Should Archivist do Continuing Education?

This is the primary draft of an article that I am working on trying to get published. The article is based off the presentation I did at the meeting of MARAC in Pittsburgh in 2016. It is a work in progress and needs some TLC. But it is a start.

Should Archivist do Continuing Education?

 Introduction

One of the major expectations of professionals in every area of endeavor is that they be fully apprised of all the latest advances and techniques inherent in their chosen field of expertise. The only way the in service, university-trained professional can be kept abreast of everything that is new in the field is through continuing education. This on-going professional enhancement may take many forms: conferences, webinars, teleconferences, professional reading in journals or formal classes.

The Society of American Archivists states, “Archivist recognize the importance of professional education, including life-long learning. They encourage continuing education among their co-workers.” The general public expects that members of a profession keep up to date with changes and advances in that profession. If the archivist wants to be seen as an effective professional in the eyes of peers and the public, then he or she must continue to educate him or herself. [1]

 Literature Review

In Paul Conway’s article “Effective Continuing Education for Training the Archivist,” he states that archivists’ career needs dictate that they seek out continuing educational opportunities in order to maintain as well as broaden their skill set. He felt that archival professionals need to come to an understanding of how continuing education can help them in their current and future positions. He cited a lack of literature on continuing education in the archival context as well as not enough discussion on developing meaningful courses that can help archivists as reasons why continuing education is not fully utilized. In his article, he listed the benefits of continuing education as: personal growth, acquiring knowledge and skills, and avoiding professional obsolesce.[2]

In Margaret Crockett’s article “Continuing education and the hallmarks of professionalism,” she states that there is an expectation from the public that professionals participate in continuing education. In her article, she defines continuing education as “A regime of training, research, and contribution in the individual’s own professional arena which aims to update, expand, and enhance skills, knowledge, and expertise.” Crockett lists the goals of continuing education as ensuring that one’s knowledge and skills are current, gaining confidence, performing more difficult tasks, and obtaining new roles or positions. She states that in the archival profession as well as in other professions, the phrase “continuing education” and “lifelong learning” are buzzwords that are used to describe a range of work related training. If the profession can get past the trendy jargon, continuing education is a powerful tool for establishing the fact that the archival profession is, in fact, a profession. [3]

In Dorothea Coiffe’s article “Webinars: Continuing Education and Continuing education for Librarians,” she uses the phrases “continuing education” and “professional development” interchangeably. She defines both terms as activities associated with enhancing one’s professional knowledge and skills. In Lynn, Bose and Boehmer’s article “Librarian instruction-delivery modality preferences for professional continuing education,” they discuss the results of their research regarding the factors that influence the selection of continuing education. Their study found that professionals partake in continuing education because it provides an opportunity for professionals to maintain competency, stay current with changes in technology, and adding to the knowledge base. Through their research they found that there were barriers that prevent professionals from completing continuing education. These barriers include cost, including traveling cost, and time away from work. [4] [5]

Research Design

First, sixteen interviews, via email and telephone, were conducted with archival professions regarding whether the archivist should partake in continuing education.  Three archival professionals from Canada, two from the United Kingdom, and eleven from the United States were interviewed for the first part of the study. The questions included:

      • What are the benefits of continuing education?
      • What are some reasons why archivists may not complete continuing education programs?
      • How much has the archival profession changed since you entered the field? Can you provide two examples of a change in the archival profession? One example can be technology.
      • What have you learned by going to conferences and workshops?
      • What would you tell a new professional who is just starting out and who wonders why one needs to continue his education, especially since he or she just finished completing a graduate program?

After analyzing the data gathered, a survey was developed and sent out to archival mailing lists in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The questions on the survey included:

  • In your opinion, should archival professionals complete continuing education?
  • In your opinion, has continuing education helped you advance in your career?
  • How has continuing education helped you advance in the archival profession?
  • Do you find that continuing education has helped you fill in the gaps in your archival education?
  • What are the benefits of continuing education?
  • What are some factors that keep you from completing continuing education?
  • How can the archival profession make it easier to do continuing education?
  • Do you consider continuing education an important part of being a professional? If no was selected, please explain why.
  • Do you have any other comments?

The purpose of the survey was to obtain statistical data regarding why archivists should participate in continuing education, as well as what barriers may prevent them from doing so. The statistical data was used to add to the data received during the interviews. The survey was conducted between January 27, 2016 and February 2, 2016. A total of 424 responses was received between January 27, 2016 and January 31, 2016.

Research Results      

 

In your opinion, should archival professionals complete continuing education?

Table 1

Answer Options Response Percent
Yes 97.9%
No 2.1%
Do you consider continuing education an important part of being a professional?

