In fall 2001, ARL released a new publication entitled The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User’s Guide for Research Libraries (  When ARL launched its scenario planning project, “Envisioning Research Library Futures: A Scenario Thinking Project,” in the early spring of 2010, it set out to design a set of scenarios that could serve as a resource for any member library to use to enhance its strategic planning process and to foster organizational alignment around change.  ARL also determined that the project needed to engage in a variety of activities to help members learn about scenario planning and determine how best to use the scenarios to meet their own organizational objectives. This user’s guide, including the ARL 2030 Scenario, is designed to be a key resource supporting members’ application of scenario planning.

Here’s a bit more from the ARL web site about this project (

“The ARL 2030 Scenarios are rich descriptions of four possible futures. Each presents a particular exploration of many critical uncertainties in a way that considers the dynamics that might unfold over a twenty-year time frame, as well as synergies and interactions between uncertainties. As a set, the four scenarios are designed to tell widely divergent stories to explore a broad range of possible developments over time.

The goal in using scenarios is not to pick one as more likely or more desirable but to accept that the future will contain elements of all four scenarios. Each scenario in itself, however, offers a chance to engage deeply with particular outcomes that libraries could face. The first page of each scenario offers an overview and highlights important circumstances and dynamics. This is followed by a narrative story that paints a more detailed picture of the situation in 2030 and the circumstances that led to that particular future.”

These scenarios are specifically focused on the research portion of the university’s mission.  The scenarios intentionally do not mention libraries, but the point in using them is to think about what the library’s role would be should such a scenario come to pass.  The Chronicle of Higher Education also did a brief story about these scenarios which you can find at

Many of you have been engaged in strategic planning in the past and know how hard it is for us to think far enough ahead and with enough foresight to really envision the future.  Remember early cell phones, about the size of the brick and used mostly in case you had an emergency.  Could we imagine then that they would be size of a pack of cards and enable us to receive our email etc?  Much less the ability to download movie and TV episodes?  Scenario planning is a tool designed to help us look far out into the future and think about how services would need to evolve.

As we begin planning for the development of a strategic plan for the next 3 to 5 years, this is the kind of tool we might use to help us think about the future and its implications for our libraries.