GPAS Table of Contents

Archival Education: Mission and Goals

Administration, Faculty and Infrastructure


A graduate program in archival studies should provide students with a solid foundation in archival science. The curriculum should focus on archival theory, methodology, and practice and should be augmented by instruction in economics, history, information studies, law, management, and technology as they relate to archival work. Delivery of courses in these complementary areas should be informed by an understanding of the nature of archives and the ways in which the methods and perspectives of these fields contribute to professional archival practice.

As stated above, the body of knowledge that a student should master as part of a graduate archival education comprises both core archival knowledge and complementary knowledge.

During the course of a graduate program, eighteen (18) semester credit hours should be in areas defined as core archival knowledge. Based on the demands of the graduate program's institution and the interests of the student, the remaining credits may be in complementary knowledge areas. Research should be integrated throughout the curriculum, and an important element of any program should be an original research project resulting in a scholarly paper or thesis. The program should also include practical experience, such as a practicum or internship.

Core Archival Knowledge


The identity of a profession is founded on an exclusive body of knowledge and on a professional culture that arises from a common history, a united purpose, a shared vocabulary, and collective values, norms, and standards. Archival core knowledge is the heart of an archival studies program. It should occupy a dominant position in the curriculum and should be taught by full-time archival educators, professional archivists, or other individuals with a depth of archival knowledge relevant to the topic. Core archival knowledge embraces three separate but interrelated facets of archival studies: Knowledge of Archival Material and Archival Functions (theory and methodology associated with specific areas of archival work); Knowledge of the Profession (history of the profession and evolution of archival practice); and Contextual Knowledge (the contexts within which records are created, managed, and kept). Because archival knowledge and professional culture transcend geographical and national boundaries, each component should incorporate an international and multicultural perspective.


Knowledge of Archival Material and Functions

Archival education should teach the fundamental concepts concerning the nature of archival material in all forms and archival functions (archival theory), the techniques for performing archival functions (archival methodology), and the implementation of theory and method in real situations (archival practice). Instruction should cover the history of archival theory and methods and their articulation in the professional literature (archival scholarship). The scope of archival education should encompass all archival functions and should address both current best practices and related management issues.

Knowledge of the Profession

Archival education should provide students with an understanding of the ways in which the profession has developed and how its specific practices have evolved. It should teach students about the nature of archival institutions, units and programs, the values and ethics that archivists bring to their work, and the perspectives that archivists contribute to the information professions.


Contextual Knowledge

All graduates of archival studies programs should have a basic understanding of the contexts within which records are created and kept and of management and technology theory and practice as they apply to archival work. This knowledge should be integrated throughout the core curriculum wherever applicable so as to foster a sound working knowledge that can be applied to daily activities. Some of these areas of knowledge may also be studied more fully as disciplines in their own right; therefore, they are also listed under Complementary Knowledge below.


Complementary Knowledge


Archivists must rely on knowledge, methods, and perspectives derived from disciplines beyond their own. The interdisciplinary nature of archival studies arises from the complexity of archival materials, the contexts of their creation, the multiplicity of their potential uses, and the many roles that graduates of archival studies programs fill. Graduates should be knowledgeable about significant theories, methods, and practices of some or all the following fields.


The Nature of Records and Archives

The diplomatic and archival concept of records through time, in the analog as well as the digital environment; the characteristics of records (i.e. naturalness, interrelatedness, impartiality, authenticity, uniqueness) and their components, formal elements, and attributes; the trustworthiness of records (reliability, accuracy, authenticity, identity, and integrity) and authentication; the perfection of records (i.e. draft, original, copy, image); the way records aggregate and their forms of aggregation; the concept of archives (or archival fonds) and its history (including the concept of record group); the records tradition versus the manuscripts tradition in the United States; the concept of papers (differences between United States and United Kingdom); the structure of archival bodies of material; the macro approach versus the micro approach to the concept of archives; and archives as a place and as an institution.

Appraisal and Acquisition

The theory, methods, policies, and procedures used to identify, evaluate, acquire, and authenticate records and papers, in all forms, which have enduring value to records creators, institutions, researchers, and society. Appraisal entails, among other things, understanding what makes records and papers authentic, reliable, and useful to institutions, individuals, legal and financial authorities, and other constituents.

