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from the perspective of an individual experienced in developing and providing
continuing education to archivists
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Being here today gives
me a certain sense of sense of deja vu. In another sense, it makes me
feel like the "Ghost of Christmas Past." Thirteen years ago I had just been
hired as SAA Education Officer and I was just down the road a bit in Savannah
for what was called by some an "SAA Education Summit." We had gathered with
the support of the NHPRC to address the same concern that brings us to Decatur
today: continuing education.
In 1987 it was a smaller
group that convened–only thirty-six archivists representing different constituencies
within the SAA. I was there to receive my "marching orders" or perhaps more
properly, since archivists tend not to be very assertive, my "marching suggestions."
We were concerned with many of the same issues, although there were some different
assumptions and some different approaches.
Our agenda consisted of:
- an analysis of a survey
of educational needs that had recently been completed
- an overview of regional
education priorities and activities reported by representatives from regional
- plenary papers on
continuing education priorities, and the resources needed to implement them
- the traditional lamenting
of the confusion between what constitutes "basic" versus "advanced" education
- everyone agreeing
that there was a great need for continuing education in many subject areas
and that cooperation seemed logical.
During the course of our
deliberation, one speaker warned us against using continuing education to make
up for deficiencies in pre-appointment that archivists had received along the
way. We were told that archivists were, to a large degree, technicians and for
this reason very little continuing education for archivists can be conducted
within the four walls of a classroom. We were urged to develop active partnerships
with archival institutions that could serve as laboratories in which archivists
could develop their technical knowledge (an interesting suggestion that we never
exploited very well).
Some of the foregoing might
sound familiar to a number of those in the audience who, like me, have been
involved in continuing education over the years.
But even though we were
gathered to address the problems of continuing education, our world today is
a much different place than it was in 1987.
- At the Savannah conference
the SAA Committee of Education and Professional Development was meeting
to put the finishing touches on a revision to the "Guidelines for Graduate
Archival Education Programs" that had been adopted a decade earlier. The
Master of Archival Studies scenario would not come up for serious discussion
for several years. In her plenary session at Savannah Mary Jo Pugh described
the situation particularly well when she observed that, "even the best trained
new archivists...have only a handful of courses cobbled onto a library science
or history curriculum, typically taught by an adjunct member of the host
department, [who has] little or no say in the shaping of development of
the curriculum." The situation has changed considerably during the intervening
- In 1987, the SAA did
not have any continuing education guidelines, although, in retrospect, coming
a decade after the Savannah meeting, the current PACE Guidelines have surprisingly
little to say about cooperation.
- Only weeks after the
end of the Savannah conference the SAA Council gave the go-ahead for a program
to certify of individual archivists–an event that many thought would be
a positive force in archival education. This was an initiative in which
I found myself heavily involved during the "birthing" process, in addition
to my primary responsibilities of cranking out "x" number of workshops and
seminars that were driven by the education grant's work plan.
- The 1987 conference
was much more narrowly focused than today. We were only archivists in attendance
and we thought we were "reaching out" because we had different kinds of
archivists–even Canadians and archival educators.
- Within the archival
community we thought that having SAA reach out to and work with regional
archival associations in continuing education was a novel, a bit controversial,
and even a daring idea.
- The idea that regional
associations should take the primary responsibility for providing basic
entry-level education was considered by many to be insulting to regional
archival associations. Today this is a notion that many now believe makes
a good deal of sense given the limitations on resources and time that many
requiring basic education archivists are faced with.
- Nobody anticipated
the powerful new means of delivering continuing education through the World
Wide Web. Few of us, I think, had even seen a color photocopier. At the
time, the SAA was using a word processing system in which one still had
to do a "carriage return" at the end of each line and four keystrokes to
insert a capital letter!
- In 1987 we all took
a more casual attitude toward planning. I recall that when I first started
to attempt scheduling SAA workshops with regional associations, the biggest
problem was that the extremely short planning time line that characterized
the planning efforts of many regionals did not permit me to recruit instructors
and distribute publicity.
- Another significant
change, although we do not often think of it in discussions of continuing
education, has come with the growth of our body of professional literature.
Using the SAA as a measure, archival literature has become far more extensive
now than it was in 1987. At that time the list of publications numbered
only around sixty titles. Today the current publications list numbers 160
title. Of these, only seventeen had been published in at the time of the
Savannah conference. The impact of this is difficult to overestimate. The
increased body of literature is, in itself, an important means through which
many receive continuing education. The titles also constitute an important
resource upon which instructors of continuing education can draw in the
workshops, seminars, and institutes they offer.
But still we face some
of the same problems and concerns in the year 2000 as we did in 1987. As we
begin our work here in Decatur, I believe we need to think about eight factors
that influence cooperation in continuing education.
- Cooperation in continuing
education is like world peace. Everyone can agree to it in principle but
when it comes right down to doing what needs to be done, self-interest rears
its head and makes it difficult for us to accomplish the goal. In other
words, I think we need to rigorously and critically define our real incentives
for cooperation and then concentrate on these.
- In my experience,
much of our past attention concerning continuing education has defaulted
directly toward delivery. It is to our detriment that we have been
less interested in the building blocks that should precede delivery. I would
define these as:
- Gathering support
It is clear to me that
some of our past continuing education efforts have suffered because of this.
A successful ongoing program requires that we first build a foundation by
taking advantage of the opportunity to learn about such topics as adult
learners and curriculum development. I take it as a good sign that both
of these topics, and others as well, are on the agenda for this meeting.
Only then should we begin thinking about delivery methods.
