Saturday, July 26, 2008

Request to Appoint a Task Force to Examine the Issue of SAA Accreditation of Graduate Archival Education Programs

Update on July 29: We've received more time to collect feedback and support. If you are interested in signing on in support of this submission to SAA Council for their August 2008 meeting, please send an email to Christine Di Bella at by August 4, 2008. Please indicate whether you are an SAA member in your message.

Society of American Archivists
Council Meeting
August 25, 2008

Request to Appoint a Task Force to Examine the Feasibility of SAA Accreditation of Graduate Archival Education Programs

A group of SAA members was inspired by a recent discussion on the Archives and Archivists listserv to work together to call for renewed attention to a pressing issue. The group prepared this submission and is comprised of:

Joseph Ciccone
Kathy Cuff
Christine Di Bella (primary contact)
Christina V. Fidler
Marcy J. Gascoine
Megan A. Hibbitts

Additional SAA Members Signing on in Support:

Jeannette A. Bastian
Allyson Eddy Bravmann
Sharon E. Brock
Walter Butler
Mary Edsall Choquette
Jennifer Cole
Kate Colligan
Amber Cushing
Susan E. Davis
Rachel Donahue
Carol Ellis
A.S. Elizabeth Fairfax
Jacquelyn Ferry
Nancy Freeman
Claire C. Galloway
Russell Gasero
Russell D. James
Elizabeth Keathley
Meghan Lyon
Laurel Macondray
Jeffrey V. Moy
Erin O'Meara
Betsy Pittman
Lisa Pasquinelli Rickey
Dan Santamaria
Peter K. Steinberg
Jeanne Swadosh
Sandy Swan
Deborah Torres
Donna Webber
Elizabeth Yakel
Christina J. Zamon
Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Other Archivists Signing on in Support:

Jeremy B. Dibbell
Sarah Durling


In his SAA presidential year, Mark Greene has called for a renewed examination of our professional identity as archivists. Education and training are central to archivists’ professional identity – and the issues of status in society, pay, and working conditions to which it is inextricably connected. Yet SAA has never taken a lead in officially sanctioning graduate archival education or other types of professional preparation, ceding that role to other professional organizations like the American Library Association and the Academy of Certified Archivists.

SAA has not always intended to remain on the sidelines. At various points in its history, SAA has led or participated in efforts to formalize graduate archival education, often with the end goal of developing a formal accreditation process. The Fall/Winter 2000 issue of the American Archivist, a special issue devoted to graduate archival education, included a previously unpublished paper from 1983 by Frederic Miller examining the history of SAA’s efforts since the 1960s to formalize and possibly accredit graduate archival education.[1] He noted that SAA, after developing guidelines for archival education, was on the brink of beginning an accreditation program, but abandoned it for a variety of reasons. Miller called for a renewed effort (in 1983), characterizing clarification of the issue as essential to archivists’ continuing quest for definition and status. In a contemporary article in the same issue, Luciana Duranti indicated that the SAA strategic plan presented to the SAA leadership in 1999 contained objectives that "are revealing of an entirely new approach to graduate archival education."[2] One of these was that "SAA will explore the feasibility of accrediting graduate archival programs as the next step in developing rigorous professional archival education."[3] The summary report from the SAA 2001 Planning Conference listed pursuing accreditation as a priority objective.[4] Despite these suggestions that the accreditation issue was gaining momentum, no listing of SAA strategic objectives, annual reports, or Council minutes indicate that this issue has received further attention from any official body within the organization since that time.

We believe it is time for SAA to formally revisit this critically important issue by appointing a task force to examine the desirability and feasibility of accrediting graduate archival education programs.


Accreditation of graduate archival education programs has been considered by SAA at various critical points in SAA and the archival profession’s history. We believe that we are again at a critical point, as evidenced by a number of interrelated factors.

In their report on the findings of the A*CENSUS, Elizabeth Yakel and Jeannette Bastian concluded that "graduate archival education is currently the primary form of entry into the archival profession and was the primary form for a majority of the archivists under fifty years old."[5] At the same time, student membership in SAA is growing; of the over 5,000 current members, around 20% are student members. In addition, as of January 2008, SAA had 29 student chapters,[6] over half of which were established after 2001. While this increase can be partially attributed to SAA’s increased services to students, it points to the growing number of people entering the field through academic preparation, and also suggests an increased obligation on SAA’s part to meet student members’ needs. As Yakel and Bastian noted, there are "wide disparities in both the depth and the quality of the archival education currently offered by master’s programs."[7] Formal guidance in choosing appropriate educational programs is one of this constituency’s greatest needs.

