By Laura Litwer, Digital Initiatives Archivist, South Carolina Political Collections, University of South Carolina Libraries
President Jones-King recently asked me to write a blog post about my experience with Society of American Archivists’ Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Curriculum and Certificate Program and thoughts on its benefits to archivists. I found the DAS program very useful, and I think that taking the courses can be very worthwhile for archivists who work with or need to understand born-digital materials, regardless of whether or not they earn the certificate.
I took DAS courses to improve my ability to work with born-digital materials received in collections in personal papers and to earn the DAS Certificate. When I took my first DAS course in March 2014, I was employed in a term position at Texas A&M University-Commerce to process a single hybrid collection, and had only theoretical knowledge of how to work with born-digital records. By the time I earned the certificate in August 2016, I was employed in a tenure-track faculty position at the University of South Carolina, had substantial responsibilities related to my repository’s digital program, and was using the knowledge I gained in the DAS courses and elsewhere to better do my job.
To fulfill the certificate requirements, I took seven DAS courses in 24 months, tested out of an additional two courses, and passed a comprehensive exam. Instruction for four of the classes was delivered in person; the other three were webinars. I was very fortunate that my current and former employers allowed me to select the classes I thought would be most useful and reimbursed me for most of the expenses I incurred in pursuit of the certificate. I am grateful for their generous support, without which I could not have taken full advantage of the DAS program.
Taking DAS courses increased my professional competence and confidence by helping me apply archival theory more effectively to the policy and procedure components of working with born-digital materials, increasing my awareness of good professional practices, and exposing me to useful tools and resources. The courses’ practical slant and consistently high-quality content and instruction contributed to their usefulness. In-person classes have the additional benefit of allowing attendees to network and learn how each other’s institutions are addressing common electronic records issues.
I found the in-person classes the most useful, both because of their content and the method in which they were delivered. However, waiting for relevant, in-person courses to be offered in my region extended the amount of time it took to complete the program. All of the in-person classes I took were between 3-1/2 and 5-1/2 hours away from my institution by car. Since all of the DAS in-person classes are a full day, this made at least one overnight stay with family or at a hotel necessary for each trip. To be sure, I could have completed the certificate requirements sooner and at less expense by taking more webinars and more conveniently located classes that didn’t meet my needs as well. However, I would probably not have learned most of the things that have most benefitted my work if I had done that, and my participation in the program would have been of less value to my employers and me.
Of the seven courses I completed, only one was not useful. It was a Foundational webinar that covered information I already knew. As a result, I chose to save time and money by testing out of two of the other Foundational courses required for the certificate. I don’t say this to knock these sorts of courses. To the contrary, I think taking Foundational courses that provide broad overviews of ways to think about and work with digital records are an ideal starting point for people who are interested in the DAS curriculum but concerned that the courses would be too advanced for them. I also do not mean to imply that all of the Foundational courses are of the same nature. A session of the Foundational class Arrangement and Description of Electronic Records: Part I taught by Seth Shaw was one of the most useful classes I have taken.
While the classes were beneficial because of their content and networking opportunities, the DAS Certificate itself is helpful as a way of conveying that I have relevant, up-to-date training to donors and colleagues. It also provides my employer with proof of my commitment to professional development.
Although the costs associated with pursuit of the DAS curriculum are not cheap, even with a SAA member discount, I have found them reasonable in light of the benefits offered by completing the courses and the certificate. I suspect that many of the 300+ people who have earned the DAS certificate since 2013 feel similarly.