- In a similar way,
I think we will need to stop defaulting to workshops and seminars as synonyms
for continuing education. This is a time-honored tradition with archivists.
We do it out of habit. Workshops are fun and we feel comfortable with them.
They appeal somehow to our missionary zeal. But workshops and seminars are,
in fact, very expensive to deliver and take advantage of. In many cases
they are not the most cost-effective approach and maybe some of our problems
have resulted from trying to shoehorn every continuing education effort
into a workshop or seminar format.
- The next obvious
point is that, when it comes time to consider delivery methods, we need
to look at alternate means. Interactive online curricular material is an
obvious example. There is a great interest in distance education and support
mechanisms needed to employ this means are easier and less expensive than
ever to use. There is also the possibility of such imaginative approaches
as a mentoring program that links trained professionals with institutions
needing assistance, similar to that which is being developed in Wisconsin.
Such pro bono work stands to benefit all those participate. Institutions
needing help will have the services of a trained professional without having
the bear the high costs of hiring a consultant who is there and gone in
a few months. We think the program will be a great public relations boon
for institutions with archivists who participate in the program. Anyone
who has taught knows how teaching helps to sharpen their own skills and
develop their own knowledge and archivists will benefit from this.
- I think that many
of our efforts have been held back because archivists have committed the
same sin that we accuse others of committing against us. On the one hand,
we scoff at those who think one can just read a book, and then apply logic
and good sense in order to become a qualified archivist. On the other hand,
when it comes to conducting needs surveys or creating adult curricular materials
or evaluation instruments, we craft them ourselves, instead of working with
professionals. In other words, we "read a book" and forge ahead, secure
in the assurance that our vast knowledge of archives and our experience,
will carry the day.
- We must also take
a realistic look at where continuing education really falls on our list
of priorities? We are in Decatur to consider cooperation in continuing education,
but we all have other priorities as well. It is O.K. to concentrate on continuing
education while we are in Decatur, but we need to remember those other priorities
that await us when we return home. In other words, when everything is a
priority, then nothing is a priority. We cannot do everything at once. I
do not have much to add to this–the point is pretty self-evident. The world
is full of good ideas but there is only so much time, energy, and resources.
- In one respect, at
least, cooperation in continuing education seems to be like a documentation
strategy. For those who may not be familiar with the term, a documentation
strategy was an idea that many archivists embraced as a more effective means
of preserving historical records. The point here is that although it might
have been a good idea, some criticized the documentation strategy because
the only way archivists seemed to be able to undertake one was with massive
infusions of cash form an outside funding agency. So it has been with continuing
education. Few have found ways to make it self-supporting.
I am not thinking about
this conference, although it is, in fact, dependent on outside funding.
I am thinking about the 1987 Savannah conference; I am thinking about the
dozens of grant applications I have reviewed wherein applicants have come
with hat in hand saying that they needed to develop a new framework and
new curricular materials (with workshops, of course!). They always contend
that their problems were unique and continuing education plans developed
in other regions and by other professions just did not work for them. Ironically,
they then promise to develop a model that everyone else will be able to
use. They promise to sustain the program after the grant money had ended.
Then two years later they are back asking for more money to support the
project for a bit longer. And again, and again.
We need to find a way
to make our cooperation and our continuing education programs self-sustaining.
- There are areas for
potential cooperation that seem obvious at first glance, but which we never
have seemed ready or willing or able to exploit. I have been a member of
the Wisconsin State Historical Records Advisory Board for years and a member
of the Midwest Archives Conference and the Society of American Archivists
for even longer. I am surprised at how seldom my life as a board member
has intersected with my life as a professional association member. And yet
all the organizations are vitally interested in continuing education. In
a similar way, I am sometimes surprised at how seldom my life as a member
of the Wisconsin board has intersected with the Minnesota Board. Or the
Illinois Board. Yet we are all vitally interested in continuing education.
So we begin our work with
hearts in the right place, but it is a question of resources, as much as desire.
It seems to me that the challenge of this conference will be to
- weave so many different
threads together into a tapestry
- define our incentives
- find the resources
to sustain what we have started
- try new approaches
- broaden our attention
to include planning, support, delivery, and evaluation.
In his closing remarks
at the 1987 Savannah meeting, Donn Neal, then the new Executive Director of
the SAA made several observations that were, I think unappreciated at the time–probably
because they came at the end of the conference. He said that cooperation was
not simply something that happens. It must be planned, with clearly and explicitly
stated goals, and with genuine incentives for participating institutions or
groups. Cooperation frequently succeeds best when it is taken in incremental
steps. He suggested that a cooperative relationship should develop in four successive
- Knowledge of our potential
- Respect for individual
or program differences
- Trust in one's cooperative
- Collaboration in achieving
In retrospect, his remarks
were probably what we should have focused upon rather than thinking about what
workshops to offer at the next annual meeting, or whether to partner for MARAC
or MAC first.
From what I have seen and
heard thus far, we begin our work on an encouraging note. But by the end of
our time together we still need to address the three questions that were posed
- Where do we go from
- What can we accomplish
together better than what we might accomplish separately?
- Where do we begin?
Were I permitted to propose
one suggestion, it would be that one of our first cooperative ventures ought
to be learning together some of the topics that are on our agenda for
this conference–subjects like "How Adults Learn," or "Effective Curriculum Development,"
or "Delivery Methods" rather than do as we always have done–jump right in and
begin teaching workshops. It would be an approach we have not tried before,
and one that would be the best long-term investment.
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November 13, 2005