How about Education as a new Strategic Priority?

There’s has been some discussion on the SAA SNAP discussion list about the topic I threw open on a previous blog post: what should SAA’s updated strategic priorities be? I want to follow up on that in this forum and throw out a somewhat more specific question: should we replace “Technology” as a priority with “Education”? (Again, it may be helpful to refer to the Strategic Priorities document if you’re not familiar with it.)

We could talk about education in terms of:

  • providing new/expanded educational opportunities for members and the archival community
  • becoming more involved in commenting on (sorry, that’s not the right verb but Mr. Thesaurus is not helping me today) the ways that archivists are being prepared in graduate programs
  • educating and providing resources for non-professionals (sometimes called “accidental” or “citizen” archivists) who have responsibility for collections but no training
  • educating the public about what archives are and what archivists do (you could say that this is really advocacy/public awareness but I think it’s slightly different).

So I think “Education” covers a wide range of activities that are of interest in SAA’s members and support its mission.

But whither “Technology”? I’d be the last person to say it’s not important, but what specific activities can you suggest that might go under this objective in a new strategic plan? What do you think SAA should be doing in the area of Technology and Education?


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11 thoughts on “How about Education as a new Strategic Priority?”

  1. Hmm. I’m all for the addition of Education as a strategic priority, but I question shoving Technology aside for it. The message I hear from that is “we’ve done all we need to do on electronic records and other archives technological issues”, which is obviously untrue but which will encourage a certain kind of archivist (and/or his or her administrator) to abandon further efforts to develop those skills. Certainly SAA is in a BETTER place than it was in 2010 to deal with Technology issues– the DAS program alone is evidence of that– but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s an ever-evolving process. If nothing else, ongoing evaluation and reassessment of the DAS program is something worth pursuing; most of the other outcomes are still in progress and in some cases are not scheduled for completion until FY 2014, so I think it’s a bit premature to talk about tossing them out altogether. Outcomes 3 and 4 in particular don’t seem to lend themselves to endpoints at all; SAA should be constantly adapting in its ability to communicate with its members. (Full disclosure to other readers: I was on the Communication Technologies Working Group and am now on the Communications Task Force, so I may be biased.)

    Why does one of the current strategic priorities have to be pushed aside in any case? I understand the desire to avoid complexity creep, but it seems like Education could be added alongside the existing strategic priorities, and/or be understood as underlying all of them (a condition that could also apply to Technology, really).

  2. Well, let’s unpack that. Aside from continuing to improve educational programs about technology (which I see as really an Education activity, not a Technology one, but could go either way), what else do you want to see that’s new and strategic in the area of technology? What can SAA do to help its members deal with electronic records other than providing educational products, publications, etc.?

    Do we really need to have as a strategic priority that SAA will constantly be adapting in its ability to communicate with members? Shouldn’t that just be an understood part of being an effective organization in the 21st century? I just think “Technology” per se is something that underlies and is a part of issues that have much deeper roots. For example, why not replace Technology with something like … I don’t know Exceed Member Expectations (I know, it’s cheesy, but it’s strategic, right?) In order to do that, there could be activities about constantly being in touch with members in some way to find out what they want and what their priorities are, improve communications, improve the annual meeting, publications, etc. Regular member surveys, regular examination of activities to see where improvements could be made, etc. What about that kind of angle?

    I’m trying to ferret out where the organization could be making more strategic investments and pushing forward. Where do you think it could be doing that?

  3. Well, it’s tricky. In principle I agree with you that a lot of the things in “technology” should be understood as things that 21st organizations should be doing anyway, but I think by including these outcomes in their strategic plan in the first place, Council sort of placed themselves in an expectations corner. Remove it now as a priority and you have the potential to anger one constituency (“How dare you devalue this etc etc,” even if the actual outcomes are still being pursued) while turning another constituency away from moving towards a better skill set for these matters (“Well, if SAA doesn’t think this is important, then neither do I”). It’s possible that I have an overly dim view of portions of SAA’s membership in this regard, though.

    Honestly, I’m not good at these sorts of things– I’m not sure what I would put forward as both “new” and “strategic” as a technology goal, largely because I’m not entirely sure what the issues are. On the Early Adopter curve I consider myself to be at the high end of the early majority, which often leaves me in the position of knowing that I want to tackle a technological problem but not knowing how to fully articulate the question, much less come up with an answer. It may in fact be that Education is where my solution should really come from– one thing I’d really like to see is more of best practices in language and concepts the average archivist can really grasp– but I feel a bit oogy about jettisoning Technology altogether.

  4. I don’t know if it should push Technology aside, but I definitely think that Education needs to have a more important part in the plan. As someone who is a few years past graduation and spent almost 2 years unemployed, I am certainly interested in expanding my knowledge. I was very interested when I heard that SAA was doing the DAS certificate (although I think it should be called certification since it needs to be kept up).