Arrangement and Description

The intellectual and physical organization of archival records and papers in all forms, according to archival principles and institutional considerations, and the development of descriptive tools and systems that provide both control of and access to collections. Teaching methods and technology applications should link theory to practice.


The physical and intellectual protection of records and papers in all forms, including the activities required to ensure their continuing accessibility, such as digitization, microfilming, or migration. Preservation knowledge comprises a firm grounding in preservation history; research into the nature of the materials and treatments; current techniques and technologies; and administrative studies and management issues. 

Reference and Access

The policies and procedures designed to serve the information needs of various user groups, based on institutional mandates and constituencies, the nature of the materials, relevant laws and ethical considerations, and appropriate technologies. Instruction should also include the study of user behavior, user education, information retrieval techniques and technologies, user-based evaluation techniques, and the interaction between archivist and user in the reference process.

Outreach and Advocacy

The theories and practices used to identify archival constituencies and their needs and to develop programs to promote increased use, understanding of archival materials and methods, resources, visibility, and support.

Management and Administration

The principles and practices that are used to facilitate all aspects of archival work through careful planning and administration of the repository, unit, or program, and its institutional resources. At all career levels, archivists manage resources and make decisions and often must demonstrate programmatic vision and innovation. Thus graduates should know the fundamental principles related to organizational management, strategic planning, systems analysis, program planning, budgeting, administrative leadership, human resources management, financial management, resource allocation, fundraising, grant writing, and the management of buildings, facilities, storage systems, and other equipment.

Records and Information Management

The principles involved in managing records and information throughout their full life cycles, from creation and for as long as the records will be needed by their creator for the purposes of its business, functions, or activities. The work of archivists relates closely to the responsibilities of records and information managers, and in some institutional environments the duties of each are blended together in a single function. All graduates of archival studies programs should be able to analyze a creator's structure, decision-making, and recordkeeping systems and apply that knowledge to decisions regarding other archival functions.

Digital Records and Access Systems

Graduates of archival studies programs should be able to apply their knowledge to records in all forms. They should have gained an understanding of the nature, issues, and preservation challenges of digital records of organizations and individuals. They should have knowledge of file formats, media types, and complex information technologies for the creation, maintenance, use, and preservation of all types of records. Additionally, archival studies programs should teach students to develop management systems for records and to identify and implement appropriate technological solutions to facilitate all aspects of archival work.

History of Archives and the Archival Profession

A graduate program in archival studies should teach the historical development of record-making and recordkeeping systems and of archives in various civilizations. This instruction should cover the structure of the archival community internationally, and in North America in particular; the types of archival repositories and programs in existence in the United States and Canada, along with their policies and procedures; and the legislation and regulations governing records, archives, and archival work in the United States and Canada. Instruction also should address the history of the archival profession; its missions, roles, and values; and the profession's temporary concerns.

Records and Cultural Memory

Records and papers in all forms constitute an important part of the written memory of individuals and society. They provide the basis for holding governments and organizations accountable and for protecting the rights of individuals. Archival institutions thus play a significant role in society. However, they are only part of the fabric of cultural memory. Archivists and archives work in cooperation with other professionals (including, but not limited to, those who work for historical societies, libraries, and museums) to preserve and provide access to cultural memory. Students should understand the interrelationships among archives and other stewards of cultural heritage and the ways in which records complement that heritage.

Ethics and Values

The archives profession bases its system of ethics and values on the responsibilities of archivists in identifying, preserving, protecting, and making available records and papers in all forms and information resources for which they are responsible. Students should be familiar with the SAA Code of Ethics, its underlying principles and perspectives, and its relationship to other related professions’ codes of ethics. Students should understand how the ethics and values of the profession inform decisions and how to apply those ethics and values to their work.

Social and Cultural Systems

Knowledge of social and cultural systems is important for two reasons. First, graduates must understand the institutional and individual structures and systems that form the context in which records and papers are created, maintained, and used. They should also understand the recordkeeping implications of social and cultural systems and the organizational structures and procedures used by all types of public and private institutions to ensure accountability. Second, graduates must understand the political, social, and economic dynamics within their organization to achieve their archival repository's goals and objectives.