While student numbers are rising, educational offerings in archives are on the rise as well. Just in the last year, two new graduate programs in archives have been announced, one at New York University, the other at Drexel University in Philadelphia. While it is encouraging that aspiring archivists in these two major metropolitan areas will have access to enhanced educational opportunities, it is notable that one program is based out of a history department, while the other is based in a library science/information school, reflecting the traditional division in the profession.[8] Of greater concern is that the number of classes in archives at institutions not offering full programs is also growing, a trend that the latest release of SAA’s guidelines for graduate archival education was intended to head off.[9]

The perceptions of employers of the value of archival education and training are certainly of concern for many archivists. As archivists we struggle to differentiate ourselves and our work from that of librarians, yet the only credentialing body commonly associated with our education programs is the American Library Association. Recent discussions on the listserv indicate a growing trend toward entry-level archivist jobs looking for an MLIS (or similar degree) from an ALA accredited institution and up to 5 years of work experience. This suggests that the current standards for archival education do not meet the requirements for the job market, and that employers are confused by the lack of guidance from any professional body other than ALA.

While SAA has offered guidelines for graduate archival education since 1977, no archival education program in the U.S. is obligated to meet these guidelines.[10] With the growing number of venues for archival education, students and others would greatly benefit from stronger leadership by SAA. By considering moving beyond "guidelines" to rigorously enforced standards for graduate archival education, SAA would enable those entering the field to make informed choices about their educational path and feel confident that the education they choose will be recognized and valued by employers.

Another factor that suggests it is time to reopen examination of accreditation is the progress of the Certified Archivist credential. SAA has considered three options for credentialing in the past: credentialing archival education programs, credentialing archival institutions, and credentialing individuals. In the archival field, only the third option has been implemented to any degree, through the Academy of Certified Archivists’ Certified Archivist program.[11] While valuable in many ways, as currently positioned, the Academy of Certified Archivists program offers an alternative to graduate level education in archives for many archivists. Although a master’s degree is required in order to qualify to take the certification exam, little distinction is made between graduate education in archives and other fields. Individuals qualify by attaining a master's degree with a concentration in archival administration plus one year of qualifying professional archival experience or a master's degree without a concentration in archival administration (described as "a master’s degree in any field other than archival administration") plus two years of qualifying professional archival experience.[12] This lack of distinction implies that little is gained by formal archival education, a detrimental message in many people’s view. Many archivists graduating from the country’s most robust archival education programs bypass certification for this very reason, decreasing its level of acceptance and diluting its effectiveness. Yet the number of certified archivists is growing, even though fundamental concerns about the program such as these have yet to be addressed.

The Academy of Certified Archivists is now making a more aggressive push toward acceptance by employers of the CA as the credential for archivists. As one example, a resolution affirming the credential was recently brought to a vote before the board of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), a leadership body comprised mainly of librarians, curators, and cultural institution administrators. Over objections raised by several archivists on the board, the resolution passed, in part because of the proposer’s insistence (and the majority’s agreement) that there is no other standard for archivists.[13] As this example demonstrates, as long as SAA continues to abstain from the debate over graduate education and professional training, we risk other, perhaps less representative, organizations defining who and what an archivist is.

We recognize that accreditation of archival education programs is a complex and controversial issue, likely one of the reasons that its consideration has been postponed so many times. Formally reopening the issue will surely provoke negative reactions from some, even as it elicits support and excitement from many others. This diversity of opinion should not prevent SAA from exploring such a crucial issue, however; the most important issues we face, in the profession as in life, This diversity of opinion should not prevent SAA from exploring such a crucial issue, however; the most important issues we face, in the profession as in life, often engender the most vigorous debate.

We recognize that SAA itself is in a difficult position in relation to archival education. SAA offers its own slate of educational offerings, and these offerings send a mixed message as to their purpose and relationship to formal education.[14] Are they intended to providing basic grounding in core archival work (titles such as "Understanding Archives: An Introduction to Principles and Practices" and "Arrangement and Description of Manuscript Collections") or advanced instruction related to specialized or emerging topics ("Preservation of 20th Century Visual Materials" and "Applying DACS to Single-Item Manuscript Cataloging")? A task force considering accreditation of graduate education would need to consider this issue as well.

As this submission implies, those of us writing this recommendation have strong opinions on accreditation, but we are not asking SAA to decide upon the issue itself at this time. We are merely requesting that SAA undertake a formal study of whether accreditation is desirable and feasible. We think that SAA and the archival profession have a lot to gain in doing so.


That the SAA Council appoint a task force to explore the desirability and feasibility of accrediting graduate archival education programs. Because of the broad applicability of the issue, we recommend that the task force be comprised of a cross-section of the SAA membership, as well as members with particular expertise in graduate archival education.

