On Becoming Certified: Personal Reflections on Joining the Ranks of the Academy of Certified Archivists
By Mary Jo Fairchild, MA, MLIS, CA
The choice to embark on the journey to become a Certified Archivist is a personal decision based on professional experience, preferences, and devotions. In this post, I will share some observations based on my own experiences with the processes of taking the exam and recertifying before highlighting some nuanced ideas to consider if you are interested in joining the ranks of the Academy of Certified Archivists.
I enjoyed preparing for the Certified Archivist exam. Something about the tidy but comprehensive delineation of roles is very satisfying to the archival disposition. Over the course of one summer, I devoured books, articles, and case studies (many of which are freely available via HathiTrust) within the framework of the seven comprehensively defined domains upon which archival theory and practice are scaffolded, at least for the ACA. Collectively, I call these “the universe of archival roles and responsibilities.” I created the infographic below to illustrate the interconnectedness of archival functions that, as professional archivist, are also essential responsibilities. These include selection, appraisal, and acquisition; arrangement and description; reference services and access; preservation and protection; outreach, advocacy, and promotion; managing archival programs; and (finally!) professional, ethical, and legal duties.
I often share with colleagues and students that I found the act of preparing for the exam to be the single most valuable piece of the initial certification process. Whether I took the exam and passed or failed was inconsequential when compared to the wealth of knowledge I accrued from rigorous engagement with professional literature over the short period of several months. Under what other circumstances could I justify reading Ritzenthaler, Jimerson, Dooley, Spencer, and Pugh in such a short amount of time? It was a delightful excuse and taking the test certainly provided motivation for spending my weekends consuming technical literature relating to my chosen career.
The experience of taking the exam is unremarkable. But I will say that on the day on which I took the exam in a classroom on the campus of the University of South Carolina, I was compelled to not-so-fondly reminisce about the standardized tests we take in high school (as if an archivist would have any trouble remembering the requisite #2 pencils to fill in the scantron bubbles for each of the 100 multiple choice questions!) In all seriousness, the ACA’s Examination Development Committee strives to “evaluate, monitor, and oversee periodic revision of the examination for certified archivist to ensure its accuracy, comprehensiveness, and appropriateness” (see theACA By-laws for more on the EDC). Because of the vast pool of archival principles and practices that a certified archivist (CA) should have facility with, the exam is tricky. Oftentimes there are at least two multiple choice answer options that could be correct and it is up to the test-taker to judge the varying degrees of correctness. Many talented archivists sit for the exam on multiple occasions before passing. If this happens to you, you are in the best of company! Rosalye Settles writes about the experience of taking the exam multiple times in her article “Three is a Charm: Certification by Examination”.
The ACA requires CAs to recertify every five years to ensure that they do not become stodgy or out-of-touch. CAs can recertify by taking the exam (again!) or by petitioning the ACA. I chose to recertify by petition this spring. A successful petition demonstrates sustained contributions to the profession and development of one’s own archival skillsets based on a weighted rubric of “qualifying experiences” that include employment, education, participation & outreach, service, and writing, publishing, & editing. Be warned, the application interface for entering recertification data remains clunky at best, however, the process is clearly defined and straightforward as far as which professional activities count towards recertification credits. The ACA website comprehensively outlines the benefits and drawbacks to both pathways to recertification.
Questions and Ideas to Consider
While the information contained on the Academy of Certified Archivists website is comprehensive, there are some ideas and considerations that are not fully represented on www.certifiedarchivists.org. Is the ACA right for you? If so, at which point in your career should you begin the process? How does becoming a certified archivist compare with other professional certifications offered in colleges and universities or by professional organizations like the Society of American Archivists?
While graduate curriculum is essentially valuable for becoming familiar with archival theory and methodology, the worth of work experience in an archival repository cannot be overstated. As such, I would encourage individuals engaged in professional archival work for at least 4 to 5 years to take the exam. Making a go at it before one has had the opportunity to encounter a broad range of scenarios or decisions in the field is premature. Furthermore, if you prefer sustained but focused engagement in only one or two of the role delineations outlined above, I would still encourage you to give certification a second consideration. The aforementioned interconnected nature of archival roles and responsibilities mandates that archivists have general facility with all facets of archival work even though they may choose to specialize in digital forensics, processing, or reference, to name only a few areas of expertise.
But it is important to note that embarking on the certification journey facilitated by the ACA is only one way in which archivists can satisfy their devotions to the work of preservation, access, and public service. Chief among the gripes directed at the ACA is the argument that the benefits of certification ( knowledge, credibility, enhanced employment opportunities, etc.) do not justify the expense of certification fees and annual dues. If an archivist passes the exam and becomes certified, they will pay $400.00 over the course of the five year certification period. There is no recertification fee, but a CA can expect to pay the $50 annual dues for the duration of their active certification.
