I fooled you! While it is certainly true that LAC is bailing on ARL, they didn’t bother with any sort of public announcement (in fact their last actual press release was in February). Most of use learned of the decision third-hand via a post on the consistently excellent U. Toronto Academic Librarians’ blog.
I daresay ARL were as surprised as the rest of us - why would the national library of a prosperous, academically prestigious country conceivably withdraw from the leading North American organisation of research institutions? Especially since LAC is allegedly maintaining ties not only with the equivalent international library and archival organisations but also with ARL’s domestic counterpart CARL?
There are several likely scenarios - each of which fits in quite nicely with a well-known dystopian narrative.
Scenario 1: Friedman
It’s all about money. ARL membership carries a hefty price - I know of one university that pays around $20,000 annually. If LAC is looking at an equivalent (or higher) commitment, it makes sense for them to look twice at this as a line item on the budget. But wait, does it actually make sense? What’s the business case for taking an international nosedive in reputation as opposed to, say, laying off 1/4 of one manager? Especially in the wake of the recent staff cuts, which leave LAC’s management structure comically top-heavy?
Scenario 2: Orwell
It’s all a power play. LAC is sending a clear and unambiguous message about the contempt in which it holds not only international collaboration but most especially scholarship and research. This plays in to the ongoing discourse about LAC’s "changing mandate" - although LAC’s mandate remains resolutely fixed (much to Caron’s chagrin, I don’t doubt), it has consistently sought to shift focus away from all activities other than PR-friendly shell games and governmental records management.
Scenario 3: Huxley
It’s all a cleverly-controlled face-saving exercise. LAC has finally realised that it can’t make the cuts it has promised without severely compromising the quality of its collection and its ability to make those holdings available for research. ARL has extremely high standards for membership, and LAC knows that it won’t be able to make the cut in future. Instead LAC has decided to adopt the “you can’t fire me because I quit!” approach and convince everybody this was all their own idea in the first place.
It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure, except that every potential ending sucks. Personally I think it’s probably a combination of all three - any other ideas?