    Reading over the information on the website leaves me a little disappointed. It feels as if they decided they needed to address this area of education and just threw something together, for example, there aren’t any course descriptions listed and requirements could be clearer. According to an FAQ, there is either no limit to how many web-based courses you can use towards the certificate, or you can only do 7 (“There is no limit. You can fulfill the DAS Certificate requirements by passing all but two courses via DAS webinars.”). And most importantly, for someone like me living in California who might be able to find the money for the classes, it would be hard to find the money to travel extensively and all the in-person classes seem to be offered only on the east coast (the closest listed class to me for the next 7 months is in Utah, the nest closest is in Texas).

    ARMA offers an Essentials of RIM certificate that is all online and is a traditional certificate (no upkeep). SJSU is now offering a Digital Archives post-graduate certificate (also no upkeep) and can be done all online. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind attending in-person course, however I wish SAA would put more resources towards making sure that the courses necessary for this program were more widely available.

  5. “I’m trying to ferret out where the organization could be making more strategic investments and pushing forward:” Naturally (given my current position) I’d have to agree that education is, or should be, central to SAA’s mission. The problem is I don’t see the profession thinking strategically about education. There’s plenty of discussion about credentials and the current job market, yet little discussion of how changes in curriculum design could impact the future of the profession, say 5-10 years into the future. Such discussions ought to be taking place regularly, with lots of debate. But when SAA has sessions on education, attendance tends to be weak (including at SD this year). Too bad we can’t clone Terry Cook…

  6. “I was very interested when I heard that SAA was doing the DAS certificate (although I think it should be called certification since it needs to be kept up). ”

    setting up a certification is not as easy as one would think, under the ISO standard for certification an organization can not teach and test.

    I would suggest that the CRM exams currently test for what is taught under the DAS certificate program. another would be to have the ACA include more questions about DAS on their exam or offer a supplemental designation. The ICRM does something like this for the nuclear records industry. If you are in the nuclear records field and have passed all 6 ICRM exams you can apply to take the Nuclear Specialist exam aka Part 7.

    now if Education is a strategic priority what type of education are you talking about? a supplement to what is taught in graduate school? Is it the creation of new courses or partnering with someone who already has modules that the membership would find useful?

  7. I like it but I fear Education is too broad for what we really need. I really don’t want to re-ignite the grad school guidelines debate, the certification debate, the history versus library school debate, etc. Don’t focus on the means, focus on the member and what they need. It will be different depending on what they already have and what they need in terms of a skill set or tool box. In competing for jobs you will need what the job is requiring, plus more than the next gal/guy (or in reality the 200 other applicants.)
    Your first three points are a starting place. I wouldn’t throw in #4 because that is advocacy as as been practiced in the past. Perhaps we should be doing advocacy differently – more targeted, for example. But compared to adding skills its a bit like pushing the proverbial boulder up the hill.

  8. I’d love to see Education go beyond “making archivists into better archivists” and into the realm of “teaching non-archivists the value and methods of archival thinking.”. Consider:

    You’re a research data manager. Will your data be usable in 2050?
    You’re a digital humanist. Will your visualizations run in 2050?
    You’re a digital artist. Will your work exist in 2050?

    These are all parties that would do well (and show high interest) in archival matters/thinking. Bringing SAA beyond an Archivists’ Club and towards something more akin to ALA, reaching out to allied fields, would do wonders for everyone.

  9. Funny how the lines between education/technology/advocacy are amazingly fuzzy. I like the vision of SAA being more proactive in helping potential students assess (not rank or rate) graduate education programs. I also like the notion of a more muscular arm of an advocacy agenda advocating to audiences of people who should care about records and archives issues (as noted by Alex) but perhaps don’t realize how important these are for their future work or see SAA/archivists as allies.

    Rather than somewhat self-defining (and arguably limiting) strategic priority categories being the organizational framework for the strategic priorities, I think I’d like to see a limited and realistic number of priorities spelled out, and then mapped to categories as an afterthought.

  10. @PeterK When I hear “certificate” I understand it to be some training or education into a particular topic, and I’m done. When I hear “certification” I understand it to be an on-going thing, with additional work/education needed to maintain it into the future. I’m not saying it needs to be a certification, especially if it is not legally possible. However, I feel as if it should either be take these 9 courses and get a certificate end of story (such as with SJSU or ARMA), or I should feel I’m getting a higher value for having to go back again and again to maintain my status (such as with that ACA). The way it’s set up right now feels like it’s just a way to get more money out of participants.

  11. Education and Advocacy should be the primary goals of SAA. Technology and Diversity should be the primary sub-goals (or whatever the appropriate “strategic planning” term is.) If you look at the Strategic Plan under technology, most of the points involve providing training, education, in the field of electronic records and technology. One could expand the fields of the Education and include several of the technology points that are already in the plan. Not trying to start a whole new debate, or lessen the need for diversity, but I see diversity as part of both Advocacy and Education as well.

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