Stanford Report Online

University withdraws from library association

Stanford officials confirmed today that the university has withdrawn from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), an organization the university helped establish more than 70 years ago. Notice of the decision was sent to ARL President Sarah Thomas during the winter recess, and the withdrawal went into effect Jan. 1.

University Librarian Michael A. Keller made the decision after conferring with President John Hennessy, Provost John Etchemendy and the heads of the five campus coordinate libraries that are administratively separate from the Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources. None voiced opposition to the decision.

Keller said the university's decision came during an annual review of expenses and engagements and had to do with a number of concerns the university had with ARL operations. Keller said the university had to comply with labor-intensive annual reporting requirements.

"The bottom line is that we no longer saw a return on Stanford's continued investment of dues, of reporting effort, or of staff engagement in ARL," Keller said. The university paid roughly $20,000 in dues to the organization every year.

He explained that his concerns with ARL focused on mission drift, weak oversight of programs and direction, and inadequate management on the part of members. He said he felt that ARL programs had not been subjected to sufficiently rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

"ARL is not serving the needs of this institution or of the community of research institutions as we understand them," Keller said. "We have other ways of engaging productively with our peers and partners in the research community."

Keller declined to provide the text of a letter that contained detailed comments on ARL decisions and policies, though he hoped that ARL leaders would see fit to provide that letter to all of its current members. The withdrawal letter did not indicate conditions or circumstances that would prompt Stanford to reconsider membership.

ARL is a nonprofit membership organization comprising the leading research libraries in North America, including nearly all of the university's peer institutions. The organization's mission is to shape and influence forces affecting the future of research libraries through lobbying, various collaborations and projects.