Table 2

Answer Options Response Percent
Yes 97.6%
No 2.4%

Table 1 and Table 2 show the results from the first two questions of the survey. From those polled, 97.9% said that archival professionals should complete continuing education. 97.6% considered continuing education an important part of being a professional.[6]

Benefits of Continuing education

What are the benefits of continuing education?   Table 3
Answer Options Response Percent Response Count
improving my skills and learning new things 97.6% 403
closes the gap in my archival education 76.3% 315
setting an example for my staff and fellow professionals 56.9% 235
networking 81.8% 338
learning about changes in my profession 93.0% 384

Table 3 shows the results from the third question of the survey. 81.8% of respondents stated that one benefit of continuing education is the opportunity to network. By attending conferences and workshops, professionals have the opportunity to build contacts as well as learn from the mistakes of others. These contacts become people to turn to for help in answering questions, to share ideas, and to help with career progression. Several respondents mentioned that they were lone rangers at their repository, so being able to ask questions of other archivists was absolutely vital to their success. [7]

Also, networking provides us with the opportunity to return the favor. We all received help when we were rookie archival professionals. For example, I was discussing my job search with Lowell Bassett, the Collection Manager at the National World War II Museum. After speaking, Bassett asked to see my resume and my cover letter. So, I sent him a copy of both. The next time I went to the Museum, Bassett provided suggestions to improve my resume and my cover letter. He also sent me job advertisements for which he thought I was qualified for as well as offered interview tips. Bassett’s only request was one day I return the favor. When Bassett started in the profession, he had someone help him, just like he was helping me.[8]

Continuing education closes the gaps that archivists have in their archival education. According to the survey, 76.27% of respondents said that continuing education closes the gaps in their education.  As graduates begin their careers and get a few years’ experience, they began to realize that they do not have a good grasp of certain parts of the profession.  One person I interviewed stated that he or she did not complete a lot of coursework in arrangement and description or records management. As this person looked back at his education, this person wished he had taken more coursework on these subjects. Without continuing education, the gap in our archival education will never close. As one respondent to the survey stated, “Are you saying you can finish learning?” [9] [10]

97.58% of respondents said that a benefit of continuing education is it provides them with the opportunity to improve their skills as well as learn new things. What have archivists learned from conferences and workshops?[11]

One person I interviewed attended a security workshop, which provided her with suggestions on ways to better secure a repository, its materials, and the people who use the collections. The suggestions that were given at the workshop include: how to place desks in a reading room, the use of a panic button or a secret phrase for situations, providing an exit strategy to visitors in case of evacuations, and making sure there is a flashlight in every office. This person was able to bring back these ideas to her repository as well as to start a conversation on how her institution can better provide security to its collections as well as more efficiently serve researchers.[12]

One respondent to the survey stated, “The workshops and webinars have greatly expanded my understanding of managing, preserving, and describing born-digital materials. When I was going through archival training born-digital materials were discussed in passing, and without any real detail. If it wasn’t for the workshops that I have taken I would be completely lost on these new archival materials. It may have been possible in the past not to do continuing education because everything was paper based and didn’t really change that much, but with everything going digital, file formats change all the time. We have to be more aware of privacy issues (state and federal laws) because of the search ability of born-digital records and concerns of preserving the integrity of born-digital records when they are transferred from the donor to repository.”[13]

Another respondent to the survey stated that by taking courses on working with born digital materials that he or she was able to better care for the repository’s digital collections. A Lone Ranger archivist responded, saying that continuing education provided him or her with the knowledge and skills to develop the repository’s archive.[14]

92.98% of respondents stated that continuing education allows them to keep up with changes in the profession. So, what changes have occurred? The education requirements for jobs have changed. When people entered the profession in the 1980s, they had a history degree. Today, jobs in the archival profession require a MLIS Degree instead of a history degree. There are attempts in the profession to create standards, such as DACS, to use when describing archival materials as well as best practices. One person I interviewed has seen a desire to integrate better with other types of collections and to get out of the archival silo especially when it comes to shared sources such as Getty AAT, TGN, and Library of Congress authorities. Another change to the profession has been the advancement of technology. Thirty years ago, archivists had only paper and film to preserve. Today, archivist not only have paper and film, they also have born digital files as well as digitized files to preserve.  Since the birth of digital records, there has been a renewed concern regarding “What is considered a permanent record?” With the advancement of technology, researchers are expecting to find the material they need online.[15] [16] [17] [18]

A separate question on the survey asked whether archivists felt that continuing education helped them advance in their career. 82.3% of respondents said that continuing education did help them advance. One respondent to the survey stated that, “My participation in DigCCurr led directly to a promotion.” Another respondent felt that continuing education made her more competitive as a candidate when applying and interviewing for a job. A third respondent stated that he or she would not have been offered his or her current job without having obtained the certified archivist certificate.[19]

