Contact Us | Members Only | Site Map

Association of Research Libraries (ARL®)

  About ARL Contact:
ARL Headquarters

Statement on Qualifications for Membership

Share Share   Print

Statistical forms and instructions were revised to reflect new definitions of government documents, which were adopted by the Advisory Committee on ARL Statistics in 1991. Minor revisions were made in the procedures for consideration of new members, as approved by the ARL Board of Directors in May 1992 and July 1994. The Statement on Qualifications for membership was revised to incorporate recommendations of the Task Force on Membership Issues, adopted by the ARL Membership in October 1994.

Part One: Prologue

The mission of the Association of Research Libraries is "to shape and influence forces affecting the future of research libraries in the process of scholarly communication. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to, and effective use of recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community services. The Association articulates the concerns of research libraries and their institutions, forges coalitions, influences information policy development, and supports innovation and improvement in research library operations."1 ARL is a not-for-profit membership organization comprising the libraries of North American research institutions and operates as a forum for the exchange of ideas and as an agent for collective action.

Membership in the Association of Research Libraries necessarily is limited to research institutions sharing common goals, interests, and needs. Single institutions, not systems, form the membership base. Membership in the Association is by invitation upon the recommendation of the Board of Directors and approval of the membership. Candidates for membership must meet the qualifications established by vote of the membership. The criteria for ARL membership derive from efforts to define a universe of similar institutions that share a commitment to providing the materials needed for serious study and research. As ARL is primarily an association of major university libraries, criteria have been developed that describe libraries much like the current members. These criteria, described in the sections of this paper discussing university and non-university libraries, are applied to libraries being considered for membership in ARL.

Part Two: University Libraries

The Bylaws of the Association specify that membership shall be by invitation "to major university libraries whose collections and services are broadly based" and define such libraries as "those whose parent institutions broadly emphasize research and graduate instruction at the doctoral level and grant their own degrees, which support large, comprehensive research collections on a permanent basis, and which give evidence of an institutional capacity for and commitment to the advancement and transmittal of knowledge."2 The criteria for university library members consist of three parts: the first to ensure a similarity of parent institutional characteristics with the current membership; the second to ensure comparability of size; and the third to ensure diversity and significant contribution to the distributed North American collection of research resources.

The document Procedures for Consideration of New Members: University Libraries outlines the pertinent procedures and required documentation.

  1. Similarity of Parent Institutions
    The first part of the university library criteria is designed to ensure that university libraries being considered for membership in ARL contribute to the effective interchange of information among research libraries having common characteristics. This assumes broad, interdisciplinary library collections and programs in support of research and graduate education. To meet this criterion, the parent institution of a university library must be classified as a Research University I or II in the Carnegie Classification at the time the institution is invited for membership.* Canadian institutions, although not included in the Carnegie Classification, can supply similar data.

    Institutional permanence and commitment must also be demonstrated. Therefore, in the case of institutional mergers, a library cannot be considered for membership until it has operated for at least four years under the administration of a single director.

    * According to the 1994 Carnegie Classification as published by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Research Universities I and II award 50 or more doctoral degrees each year and receive more than $15.5 million in federal support annually.

  2. Similarity of Size
    The second part is a statistical requirement to ensure similarity of size. Through the use of the statistical technique known as factor analysis of 22 categories of data collected annually from each ARL member, five categories have been identified that describe those characteristics the ARL members hold most in common:

    • number of volumes held
    • number of volumes added (gross)
    • number of current serials received
    • total expenditures
    • number of professional plus nonprofessional staff

    It is possible to assess a potential member's similarity to the present membership by examining the statistics of the candidate library in these areas. The method of comparison is use of an index score derived by the variant of factor analysis called principal component analysis.

    By means of this analysis, weights are determined for each of the five variables above. The analysis gives the highest weights to those variables in which the 35 charter ARL members are most uniform and lower weights to the variables for which there is more variation. Unlike the previous membership test where volumes held and volumes added, for example, were treated as equally important, in this analysis volumes held are weighted more heavily than volumes added. To qualify for membership in ARL a library is required to achieve an index score greater than -1.65 for each of the four years prior to and including the year of application. This quantitative requirement ensures that new members will be essentially similar to most present ARL members.

    To ensure an Association with a common purpose, members will maintain an index score of at least -2.25. Falling below this level for four or more consecutive years will disqualify a library from membership. Membership requirements are specified in Part Four.

  3. Significant contributions to the distributed North American collection of research resources
    If an institution is a Carnegie Research University and its library does not satisfy the current index threshold of -1.65, it can still be considered for membership by furnishing strong evidence that it makes a significant contribution to the distributed North American collection of research resources. The strength of evidence and the nature of contribution to the distributed North American collection of research resources will be taken into consideration in conjunction with the library's ARL index score.