Support Statement:

Education and training of archivists is central to SAA’s mission. At a time when archival education is the primary form of entry into the field and archivist preparation is becoming increasingly diffuse, it is in the best interest of SAA and the archival profession to reexamine the issue of accreditation of graduate archival education programs.

Fiscal Impact:

While the fiscal impact of implementing an accreditation program could be significant, the fiscal impact of appointing a task force to examine the feasibility of the issue will be minimal. There may be some costs associated with staff support for the task force.

[1] Frederic M. Miller, "The SAA as Sisyphus: Education since the 1960s," American Archivist 63 (Fall/Winter 2000):224-236.

[2] Luciana Duranti, "The Society of American Archivists and Graduate Archival Education: A Sneak Preview of Future Directions," American Archivist 63 (Fall/Winter 2000): 240.

[3] Ibid.

[4] SAA 2001 Planning Conference Summary Report, (viewed 20 July 2008). "Issue new guidelines for graduate archival education and pursue accreditation" is listed as priority objective number 8. A revised set of the guidelines was issued in January 2002, but there does not appear to have been progress on the accreditation issue.

[5] Elizabeth Yakel and Jeannette Allis Bastian, "A*CENSUS: Report on Graduate Archival Education," American Archivist 69 (Fall/Winter 2006): 349.

[6] "Pratt Institute Joins SAA as 29th Student Chapter," Archival Outlook (January/February 2008): 22.

[7] Yakel and Bastian: 365.

[8] Additionally, San Jose State University is offering a new online Master's Degree in Archives and Records Administration (MARA), emphasizing paper and electronic records management.

[9] According to the 2002 "Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies," "By establishing these basic guidelines as minimum standards for archival studies programs, SAA also hopes to encourage the continued development of more extensive and more comprehensive programs, and by doing so, to improve the profession by better educating archivists." (viewed on 23 July 2008).

[10] SAA’s "Directory of Archival Education" clearly states "SAA does not accredit archival education and training programs, institutes, or courses, and inclusion in this directory does not imply endorsement or approval by the Society" (, viewed on 23 July 2008).

[11] The Academy of Certified Archivists was founded in 1989 at the SAA annual meeting, and grew out of SAA’s Interim Board for Certification (IBC). It is now an independent organization.

[12] Academy of Certified Archivists, Handbook, 9-10 (viewed on 20 July 2008).

[13] Martin Levitt, who proposed the resolution, is a PACSCL board member and Vice-President/President-Elect of ACA. In his March 2008 ACA Vice-President’s report, Levitt described this pending action as "something of a coup for ACA, because (optimistically) it may help to convince other consortia and regional archival organizations that it is time to follow suit." (Academy of Certified Archivists, Vice President’s Report, March 30, 2008, (viewed on 23 July 2008).)

[14] Miller suggests this as one possible reason for the organization’s ambivalence toward accrediting graduate archival education.


Unknown said...

This issue should have been tackled many years ago. If the American Library Association can accredit graduate programs, then certainily the SAA can as well. The unwillingness to do so is one of the main reasons why I put off joining SAA for so long.

Anonymous said...

Related information on the SJSU SLI site:
(Dr. Lori Lindberg discussing the MARA program; last year she explained to me that the MARA stands by itself, with its own core classes, and cannot be picked up by supplementing a MLIS curriculum with MARA archival courses (no convenient "double major"). I am sure she must be active in current SAA discussions.

(see Dr. Linda Main's 9/17/2007 update remarks on MARA accreditation. I have not noticed any other remarks on MARA on her blog thru July 26.)

Ruth Bowman, SJSI SLIS 2007

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. I'll add some information about San Jose State's MARA program as a third example of a new archives program (and one that takes a route that is completely different from what NYU and Drexel are doing).

Anonymous said...

I would support the proposal to form a Task Force to study the accreditation issue.

Deb Torres, College of St. Catherine

Anonymous said...

Add my name to the list please:

Russell D. James, CA
Chair, SAA Records Management RT
Member, SAA Peterson Award Comm.

Anonymous said...

I support this petition as well. Please add my name.

Christina J. Zamon
Emerson College Archives
120 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116

Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori said...

I've been pretty quiet on this because I've been concentrating on getting the MARA program started at San Jose and other personal issues. I do think SAA is long overdue in this arena, but also have to express my feeling that I don't believe SAA is entirely the organization equipped to do this. I believe that we cannot ignore the importance of other professional associations with interest in this area, namely ARMA and AIIM, as well as other memberships with interests in recordkeeping education, such as AMIA.

Lori Lindberg, San Jose State University

Anonymous said...
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