Research libraries have provided a key to unlocking the knowledge of the centuries. The nature of their stewardship of knowledge has led to a focus on understanding the value and sustainability in terms of collections. The extraordinarily rich collections have made a great contribution to education and to the communities they serve. A new theory of change which underpins the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlights the contribution that activities can make to improve national and international economic, social, community and governmental health. This article analyses the nature of major research library activities in light of the SDGs methodology. Taking this broad framework to the work of International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) libraries provides new insights into the value and broader contribution of those libraries. The indicators assessed in the framework specifically relate to the outcomes of education and information within the societies they service. The case study suggests that the libraries make a significant and deep contribution both to the current national environments as well as in creating a framework for future returns on the investment to their universities.
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