School Archives: Class in Session

Many school archivists (K-12) are not trained archivists by profession. They are history teachers, school librarians, or administrators, for example, and may be taking this on as an extra “duty as assigned.” The school archivist may also be working on this as a part-time project or position. It is preferred if schools hire a professionally trained archivist, but that is not always the reality.

Where can these staff members go to learn “Archives 101” to help them have a solid starting point in creating an archives using best practices? Ed Desrochers, newly retired Phillips Exeter Academy Archivist, periodically teaches a week-long course at The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut during the summer.

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Being an archivist requires professional knowledge and training. Most have some sort of undergraduate history degree, but archivists can also come from different backgrounds, such as from the music industry or from the sciences. Some archivists have a Masters in Library Science (MLS) or Masters of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) with an archives component. Some have a dual Masters of Archival Science (MAS) and MLIS degree. Some have a MAS and practical experience. Some have taken the Academy of Certified Archivists‘ exam and are now a Certified Archivist.

Whatever the path, there is a whole body of professional literature, knowledge, and practices that an archivist must know and utilize to create a successful institutional archives program. Coming in from another profession is quite daunting, as you are learning new vocabulary, workflow processes, and specialized core information. An archives is not like a library or a classroom.

This course, taught at Taft since the mid 1980s, will help those who are slated to begin or to help maintain an archives at their school, and who have had no formal training. Mr. Desrochers estimates that he has had about 100 students from all over the United States, as well as one student each from China, Greece, and Japan. Classes typically have had from 6 to 18 people in them, and are taught every 2-5 years.

This is not the only class to take, but it is an excellent starting point, providing a comprehensive overview. More Continuing Education courses can be taken through the Society of American Archivists as well as from local, regional, or international archives groups. Chapter 5: Selected Readings in the Handbook for Archival Certification also provides a great reading list of books and articles, as it it constantly updated.

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