For the purposes of comparison, the expense over the course of the five-year certification period with the ACA is comparatively less than the cumulative fees associated with certification in SAA’s Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) or Arrangement and Description (A&D) curriculum. However, coursework for the DAS or A&D programs is robust and students are paying for a suite of learning opportunities led by experts in the field. In contrast, becoming a Certified Archivist through the ACA is more autonomous and one’s standing is dependent on engaged work in the field, contributions to professional organizations, and participation in an inclusive set of learning opportunities from community workshops and events to academic curriculum in a master’s program.
Another fact that may inform one’s decision to become a Certified Archivist is that, in more ways than one, the ACA is an entity that is grounded in traditional archival theory and practice. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to this allegiance to tradition. For example, on the examination, one can expect to encounter questions relating to the histories and evolution of archival work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which were dominated by western, white, intellectually privileged, and often male figures. While understanding the principles set forth by these early archivists can be worthwhile for reasons beyond procuring context to identify the framework in which records were created and maintained by earlier generations of archivists, the real value of building basic understanding of concepts defined by individuals who (for better or worse, populate the archival canon as defined by the ACA) may lie in the subversive applications of this knowledge. Awareness generated from consuming early archival literature, can help 21st century archivists recognize these patterns in order to disrupt standards that favor privileged persons and institutions and to ultimately work to build a more inclusive historical record. And, it should be noted, this sustained engagement in our profession in order to bring these ideals to fruition is represented in the currencies of archival recertification credits, or ARCs.
I value my affiliation with the Academy of Certified Archivists because taking the exam and maintaining one’s certification status is one way that I can demonstrate commitment to my profession. If you are considering taking the plunge and want to talk more or have questions, I am always eager to have a conversation! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Mary Jo Fairchild is the Manager of Research Services in the Special Collections Department at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library. Prior to arriving at the College of Charleston in 2015, Fairchild was the Director of Archives and Research at the South Carolina Historical Society for nearly five years. Fairchild holds master’s degrees in History and Library Science and is a Certified Archivist. She has served as President of the South Carolina Archival Association and the Charleston Council on Archives, Libraries, and Museums. A member of the Archives Leadership Institute’s 2014 cohort, Fairchild also contributes to the Society of American Archivist’s Regional Archival Associations Consortium and the Southern Association of Women Historians’ Professional Development Committee.
By Paula Valls
From March 4th – June 4th, the Upcountry History Museum was home to the Navy Art Collection of paintings depicting military life during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. War in the Persian Gulf is a collection of diverse scenes from a troubled time, brought to life by combat artists John Charles Roach and Chip Beck.
John Charles Roach served ten years of active duty with the U.S. Navy. He is also an official Navy artist, having trained for three years at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. His artwork from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were created while he was serving active duty with the U.S. Naval Reserves.
Chip Beck has served most of his professional career in the military, fulfilling various duties and assignments. He not only served in the U.S. Navy, but also held positions in military intelligence and was given several diplomatic assignments all over the world. Beck was recalled to active duty as a combat artist to specifically cover and create art for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
In February, the Upcountry History Museum reached out to members of its veterans’ community, searching for objects to be displayed alongside these dynamic pieces of art, in order to tell a fuller story. Sergeant Major Bob Burns (Ret.) of the U.S. Marine Corps requested a meeting to tell us of two uniforms he acquired through a friend who served during the Persian Gulf War.
The first uniform was that of a U.S. Marine. The uniform itself was a combination of Desert Battle Dress and Woodland camouflage – a change of uniform was slowly filtering through the military and so many soldiers wore a combination of different uniforms. The second uniform was that of an Iraqi soldier. The uniform was found in an abandoned bunker in Kuwait.
Mr. Burns also loaned several U.S. Marine and Iraqi weapons manuals, an MRE, and a Kuwaiti license plate, all to be displayed for the duration of the exhibit.
Another member of our veterans' community, Master Sergeant Sandy Thompson (Ret.), U.S. Marine Corps, was very eager and willing to share several objects gathered while serving during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Among the loaned artifacts were a gas mask, playing cards with faces of "the enemy", and her most prized Kuwait Liberation Medal. Mrs. Thompson, as well as all military personnel who served in the Persian Gulf War, were presented with the medal concluding the liberation of Kuwait in February of 1991.
Paintings by John Charles Roach and Chip Beck on display in the Persian Gulf War exhibit in the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC
Artifacts gathered by veterans of the Persian Gulf War on display at the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC
By Beth Bilderback
It seems like yesterday, when the rains came upon Columbia and left devastation in their wake. And although it has been over a year now, many people are still dealing with the loss of property and life. I was one of the fortunate ones as my house sits on a high spot in Columbia, so I spent the first couple of days watching the flood scenes played over and over on the television, thinking I should be doing something. Then my neighbor provided me with the perfect opportunity to use my professional expertise to help people in real need.
What we found in one Columbia neighborhood where the water reached the tops of some homes, was played out in several areas. People were in shock; they saw everything as a total loss, and piled it on the streets. People were in shock, and there was no potable water in the city. And this is where most of my disaster training was turned on its head.