In the comment section of the survey, respondents provided two benefits that were not listed as one of the options in the initial question. The first benefit mentioned was that by talking with other professionals, one can put things mentioned in conference sessions and workshops into perspective in order to get a better sense of its usefulness. The second benefit mentioned is that continuing education allows one a chance to see what other repositories are doing regarding conservation, processing and describing collections, or exhibiting items. By hearing what other repositories are doing in these areas, one will realize that his repository either needs to improve or perhaps all is well at this time. A third benefit of continuing education is that having a general knowledge on a range of topics is never a bad thing. For example, one day a responsible person may have to make a policy decision regarding material in the collection. By having knowledge on a wide range of topics this person will be able to turn to knowledge gained as well as professional contacts in order to make an informed decision.  Also, by having knowledge of a wide range of topics, one will be able to hold a conversation with other professionals without wondering “what are they talking about.”[20] [21]

What are the barriers to completing continuing education and how can we overcome them?

What are some factors that keep you from completing continuing education?
Answer Options Response Percent Response Count
Cost 92.3% 323
I do not get anything out of continuing education 2.6% 9
I am about to retire, so why should I go. 1.1% 4
I am too old to learn new things. 0.9% 3
I do not have the time to complete continuing education. 29.4% 103
My repository cannot pay for me to go. 43.4% 152

Even though archivists know the benefits of continuing education there are barriers that prevent us from doing so. What are these barriers and how can professionals overcome them?

One barrier that prevents archivists from participating in continuing education is cost.  According to the survey, 92.3% of respondents stated that cost was a major factor in deciding whether they completed continuing education. 43.4% of respondents do not complete continuing education because their repository cannot pay for it.[22]

There are ways that archivists can reduce the cost of continuing education.  First, they can look for scholarships in order to attend conferences and workshops. A scholarship may not cover the entire cost, but it can reduce the cost the person has to pay. Secondly, one can get a group of colleagues together in order to share the cost of a webinar if there is one. Thirdly, one can plan ahead in order to attend conferences and workshops. Fourth, one can look for free options in order to complete continuing education. I mentioned webinars, but there are other options. Other repositories may hold lectures on topics of interest to archivists. For example, the Louisiana State Archives held a lecture discussing the different genealogy resources held at the Archives. There was no charge for attending this lecture. In March 2016, the Louisiana Archive and Manuscript Association held a workshop on Disaster Recovery Training for Books and Paper Collections. This was a free, all day workshop that provided techniques for salvaging book and paper materials in the event of a disaster. The only thing this workshop cost the participant was time.[23]

Respondents to the survey also provided suggestions on ways that archival organizations can reduce cost. First, organizations can expand awards and scholarships that they offer in order to provide more assistance to members to attend conferences and workshops. Second, organizations can look at registration rates first and then build a conference that can support those rates. Third, organizations can make sure the services within a conference or workshop are necessary. Fourth, conferences and workshops can be held in a variety of locations or a centralized location to reduce travel cost to members. As one respondent put it, do not limit conferencing sites to large cities in one or two parts of the United States. Organizations can hold continuing education activities in a range of locations. Fifthly, organizations can record each session of a conference and provide access to the recordings for a small fee.  Sixthly, the organization can expand its offerings of webinars to include more advanced topics. Seventhly, the cost of continuing education courses can be in a tiered structure.[24]

A second barrier that prevents archivists from completing continuing education is time. 29.4% of respondents to the survey stated that time prohibited them from doing continuing education.  Just as technology has changed our profession, it has changed the way we learn. Technology has made it easier for us to complete continuing education. Professionals can listen to webinars in order to complete their repository’s continuing education requirements. Some webinars are pre recorded allowing viewing at one’s own pace. For example, I listened to a webinar in January called “No Thanks! I Don’t Want to Learn Anything New.”  The webinar lasted 60 minutes and was prerecorded. I watch the webinar in two separate thirty minute sessions.  It is important to remember that one does not have to do three hours of continuing education all at once. One can do continuing education in stages.[25]

Another barrier associated with continuing education is that people feel that they are too old to learn. 0.9% of respondents to the survey felt that they were to old too learn anything new. One respondent to the survey stated that he is 65, working toward a promotion, and always ready to learn as well as do new things. With the right attitude, one can learn something new.[26]

