Live Dangerously: Take the First High-Stakes Archival Essay Test!

The press is focusing this month on the debate about the value and impact of high-stakes testing for students. As archivists, we have had our own array of experiences with examinations, whether for the Digital Archives Specialist Certificate, the Academy of Certified Archivists exam, or our graduate program examinations. But there’s one test on which we all need more than a passing grade—and that’s explaining archives and archivists to others. It is the “core competence” that we all must have to raise awareness and demonstrate the value of archives. So here are four essay questions (also known as “story problems”) that we invite you to answer in 500 words or fewer. And as my favorite English teacher, Mrs. Arrick, would say, “Be clear, be concise, be compelling.”

Submit your essay (we won’t grade it!) to: saahq@archivists.org or post your comment on the SAA website at: http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/essay-test

And the questions are:  (answer one, and stay within the 500 word limit!)

1.    You’re attending the SAA Annual Meeting in Cleveland. You and a few friends walk into a local clothing boutique and the owner greets you with “Welcome, what brings you to Cleveland?” (She knows you’re from out-of-town because, of course, you’ve forgotten to take off your name badge.) You reply: “I’m here for the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting.” And she says, “Oh, that’s so cool. What is it you people do anyway?” Your friends scatter and begin looking through the clothing racks. It’s up to you to respond….and your answer is:

2.  You’re at your sister Jean’s wedding reception and notice that your grandmother is talking to the new in-law family, pointing at you and saying something that results in a look of alarm on their faces. (They’re from a family of accountants.) Your sister hurries over to tell you that grandma is claiming that you’re an anarchist, and asks that you please introduce yourself to her in-laws and tell them what you REALLY do. You sidle up to Minnie and Joe and say, “Hi, I’m Jean’s sister/brother and I know that Grandma has been telling you about me, but is a little confused. I’m an archivist and….” Provide the rest of your explanation:

3.  You’ve been asked to make a presentation to your historical society’s board of directors about new acquisitions to the archival collection. During your presentation some board members nod enthusiastically, others smile, and you’re feeling like you’ve been a hit. Then one very influential board member looks up slowly from the handouts you’ve provided and, squinting over his half glasses, says in stentorian tones, “Now tell me, just what IS an archives anyway?” You respond:

4.   You’ve been invited to Career Day at your former middle school (this is not a “Seinfeld” episode!) and asked to speak to the 7th grade social studies classes about the archives profession. The teacher introduces you: “Class, this is _______.   She/he works with cool things like the Declaration of Independence. Please tell us more about how you do that!” And you say:

Let the test begin!

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