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The Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that began in 1974 and was formally incorporated as a non-profit in 1981. From the beginning, the consortium was designed to help research and educational institutions share information resources and reduce operating costs by working together.

In 1982, the organization developed the CARL integrated library system (ILS) to replace the traditional card catalog at the Alliance member libraries. In 1988, CARL formed “CARL Systems Incorporated,” a for-profit subsidiary whose purpose was to market the CARL ILS. The organization also launched an article request and delivery system called “UnCover” in 1988.

In 1995, the consortium sold CARL Systems, Inc. and UnCover, plus the “CARL” name, to Knight-Ridder Information, Inc. With that sale, the consortium legally became “The Alliance.” There is no current affiliation between The Alliance and these historical products, and The Alliance no longer uses the "CARL" acronym.

An early history of CARL was published by Steve Fisher, University Historian at the University of Denver, in a 2009 article in Collaborative Librarianship.