1.1% of participants of the survey stated that they do not do continuing education because they are about to retire. As a rookie archivist, who has another thirty years before I can retire, I am learning from my supervisor how to be a professional archivist, how to be a manager as well as how to contribute to the profession. As I advance in my career, I will have an example to fall back on.  My supervisor can provide perspective and insight to the things talked about at a session in order to provide clarification as well as things I should or should not focus on.[27]

2.6% percent of the respondents to the survey stated that they do not complete continuing education because they do not get anything out of it.  If one feels that he does not get anything out of a conference then perhaps he is going to the wrong type of conference or workshop. They are many archival organizations as well as workshops from which to choose. Try to find an organization or workshop that relates to a current job or a job that you would like to have in the future.[28] [29] [30]

Professionals should not judge a conference or a workshop by the first one that they attended. Lack of experience may factor into what one gets out of a conference or a workshop.

My first archival conference was the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists that was held in New Orleans during August of 2013. When I first arrived at the conference, I was overwhelmed by the size of it as well as by the number of people.  I am sure I learned something just by attending, but I felt at the time that I did not get anything out of it. However I was still in graduate school. I had limited archival knowledge as well as experience to guide me in determining what sessions I should attend. Had I judged the Society of American Archivists and its offerings by the New Orleans conference, I would have been like the two percent of the respondents in the survey who said they do not get anything out of conferences. But I did not. I just chalked it up to being young and inexperienced. Now, three years later, I will be attending my second Society of American Archivists Conference in order to make a presentation.  I am sure now that I will get more out of this conference, especially since I got one SAA Conference under my belt and I have more experience in the Archival Profession. Had I judged SAA from my first experience, I would have missed out on the opportunity to make my third presentation.[31]

Conclusion

It is important to remember that you only gets out what you put into continuing education. Are you active at conferences, workshops and in the organizations to which you belong? Do you talk about your concerns? Do you talk about what issues are occurring at your institution? Do you speak with your organization’s leaders about how the organization is or is not meeting your needs? Have you run for a position or volunteered for a committee? In other words, do you just sit and not actively participate or do you ask questions. [32] [33]

We have to invest in ourselves in order make ourselves better. No one is going to improve us except us. As one respondent to the survey put it, “I view continuing education as an investment in my career and my chosen profession. At the end of the day, if I believe what I do has importance and value, then I need to invest in my professional knowledge, skills and abilities.” Continuing education is just one way for us to improve ourselves professionally. It provides us with the opportunity to make contacts, learn new skills, learn from the mistakes of others, and to see that we are not doing as badly as we think we are. From the research that was done for this presentation, it was determined that archivists know the benefits of continuing education, but there are barriers that prevent them from completing continuing education programs. Through this presentation, every professional will seek the answer to the question: “How can the archival profession help its’ members overcome the barriers that prevent them from completing continuing education?”[34]

Footnotes

[1] “SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics.” Society of American Archivists. Society of American Archivists, May 2011. Web. 25 January 2016.

[2] Conway, Paul. Effective Continuing Education for Training the Archivist. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 34, no 1 (1993): 38-40, doi: 10.2307/40323709

[3] Crockett, Margaret. Continuing education and the hallmarks of professionalism: An overview of the current environment for the record-keeping profession. Journal of the Society of American Archivist 28, no 1 (2007): 77 and 98, doi: 10.1080/00379810701376621

[4] “Coiffe, Dorothea J. Webinars: Continuing Education and Continuing education for Librarians. Journal of the Library Administration & Management Section 12, no 9 (2012) 37.

[5] Lynn, Valerie A, Arpita Bose, and Susan J. Boehmer. Librarian Instruction-Delivery Modality Preferences For Professional Continuing Education. Journal Of The Medical Library Association 98, no 1 (2012): 59 and 61,  doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.98.1.017

[6] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[7] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[8] Author’s personal experience.

[9] Colin Lukens. Email message to the author, 10 Dec. 2015.

[10] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[11] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[12] Amy Jones, email message to the author, 18 November 2015.

[13] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[14] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[15] Amy Jones, email message to the author, 18 November 2015.

[16] Harrison, Douglas in discussion with the author, December 2015.

[17] Lindsey Barnes, email message to the author, 18 November 2015.

[18] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[19] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[20] Harrison, Douglas in discussion with the author, January  2015.

[21] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[22] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[23] Jones, Amy, email message to the author, 12 February 2016.

[24] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[25] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[27] Harrison, Douglas in discussion with the author, December 2015.

[28] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

[29] Author’s personal experience.

[30] Casey Davis, email message to the author. 24 February. 2016.

[31] Author’s personal experience.

[32] Amy Jones, email message to the author. 18 November 2015.

[34] Relle, Blake. “Should archivist complete continuing education?” Survey Monkey. Unpublished survey. January/ February 2016.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s