We train to take care of our own collections or to help other cultural institutions, so there is a mutual understanding of caring for materials. But that understanding was lacking when we went to help. Most people don’t give much thought to preservation in the best of times, and this was definitely not a good time. And as we walked around offering to salvage photographs, we found amazement that such a thing could be done followed by gratitude that something could be saved. We started small but quickly found more volunteers.
We started the salvage work in the neighborhood, not only to promote visually what we were doing but so victims could see their photographs were still there. As more rains came and the number of collections grew, we worked in our homes and in churches. We could not follow the strict guidelines set forth in most preservation training programs due to various conditions, but we saved almost 5,000 photographs, slides, negatives and artwork for people who had lost everything else. If you want to read more about my experiences, please see the Fall 2015 issue of Caroliniana Columns http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/columns/38/
By Brenda Burk
In April 1917, the United States entered the Great War. To mark the 100th anniversary, the Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives looks back at Clemson’s response to the United States’ entry in the Great War that had been entrenched in Europe for nearly three years. It includes an overview of the war experiences of Clemson students, alumni, faculty, and staff, as well as the Army and Navy training programs that took place on campus, the hiring of the College’s first women faculty members and the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.
The war experiences of Thomas S. Buie, Class of 1917, are examined in more detail through his letters and photographs. Thomas Buie left Clemson with several dozen classmates shortly before graduation to attend Reserve officer Training Camp at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. They trained in both old and new methods of warfare, particularly fighting from trenches. He went on to train at Camp Jackson in Columbia and Camp Sevier near Spartanburg before being sent overseas. Buie served on the front lines in France until the war ended.
“We are simply taking things easy, nothing much to worry about, keep on the alert at all times in case anything does happen. I have not heard half a dozen shots all day… You should see me eating all kinds of things. We had boiled rice with bacon (a regular mush) and you should have seen me eating it. Also any kind of jam is good, am not at all particular. You should see me going around in my trenches at night, of course we move very carefully for fear of being heard. This war will teach us the uselessness of many things – such as flash lights, beds and many other things” -- Thomas S. Buie, At the Front, Oct. 2, 1918
After the war Thomas Buie remained in France and England for several months. After returning to the U.S., he earned a PhD in Agronomy, eventually working at Clemson and later as director of the Soil Conservation Service Southeastern Regional Office and one of the founders of the Soil Conservation Society of America.
If in the Clemson area, please visit the exhibit located on the 3rd level lobby in the R.M. Cooper Library, 116 Sigma Dr., Clemson, SC (map and directions) through May 15, 2017.
Clemson University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives is a portal to the past, present, and future. It documents the past by collecting items of historical significance to the University and community, making them accessible in the present and preserving them for research needs of the future. Special Collections and Archives continues to build a premier research collection of primary resources regardless of format (paper, photographs, digital, analog, and 3-dimensional), as well as rare books, that supports Clemson University’s teaching and research needs. The collection includes a particular emphasis on agriculture, architecture, politics, the National Park Service and tourism, community and university history. Special Collections and Archives creates an environment of discovery and engagement with these holdings that encourages scholarly inquiry, creative thinking and lifelong learning. They work closely with courses in utilizing primary research materials, as well as providing public programming and working with local cultural heritage institutions.
By Katie Womble & Brenda Burk
Time’s running fast (don’t forget to spring back this weekend), and we’ve got a workshop coming up! Brenda Burk and myself are planning the Spring Workshop, and want to share a couple of details as things start to take shape. Get ready for more details in the next few days.
Our focus this year is “(Out)reaching to the Universe on a Ground Level Budget”.
Mark your calendars, because on April 24th you can attend a workshop that will focus on bringing together experts and resources – and each other – to discuss how to better perform outreach to our communities. Charity Rouse, Director of Local History at Spartanburg County Public Libraries, will present on galvanizing community archiving through your organization, followed by a panel of news media outlet speakers who will share the inside scoop on how to effectively present information to them in order to get it to the public.
We will be having our annual workshop at the main branch of Spartanburg County Public Libraries. The schedule looks a little something like this…
. Registration and Social
Behind the scenes of Attics to Archives
An overview of this project of the Spartanburg Public Library discussing their successful and not so successful efforts in community outreach and involvement. It will be followed by questions and answers time with a panel of their staff to answer questions from the group but also questions to the group to think through for themselves.
Getting their attention!
How can we get the attention of local news media outlets to publish stories about our collections, services, and projects? Editors from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal will give us tips and advice on what they will publish in their newspaper. We will then be able to create our “elevator speeches” to grab their attention and get our work noticed in the community.
During the day, we have learned a lot! The ending session will be a time for others to share their experiences and to brainstorm potential ideas on how to enhance their outreach activities at their organization.
Breakfast (coffee, tea, pastries) and lunch included.
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