This report documents the Strategic Thinking and Design work in which the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) engaged 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, and grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Association engaged in an unprecedented project to reimagine the future of the research library and reshape its organization to help bring that future into being.
This process was unprecedented in two ways: it neither listed the challenges that research libraries face and then tried to meliorate them one by one nor did it seek a silver-bullet technological solution to move the community forward. Instead, the process—which engaged more than 360 people drawn from throughout the library community, both within ARL and beyond, and from the academic, funding, and association communities—used a technique called “worldbuilding,” coupled with deep research into the strategic planning in which higher education institutions have already invested heavily, to fashion a “System of Action” for ARL to achieve its desired future. The ARL membership will again examine that work and then consider it for adoption at the October 2014 Membership Meeting in Washington, DC. Some initial work toward implementation has already begun, and the Association plans to assess, consider, re-evaluate, and revise its actions on an on going basis as it works to support this key part of the world’s higher education infrastructure.