This report documents the Strategic Thinking and Design work that the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) engaged in from the fall of 2013 through the end of 2015. Fuelled by the deep desire of the ARL membership to rise to the challenges facing higher education in the 21st century, and with 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 then reshape ARL, its organization, to help bring that future into being.
This process was unprecedented in that, instead of trying to ameliorate, one by one, the challenges that research libraries face—challenges that are a product of the friction between the research libraries’ historical evolution and a rapidly changing context—or seek a silver-bullet technological solution to move the community forward, the process focused on what the research library would be if it were specifically designed for the context of the 21st century—for the digital and networked age. The 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 to “world build” the future of the research library. This approach, coupled with deep research into the strategic plans of higher education institutions and their libraries, led to the fashioning of a “System of Action” for ARL to shape the community of research libraries towards the newly imagined future.