    Does the library make a significant contribution to North America's research collections and services, thereby contributing to research and scholarship beyond its own university? Patterns of evidence here would include:

    • services to the library and scholarly community, including the availability of electronic resources, and the creation of bibliographic records and their availability on one of the major bibliographic networks;
    • the library's distinctive research-oriented collections and resources of national significance in a variety of media;
    • the nature of use made of the collections and services by faculty, students, and visiting scholars;
    • the preservation of research resources;
    • the leadership and external contributions of the staff to the profession; and
    • the effective and innovative use of technology.

The driving philosophy here is the nature and diversity of the library's contributions to its parent institution and to the distributed North American collection of research resources.

Part Three: Non-University Libraries

Although ARL is primarily an association of academic libraries, the ARL Bylaws indicate that in addition to major university libraries, membership in the Association is open to "certain other libraries whose collections are recognized as having national significance." Such libraries are those research libraries not affiliated with degree granting institutions, but which may be affiliated with government agencies, federal, state, or local associations committed to research, or which may be nonaligned, governed by their own boards of directors, trustees, etc. To be eligible for membership, such libraries must share the same research mission as the university library members of the ARL.

The criteria for assessing the commitment to research and the breadth and national significance of the collections of a non-university library must necessarily be qualitative and subject to interpretation and judgment, particularly because the essential qualification requires an assessment of the extent to which the library is similar in its goals and objectives to the university libraries that form the primary body of the Association. Membership invitations to non-university libraries will be issued at the recommendation of the Board of Directors of the Association, based on its evaluation of candidates identified by the Membership Committee, and on approval of the membership.

In evaluating potential candidates, the Membership Committee will be concerned particularly with the research and scholarly mission (role and scope) defined for a library by its governing body, the commitment of support by the governing body, and evidences of the accomplishment of these missions. Emphasis will be placed on the following elements: national significance of the collection for research and scholarly work, scope and depth of services provided to the research and scholarly community, and permanence of the research collection. Important consideration will be given to how an institution could contribute to the goals and objectives of ARL.

Non-university research libraries will be evaluated on the qualitative elements of their operations and collections as well as on quantitative elements in accordance with the following guidelines. The document Procedures for Consideration of New Members: Non-university Libraries outlines pertinent procedures and required documentation.

The following guidelines are designed to ensure the maximum participation of future non-university members in the full range of ARL activities, including maintenance and preservation of large collections of diverse materials, the building and maintenance of large bibliographic files and databases, and interest in cooperative efforts necessary to cope with these problems.


Collections must be generally recognized as a major scholarly resource of national importance, as evidenced by listing in national directories and guides and citations in published research. While the collections need not be as broadly based as those of a general university library, they must represent a reasonably broad spectrum of disciplines. The collections should be sufficient in size to correspond to the comprehensiveness and depth required to support doctoral programs. In addition, there must be an acquisitions program at a level to at least maintain the currency of the library's collections.

The following basic level is suggested: collection size of 1,000,000 cataloged volumes with a low ratio of duplication of titles.


Two major characteristics of university library acquisitions should be reflected in non-university library acquisitions. The first is the relatively large number of books acquired each year and the second is the emphasis on serial publications. In addition, a significant percentage of these acquisitions are in foreign languages. These characteristics in turn have a heavy impact on university libraries' ordering and cataloging procedures.


The staff should be large enough and well trained enough, with an appropriate ratio of professional to nonprofessional staff, and with the subject and language expertise required to provide adequate bibliographic control and interpretation of the collections to scholars and researchers.

Resource Sharing

There should be evidence of active participation in programs of resource sharing of all types as may be demonstrated in:

  • services to the library and scholarly community, including the availability of electronic resources, and the creation of bibliographic records and their availability on one of the major bibliographic networks;
  • Participation in regional and national consortia, networks, etc.;
  • Participation in interlibrary loan activities for appropriate materials;
  • Participation in interlibrary loan activities for appropriate materials;
  • Effective and innovative use of technology.

Use of Collections

There should be evidence that scholars are using the collection and that the institution is of service to a community of scholars and researchers, as exhibited by records of circulation and interlibrary loans, reader-days, fellowships, publications, and exhibits.

Part Four: Membership Requirements3

Libraries that are members of the Association are expected to meet the following membership requirements.

  1. Members must contribute the data necessary to establish the membership criteria and to compile the annual ARL Statistics.
  2. Members must continue to meet the requirements for membership as stated in this "Statement of Qualifications for Membership in the Association of Research Libraries." University libraries are required to maintain an index score of at least -2.25. Membership status of non-university libraries will be reviewed periodically.
  3. Members are expected to be represented at meetings of the Association by the chief librarian.
  4. Members must pay all dues and assessments voted by the membership.
  5. Members are expected to participate in the affairs of the Association.

1Endorsed by ARL Membership, October 1994

2Association of Research Libraries. Bylaws. As amended October 1985.

3Approved by the ARL Board, May 8, 1990