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Report of the Working Group on ARL Membership Process & Criteria

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Accepted by ARL Board, July 26, 1999; document edited for distribution 9/23/99
Web edition 12/14/00

Composition: Paula Kaufman, William Potter (Chair), Carolynne Presser
Staff: Duane Webster, Julia Blixrud


ARL studies its membership consideration process periodically. The most recent review was in 1992 when an ad hoc membership committee chaired by Gloria Werner recommended, and the ARL Board of Directors adopted, the current process (see ARL web page for a fuller description: The established process for consideration of University members embraces a three-step sequential procedure (Non-university consideration is a distinct process). Interested institutions first must be classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a Research University I or II, or equivalent. The library must then achieve a score higher than -1.65 on the ARL Membership Criteria Index for four years; this score is compiled from a factor analysis of the 35 original members. After achieving the necessary classification and score, the library must also successfully complete a qualitative review executed by a member leader study group. It was expected when adopted in 1992 that the current process would result in a slow growth in the Association. Four libraries were added to ARL over the last seven years.

Members are asked to leave the Association if they fall below a specific index score for four years in succession. Four libraries have fallen into probationary status, but only one library has done this for four consecutive years.

Current Status

The ARL Board of Directors has expressed concern about the prominence of the ARL Membership Criteria Index. There is considerable criticism levied against ARL for focusing too much on the inputs and resources going into a successful research library, rather than the results or the impact of the library's contribution to scholarship and learning. Some concern has also been expressed about reliance on the Carnegie Classification since it is not updated annually and is itself undergoing a redesign.

Simultaneously, a current member has failed to achieve a minimally acceptable index score for four years and questions have been raised concerning the appropriateness of automatic dismissal or asking the institution to tender a withdrawal.

Charge to Working Group on ARL Membership Process and Criteria

In February 1999, the ARL Board of Directors established a Working Group to review the process and criteria for membership and to recommend steps that would contribute to a more comprehensive process that is not unduly reliant on the ARL Membership Criteria Index. The Board also suspended membership actions utilizing the ARL Membership Criteria Index until the Working Group's task has been completed. A preliminary report was made to the Board at the May meeting. The Board recommended that the report be made available to the full membership for comment, with action expected at the July Board meeting.

Report and Recommendations from the Working Group

(Based on discussions of the Working Group on ARL Membership Process and Criteria, April 6, 1999, and editorial suggestions received subsequently)

  1. Establish a more comprehensive membership review process that considers as a whole the research nature of the library within the context of the aspirations and achievements of the parent institution.
  2. Define the principles and tenets of ARL membership in order to clarify to aspirants the essential elements of membership in the Association. The Working Group recommends the following membership principles:
    • Define the principles and tenets of ARL membership in order to clarify to aspirants the essential elements of membership in the Association. The Working Group recommends the following membership principles:
    • The members of ARL should be research libraries distinguished by the breadth and quality of their collections and services. In addition, each member should make distinctive contributions to the aggregation of research resources and services in North America.
    • Membership invitations will be based on the research nature of the library and the parent institution's aspirations and achievements as a research institution.
    • The parent institution's aspirations and achievements as a research institution will be established by the classification Research University I or II recorded by the Carnegie Classification of Higher Education published by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, or the equivalent. Equivalent could be membership in AAU or a persuasive brief from the interested institution.
    • The characterization of a successful research library will be determined through a qualitative review conducted by leaders of ARL member institutions, supported by documentation from the applicant. This qualitative review will employ the ARL Membership Index Score as a guideline by comparing investments of the candidate library with those being made by member libraries. The index score, however, is part of a broad-based assessment of the library that take into account a range of characteristics and achievements such as:
      • 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 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;
      • the effective and innovative use of technology; and
      • the nature and extent of the university's investment in the library over time.
    • Once achieved, membership in the ARL is presumed to be continuing. In those instances, however, where there appears to be a significant and sustained disparity between the accomplishments of the member institution and the membership criteria of the ARL, an in-depth review of that institution will be initiated.
  3. Establish a new standing committee on membership issues to monitor the membership review process and criteria, making adjustments over time. This new standing committee should regularly review candidates for membership and recommend which ones deserve the attention of the ARL Board of Directors and, subsequently, member representatives.
  4. Encourage slow growth and stewardship of association resources by considering only one prospective member at a time, with membership voting to confirm or to not confirm any recommendation made by the ARL Board of Directors.
  5. Establish a similar review process to apply to the decisions regarding member libraries that have not scored high enough on the ARL Membership Criteria Index for four years. Upon the fourth year sub-optimal score, an ARL membership subcommittee would conduct a qualitative review of the library with an investigation regarding the parent institution research achievements (using procedures in 2d above). The sub-committee's recommendation would be acted on by the ARL Board and subsequently ratified or rejected by member representatives at an ARL Business Meeting.

Anticipated Outcomes and Implications

This recommended new process offers the following:

  • A standing committee will be established and charged with operating and responding to concerns raised about the membership review process. This will remove a confusing assignment now directed to the ARL Statistics and Measurement Committee. By drawing on ARL member representatives for its composition, this committee will increase opportunities for broad membership involvement in these decisions and in shaping the Board's approach to consideration of new members.
  • The ARL Membership Criteria Index becomes a guideline instead of an absolute measure and is built into the qualitative review to be made by a visiting team.
  • The three steps in the process no longer need to be sequential, but can be acted on simultaneously.
  • The recommendation allows university libraries that are not in Carnegie Research Universities I or II to make a case for themselves similar to the process used for non-university or Canadian applicants.
  • The process limits membership considerations to one at a time (while this has been the practice in recent years, it has not been explicit.) It also continues to provide the membership with the opportunity to confirm or to question the thinking that goes into each membership consideration.
  • The revised process eliminates the automatic, quantitative process for dis-inviting current members and replaces it with a qualitative review and subjective judgment that is acted on by the ARL Board and full membership. (One implication of this approach may be a lesser likelihood to dis-invite current members.)
  • The existence of a quantitative test has been used successfully in the past to win needed resources for those libraries actively seeking ARL membership and for current members subjected to probation.
  • This revised process calls for a more comprehensive judgement as well as a more subjective assessment, which may lead to the possibility of making rejections more difficult.

dew 5/4/99
jcb 7/19/99
jcb 9/23/99
jcb 12/14/00