Legal and Financial Systems

Records and papers, and the recordkeeping systems of both institutions and individuals, result from and, therefore, reflect the legal and financial systems in which they were created and demonstrate organizational and individual accountability. Archival core knowledge includes the origin, development, structure, and functioning of legal and financial systems, including federal, state, and local laws as well as the regulatory environment. This should include both public and private sector jurisdictions. Knowledge of legal issues also includes privacy rights, freedom of information legislation, and a wide variety of intellectual property rights, display and performance rights, and literary rights related to recorded material in all forms.

Information Technology

Most contemporary records are created, stored, maintained, used, and preserved in digital form. Familiarity with networking, hardware, software, and digital systems in general is fundamental to performing archival functions in the 21st century. Graduates of archival studies programs should understand human/computer interaction (to design and develop effective systems for users), the importance of information standards, and how to evaluate systems and related services effectively.  The curriculum could include opportunities to develop skills in database design and management, spreadsheet applications, information architecture, website design and creation, and/or desktop publishing. Also valuable are an understanding of metadata schemas, familiarity with markup languages, and basic programming skills.


Beyond the core archival knowledge of preservation, appropriate knowledge may be needed in conservation practices, that is, a range of intervention activities to stabilize materials in their original format by chemical or physical means. Graduates should have sufficient understanding of this discipline to be able to judge the efficacy of conservation treatments and to evaluate the appropriate conservation treatment for a document or group of documents. For digital materials, graduates should have sufficient understanding of digital object recovery techniques and digital security technologies.

Research Design and Execution

An understanding of research design and execution is important for enabling graduates to provide effective service to a wide variety of researchers and to evaluate archival operations from the perspective of users. It also allows graduates to assess the status of research in their own discipline, to undertake new research, and to blend theoretical and empirical aspects of archival studies into scholarly investigations.

History Research

History provides an understanding of the context in which records and papers are created, maintained, and used and of the cultural, economic, legal, political, and social systems that shape society. History assists graduates in understanding the evolution of organizations and their functions and the activities of individuals, thus contributing to more effective archival selection, appraisal, description, and user service. Graduates should also exercise the historian's skills in evaluating evidence and the context of its creation. Knowledge of research methods enables archivists to understand the potential uses of archival materials to provide more effective reference assistance for all users.

Organizational Theory

Frequently, students beginning archival studies will already have a broad background in the liberal arts. Nonetheless, further graduate work in such disciplines can directly augment archival knowledge. Especially valuable is education in fields that help explain the context of records creation and the practice of recordkeeping, including accounting, anthropology, economics, law, philosophy, political science, and sociology, as well as science and the arts. Because the holdings of many archival institutions emanate from or concentrate on specific social sectors or movements, specialized knowledge in one or more humanities, social science, or science disciplines may be an important asset for appraisal and reference work in some settings.

Liberal Arts and Sciences

Ideally, persons beginning archival studies will already have a broad background in the liberal arts. Nonetheless, further graduate work in such disciplines can directly augment archival knowledge. Especially valuable is education in fields that help explain the context of records creation and the practice of recordkeeping—including sociology, philosophy, political science, law, accounting, anthropology, and economics, as well as science and the arts. Because the holdings of many archival institutions emanate from or concentrate on specific social sectors or movements, specialized knowledge in one or more humanities, social science, or science disciplines may be an important asset for appraisal and reference work in some settings.

Allied Professions

The work of archivists and archival institutions intersects with that of several other professions involved in the identification, protection, and dissemination of recorded information. Among these are library and information science, museum studies, oral history, historic preservation, and historical editing. The most common overlapping relationship of this nature is with library and information science because archival repositories are often situated in libraries, where archivists benefit from familiarity with collection development, cataloging, and reference practices employed by librarians. Archives administration is not to be regarded as a branch of any related profession, including library and information science. However, exposure to the distinct purposes and methods of allied fields will be advantageous to archives students.