Becoming a certified archivist

Wondering about whether you should take the examination for the Academy of Certified Archivists? Worried about the benefits and whether you’d pass?

I had a lot of the same thoughts in 2009, when I decided to take the ACA exam. I have an MLIS with a specialization in archival studies, but I wondered what else I could do to identify myself as an archivist. In the US, most archivists are historians or librarians by training — and archivists by experience. In this difficult job market, I was willing to do as much as I could to show off my interest and specialization.

Besides the informative and required reading from the ACA exam handbook, I found two websites particularly useful when studying for the exam. This post from Archives Found details many of the most important readings to consider when studying for the exam. In addition, the 2009 version of the Washington University Libraries ACA study group (currently up to date with new readings for 2010) helped me prioritize which areas I felt I needed to study further.

If you are a practicing archivist dealing with things like ethical issues, processing, accessioning, donor relations, and outreach/reference, you are ahead of the curve. If you took any archives courses in graduate school and have a good grasp of archival concepts (provenance, respect des fonds, etc) then you will likely need only to review these concepts for the exam.

The works that were most useful for me:

– Schellenberg’s Modern Archives
– Daniels et al’s Modern Archives Reader
– Yakel’s Starting an Archives

I also read works by some of the other respected names in archival theory/studies: Jenkinson, O’Toole, Cox, Roe, Pugh, and Ritzenthaler. Many of the suggested core readings should be re-read.

It looked like there were a lot of historians at my testing site. The passing score in 2009 was 67%. The test is multiple-choice. I found the test was not as difficult as I thought it would be. It was oriented to the decision-making process, including general standards for processing/description and ethics. I call it “what would an archivist do?” in multiple-choice format. I expected more questions that were specific to particular theories, but was pleasantly surprised at the blend of questions about different aspects of the work and theory of archives.

I finished early and passed, becoming a provisional member until my supervisor submitted a letter confirming that I had been doing archival work for 1 year. Once I submit a full member application, I will be “official.” Other than providing the title of “Certified Archivist,” the organization does not work on archival issues. It is a society in the traditional sense. Anyone with a master’s degree and some archival experience can take the exam.

Overall, I am glad that I took the examination. I felt proud to have a group of experienced professional archivists confirm that I, too, am part of their profession. At the same time, I know that this confirmation does not make me a good archivist, nor can the title provide me with skills to be a better archivist. It has, however, helped me appreciate the origins, theories, and methods of archival work — and I believe that interest in and understanding of these is what makes a great archivist.


3 Responses to “Becoming a certified archivist”

  1. 1 Shelly
    February 3, 2010 at 8:16 pm


  2. 2 Lindsey
    February 3, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Congrats! Glad to hear it wasn’t a stressful process. I had signed up for last year’s exam but then didn’t end up taking it but I’m going to try again this year. Thanks for sharing your resources, those will definitely come in handy!

  3. February 4, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Congratulations, and thanks for the post! You actually addressed a lot of the same questions I had, and I’m going to give certification some more serious thought.

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