Although I’ve been thinking about how best to rearrange the archives curriculum at my alma mater for some time, when I actually sat down to map out courses and assignments, it took me less than ten minutes. I mapped out the courses and their major assignments and started drawing arrows. The result is a three- to four-course concentration that is more rigorous and eliminates the work that I and some of my classmates found less rewarding.
I haven’t taken out either of the internships, but I do think something needs to be done about the field’s dependence on unpaid labor. Archival science programs need to realize the power they have to put pressure on repositories to ensure students are not being exploited. I would like to see more service learning — for example, instead of encoding a fake finding aid, students could encode a real one for a repository outside of an internship — in the classroom, making class assignments more practical and making it less necessary to devote huge chunks of time to interning.
Here are my ideas for courses and some of my personal reasons behind them:
Introduction to Archives: Including a short internship over the course of the semester, this class would introduce students both to archival theory and to archival standards like EAD, MARC, and DACS. Ideally, students would process a real collection and write a finding aid as part of their internship, but as long as students process something real (even if it’s their own papers), I think it’s more valuable than a group project that processes a fake collection. My experience was that during my first internship I wrote an EAD finding aid before I took the separate class on Archival Access, so I do not see a reason why these two classes should be separate.
Preservation Course: Students can choose a preservation concentration, whether it’s general preservation management, digital stewardship, etc. I think archival programs need to include conservation in their curricula as well. While professional conservators often have science backgrounds, it would be useful for students to know the basics of conservation because they might be lone arrangers or working in repositories without the resources to hire a professional conservator. I was really interested in learning a little about conservation for my 130-hour internship, but was told by the head of the internship program, “conservation is not an archival activity.”
Repository and Records Management: I have a lot to say about this. Such a class would combine the archives management and records management courses. Since records management usually deals with materials generated in-house, I think it makes sense to include that in a course about managing an archive. (I still think “an archives” sounds absurd; sorry, America.) Both of these classes as I took them involved a ton of group work based on fake scenarios, and I think combining them would get rid of some of the cat-herding and schedule witchcraft that come with group projects.
In the archives management class I took, we completed an NHPRC Basic Processing Grant, and the emphasis was on following instructions rather than innovative solutions. As someone interested in digitization who wants to put her archival technology skills into a career, I found this to be a pointless exercise. It would be much more useful and engage students more creatively if they could choose the NHPRC grant they wanted to write. To be honest, I felt that the motivation behind assigning the same grant under one of a handful of scenarios to everyone was to make them easy to grade, not to teach us how to solve problems. (I also think this is the motivation behind group projects. Yes, we need to learn how to work in groups, but unlike in a real workplace, in a group project you can’t fire lazy people.) The class I took also had a strategic planning project based on a scenario, and that is a very useful skill to have. Keeping that group project but eliminating the records management group project would be effective. The current events in records management presentation was kind of fun, and a better use of time than lectures or the business films from the 80s (like this and this) we watched in my archives management class.
Advanced Internship: First, I’d like to say that this should be optional. General-track library science students are not required to work an internship, so I think it’s ridiculous to require the archive students to work one, especially if they already have part-time jobs in archives. At the very least, it should be easier for working students to fulfill the requirements for the course without taking on more work. Furthermore, if a site wants to pay a student, that should be allowed if it’s legal in that state; for the library science internship course, payment is at the discretion of the site, but the archives program won’t allow paid work. (Personal note: I had to turn down an guaranteed offer for a paid summer internship because I was not allowed to get paid during the advanced internship.) I also think 130 hours is a lot of time to work for free, and perhaps a smaller number of hours would be more manageable.
As the course exists now, the class meets three to four times a semester. Two of the classes I attended were dedicated to how to write a résumé and how to conduct oneself during a job interview — basic things like showing up on time and not dressing provocatively. I envision class time being used more productively to discuss developments in the field as well as internship experiences. In addition to weekly journal entries and the experience paper, the other major assignment should be the literature review that students currently write as part of the introductory course. This assignment would be a lot more meaningful if completed later in the program.
Of course, this is just based on my experience as a student, and this post is just a thought-exercise. I have no background in education or archival pedagogy, but I think these seem pretty sound. A Master’s program with an archives management concentration could reduce the number of required classes but keep the same number of credits, allowing students to specialize through electives and enter the field with greater knowledge related to their professional interests, whether those interests are technology or art or copyright or cultural heritage. I’m interested to hear from other students, professionals, or even instructors about the proliferation of requirements and if any of my suggestions would make sense.