Despite one of its peer institution’s decisions to withdraw from the country’s most prominent association of librarians, Harvard College Library (HCL) administrators have decided to continue their membership in the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).
In January, Stanford University announced its sudden, nonnegotiable withdrawal from ARL—prompting Harvard administrators to think twice about renewing their affiliation with the questionably cost-effective organization.
ARL has provided information and assistance to research libraries in the United States and Canada since 1932. It regularly organizes educational symposiums for its members, briefing them on issues facing modern libraries while conducting massive national surveys of users.
According to Stanford Library Assistant Director Andrew Herkovic, these services were not worth their nearly $20,000 annual price tag.
In the wake of Stanford’s decision, ARL faced increased scrutiny from its remaining 122 members.
After a “little reality check,” however, HCL has decided to stick with ARL, according to Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy M. Cline.
“It certainly caused us to pause,” she said, “to quickly do an assessment and say ‘how do we feel about everything?’ It’s a couple of thousand dollars a month, but the way we tend to look at it is, are we getting something here that we couldn’t readily do for ourselves on the same amount of money?”
Cline, who served as president of ARL in 1996, said that while some of the organization’s recent programs have been unsuccessful, its achievements ultimately outweighed its shortcomings.
“In all likelihood, when you have multiple people working on a shared objective—a committee working in a collaborative group—you always reach a point where not every single person will be fully satisfied with the outcome,” she said. “My own preference is to try to continue to work within the organization to improve the outcomes rather than to pull back.”
Cline praised ARL’s legal analysts, who closely followl legislative trends that may impact libraries.
“I could not afford to have one person on my staff continuously tracking all of the legislation and court cases going through the U.S. Congress,” she said. “ARL has taken this on as a mission for the multiple libraries that make up its membership. The staff have relationships with various members of the congressional staff so they may sometimes hear about legislation before it’s actually drafted.”
Sarah Thomas, president of ARL and University Librarian at Cornell University, called Stanford an “outlier,” questioning Keller’s ability to judge the organization’s merits.
“The Stanford librarian has only attended four out of 22 ARL meetings,” she said. “The last one might have been seven or eight years ago. He doesn’t have any direct recent experience with ARL.”
Keller was not available for comment.
Thomas, who spent last Thursday and Friday at a board meeting held at ARL’s Washington D.C. headquarters, said that the organization would respond to Stanford’s allegations.