Selecting an Archival Education Program: Supporting our Prospective Colleagues

I was at MARAC last week (my compliments to the Host and Program Committee members for a great conference and to SAA Vice President Kathleen Roe for an outstanding plenary speech) and between sessions spent a lot of time talking to students, new professionals and some longer tenured archivists about issues relating to archival education programs.

Some of the longer tenured archivists expressed concern that some of the students coming out of archival education programs have never processed a collection or worked in an archival repository before completing their academic program. Others noted that some students come out of archival education programs with no experience in collaborating with other colleagues and little to no experience in how to interact with co-workers and patrons in a professional setting. I also heard from a couple of people who again noted that it would be a good idea to stop certifying archivists and to start certifying archival education programs. One person who advocated that did note that it would be extremely expensive to certify archival education programs and when this person suggested that we work with ALA to certify programs I asked how she would deal with programs not were not affiliated with a library science program and noted my concern that an accrediting panel might not include an archivist.

So what can we do? It’s unlikely that archival education programs that are successful are going to shut down. But perhaps we can assist potential students by providing ways to gather information about archival education programs and make comparisons so that they can make informed decisions.

SAA already provides the Directory of Archival Education on the SAA website but the information included in each entry varies from institution to institution. Perhaps we could develop a checklist for potential students to use when considering archival education programs. Some things I might include are:

  • When comparing the school to the Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies does it meet or exceed the basic requirements? Are there at least 18 hours of coursework in the areas of archival core knowledge?
  • Is there at least one tenure track faculty member? What is that person’s teaching load? How many adjuncts are instructors? How many of the adjuncts are practicing archivists? Are all faculty members of archival associations? Do they attend and participate in conferences?
  • How large are the classes? Normally a graduate class size over 20 is fairly large.
  • Are all classes offered online?
  • Are there opportunities to visit archival repositories?
  • Does one get to process a variety of collections?
  • Is there a practicum experience required?
  • Is financial assistance beyond loans available?
  • Is there job placement assistance?
  • What percentage of graduates obtained jobs in the field within six months of graduation?

Do you have any other suggestions for questions that should be included on the checklist? Provide them in the comments or drop me an email.

4 responses to “Selecting an Archival Education Program: Supporting our Prospective Colleagues

  1. Reblogged this on Archivasaurus and commented:
    We need more student and recent graduate voices in the conversation about archival education. SAA President Danna C. Bell published some of her thoughts about the state of education after MARAC. Check it out.

  2. Pingback: Thinking about May Day. | The Unexpected Archivist

  3. I wonder if there isn’t a less expensive option for SAA to evaluate Archival Programs. Maybe instead of certifications, they could be graded by an SAA Education panel on a pre-determined criteria; schools could ignore the evaluation or choose to improve their scores. Or, intrepid archival researchers could survey current and/or past students of the program in order to get their perspective on their programs.

  4. I think the education issue is two-fold: (1) what is happening in the graduate programs, what skills do graduates currently have? and (2) what skills should archivists (of all graduation years) be developing as we look to the future? To my knowledge, we do not have much sense of what the leaders of archival repositories and other organizations are looking for, in the short or the long term. It seems impossible to accurately know how well graduate programs are serving their students without better predictions and knowledge of what we send them out to. The field is diverse and repositories vary widely but we could do better to try to define these needs, both from theoretical and practical perspectives. Natalie’s idea of surveying institutions seems like it could be a start.

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