Executive Summary

Mission Statement

The American Antiquarian Society cultivates a deeper understanding of the American past, grounded in its ever-growing collection of printed and manuscript sources. The Society fosters a broad community of inquiry through inclusive programs and generous support for scholarship.

Executive Summary

The story of the American Antiquarian Society in many ways mirrors the development of the United States of America. Founded in 1812 as a learned society and independent research library dedicated to collecting material capturing the breadth of American experiences, the Society is more than ever committed to a deeper understanding of American histories and cultures. Over the past many decades, the work of librarians, curators, donors, and others has ensured that its holdings remain dynamic and relevant to emerging research. The Society’s support of scholarship and attention to new technologies have expanded the reach and influence of its collections.

With its first strategic plan in many years, the Society will begin to redefine the meaning of a learned society and independent research library for the mid-twenty-first century. Rooted in a strong belief that the humanities are essential to an understanding not only of this nation’s history, but also human history, the Society begins its work with responsible stewardship of its continuously growing collections, while further enhancing access for all to its holdings and to the broader community of inquiry formed by all who use its resources.

In the past two years, and building on the accomplishments of President Emerita Ellen Dunlap, the staff and leadership have embraced new challenges and new opportunities, and have welcomed new and more diverse communities of readers and researchers who are working to foster a richer comprehension of the complex American past. Our vision of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA), adopted by the Council and staff in 2021, expresses our values and also underpins this plan.

Over the next five years and beyond, the staff, leadership, and Council will articulate collections priorities that amplify underrepresented voices, while supporting researchers who seek those voices in the collections and in their silences. We will broaden our communities by making more materials more accessible through metadata and open-access digital surrogates, even as we provide meaningful access to non-academic users in collaboration with institutional partners. We will forge partnerships with previously excluded communities in their work of reconstructing their histories, while continuing to develop programming for public audiences. Building on our long history as one of the oldest independent research libraries in the United States, we will claim a role in diversifying the pathways into the library professions, while also elevating our own extraordinary staff as professionals in their fields.

The activities to be carried out are rooted in the five core goals identified in the plan. The pursuit of these goals informs the Society’s strategic priorities over the next half a decade and beyond.

  1. Focusing collections activities on institutional priorities

    With leadership, staff will prioritize core functions and institution-wide initiatives using criteria that include significant current and future research interest; principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility; applicability to the distinct assets of the collections and staff; and the potential for external funding in the case of more extensive initiatives and projects.

  2. Diversifying, expanding, and sustaining engaged learning communities

    The leadership, staff, and council will engage more deeply with elected members while growing and diversifying both membership and friends in multiple ways; will develop new approaches to support independent scholars as well as those marginalized within the academy; deepen our engagement with Indigenous and Black communities, and others AAS has not traditionally served; and build partnerships with other organizations and institutions, aligning these with principles of IDEA, access to the collections, and connections with the communities of greater Worcester.

  3. Creating and sustaining a diverse workplace environment where staff members are motivated, engaged, and set up for success in their roles

    Acknowledging that our experienced staff members are a singular strength of the institution, the leadership and Council will address issues of responsibilities and expectations; hiring, including retention, diversity, and equity; professional pathways and development; and succession planning.

  4. Defining and implementing a strategy that continues to develop digital collections and expands meaningful access to those collections for targeted users

    As a leader in expanding access to its physical collections through surrogates—from microcards to digitization—leadership and staff, with expert advice, will develop new digital asset distribution models that open access to a broader range of users and forge innovative approaches to resource sharing, while continuing to support the costs of producing surrogates.

  5. Sustaining financial stability and building organizational capacity

    While we are fortunate to benefit from an endowment that has in recent years supported more than half our annual expenses, moving forward will require more staff and hence budget growth. Leadership and the Council must increase unrestricted annual giving and focus on more comprehensive fundraising efforts. In addition, we will assess, integrate, and update our overall external communications to emphasize a more unified vision for distinct audiences and purposes, and will address the current and future needs of our campus and technical infrastructure.

A note about method: Our 2021-22 strategic planning process encompassed intensive staff and Council retreats; focus groups with elected members at the 2021 Annual Meeting; individual interviews with leaders of peer institutions, constituents, digital asset experts, and local cultural leaders; research into the challenges facing history-based organizations and independent research libraries; and analysis of AAS’s current and potential revenue and expense streams. Supported by AAS’s Jay Last Fund for Innovation, the process was facilitated by the consulting firm TDC and advised by a steering committee composed of AAS councilors, senior leadership, and members at large. The AAS Council approved the plan in June 2022.

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