PREMIERING IN 2016: A&D Certificate Program

Jennifer Pelose (Harvard University and SAA Education Committee Chair) and Solveig De Sutter (SAA Education Director)

SAA's Committee on Education is developing an Archival Arrangement and Description Certificate Program—A&D for short—to help archivists ensure that their skills and knowledge are current and to give them the opportunity to engage in learning experiences throughout their careers.

This program, which will debut in 2016, "should not be considered a substitute for graduate education, but ideally, a supplement that builds upon a foundation already laid by LIS programs, and a path toward specialization. 'Continuing education' aims to close the gap in the knowledge base of LIS practitioners that cannot be filled satisfactorily by formal education programs or on-the-job training alone."(1)

The A&D track will allow archivists to immerse themselves in a single topic—a benefit at a time when the field is changing so quickly. This approach provides archivists with extended descriptive training to expand the skill sets they gained in graduate school, and it also can facilitate career shifts within the archival field (for example, moving from public services to processing/ cataloging).

Prospective students can assess their needs against the general goals of four tiers:

  • Foundational
  • Tactical and Strategic
  • Tools and Services
  • Transformational

The curriculum accounts for horizontal and vertical transfers of knowledge through a structure of tracks and tiers. Foundational courses introduce the basics and subsequent courses build on those lessons through specialized, advanced courses that address tactics and tools that are useful for arrangement and description and management, organization, and preservation techniques.

The curriculum provides an integrated, programmatic framework for archivists at various levels within their institutions whose work includes arrangement and description.

Core Competencies of the A&D Curriculum

The curriculum is designed to award successful students (i.e., those who pass a course-specific exam in each of the following areas of core competencies) with an Arrangement and Description Certificate of Completion. These students have gained competency in:

  1. ARRANGEMENT: Understand the process of organizing materials with respect to their provenance and original order to protect their context and facilitate access. 
  2. DESCRIPTION: Analyze and describe the attributes of a record or record collection to facilitate identification, management, and understanding of the work. 
  3. DESCRIPTIVE STANDARDS:Apply rules and practices that codify the information used to represent archival materials in discovery tools according to published structural guidelines. 
  4. MANAGEMENT: Demonstrate ability to manage physical and intellectual control over archival materials. 
  5. DISCOVERY: Create tools to facilitate access and disseminate descriptive records of archival materials. 
  6. ETHICS: Convey transparency of actions taken during arrangement and description and respect privacy, confidentiality, and cultural sensitivity of archival materials. 
  7.  RISK MANAGEMENT: Analyze threats and implement measures to minimize ethical and institutional risks.

Who Should Take A&D Courses?

Anyone can take A&D courses! For instance:

  • SAA members and other archivists, including managers, administrators, and professionals who work with records or other archival materials in large or small organizations with staff or by themselves.
  • Librarians, legal staff, and records managers who have responsibility for records or other archival materials.
  • Employers who want to ensure that their staff has the knowledge and training to successfully arrange and describe institutional records using appropriate descriptive standards; implement appropriate risk management strategies; and manage the overall process with full awareness of ethical considerations.
  • Members of the Academy of Certified Archivists and regional associations. • Students and SAA student chapters.

How Is a Certificate Earned?

Participants working toward a certificate must take and pass two Foundational courses; one course from the available Privacy and Confidentiality courses, one Tactical and Strategic course, and one course in both the Tools and Services and Transformational tiers.

More knowledgeable students can elect to test out of the Foundational courses.

The A&D Certificate is valid for five years, and certificate holders can elect to renew the certificate by successfully completing courses and exams from the Foundational (if new), Tactical and Strategic, Tools and Services, and Transformational course tiers. Renewal of the certificate is strongly recommended to stay current with standards, legal issues, and best practices.

What About DAS Certificate Holders?

SAA's Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Certificate program includes a track of courses in three of the tiers that address Arrangement and Description. If you've taken these DAS courses and passed the exams, they can then be applied to the A&D Certificate.

More to come—stay tuned for details!

"Certificate" versus "Certification"

Certificate programs are not the same as certification.

According to the National Organization for Competency Assurance, a certificate program is a training program on a specialized topic for which participants receive a certificate after completing courses with specific focus and passing an assessment instrument. The certificate results from an educational process and is different than a degree-granting program. Certificate programs are incentive programs to work toward a tangible goal in an organized way within a designated time frame.(1)

Certification is the process by which an entity grants recognition and use of a credential to an individual after verifying that s/he has met predetermined and standardized criteria. Certification results from an assessment process and indicates mastery/competency measured against a set of standards, and typically results in a designation.(2)

Research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, on hiring managers' perceptions of postsecondary certificate programs found that hiring managers:

  • View certificate programs favorably when listed on an applicant's resume in addition to a relevant degree and experience.
  • Consider the reputation of the certificate program provider as part of the value of the certificate.
  • Acknowledge that many disciplines (e.g., information systems programming, accounting) have well-recognized, industry-specific certificate programs.
  • Believe completion of a certificate program indicates an applicant's willingness to stay current in the field or, as one manager said, "a person who will go the extra mile."(3)

Professional organizations like SAA not only should provide high-quality continuing education to their members and others, but should package this education in a way that is equally attractive to potential employers.

The A&D track/certificate program provides a credential to archivists wishing to expand their descriptive skills and advance professionally. The certificate is a benchmark for achievement in archival description, a part of the field that requires continuous updates of skills and knowledge of standards.

A survey completed in November 2014 by holders of SAA's Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Certificate, as well as other communication, indicate that completing the requirements of the program and receiving the certificate often result in an increase in salary and promotion. There is every reason to expect that an A&D Certificate will give candidates a leg up in the competitive processing/cataloging job market.


(1) Excerpted from the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts (

(2) Ibid.

(3) Excerpted from "Value of Certificates" by Cathy Sandeen, Dean of UCLA Extension (


Note (1) Karen F. Gracy, Jean Ann Croft, "Quo Vadis, Preservation Education? A Study of Current Trends and Future Needs in Continuing Education Programs," ALCTS 51:2 (2007),

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