to draft a vision and System of Action for ARL. That vision and System of Action were tested in later design meetings in the spring of 2014 and were the focus for member review at the spring 2014 Membership Meeting. The vision that emerged from this process is:

In 2033, the research library will have shifted from its role as a knowledge service provider within the university to become a collaborative partner within a rich and diverse learning and research ecosystem.

Over the summer of 2014, ARL developed a strategic Framework—based on the vision and System of Action—to guide the Association for the next two to three years. ARL shared the working Framework with the membership prior to the fall 2014 Membership Meeting. The Framework outlines a System of Action that currently consists of five initiatives for ARL to focus on for the near future—Collective Collections, the Scholarly Dissemination Engine, Libraries that Learn, the ARL Academy, and the Innovation Lab—recognizing that over time new initiatives will be identified.

A Strategic Thinking and Design Transition Team is currently working with the ARL Board, committees, and senior staff to develop recommendations for implementing the new Framework. The Transition Team will report their preliminary recommendations to the ARL Board later this month and will report to the membership soon thereafter.

The ARL Strategic Thinking and Design work was made possible by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Download a PDF of the Report of the Association of Research Libraries Strategic Thinking and Design Initiative.


The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.

Funding for this project provided by:

imls-logo     andrew-w-mellon-foundation-logo

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