Getting Your Drivers Licence on the Electronic Highway
Archival education in the age of transnational data communication
by Theo Thomassen,
Director, Archiefschool, The Hague Netherlands.
Dear colleagues. The archival profession is changing and so is the way it educates new professionals. Developments in archival science and archival enterprise affect curriculum contents and orientation. Moreover, changes of a more general character in t he organization of professional education and working life affect didactical methods and educational organisation.
Many archival educators running one of the nearly 150 registered archive schools and programs in the world have to cope with the challenges of the information societie in a rather down to earth way. Their establishments are small, their resources scarcel y sufficient, the organisations supporting them not very strong. To those educators, the developments in information and communication technology, the paradigm shift in archival science and the introduction of new teaching technologies are promising on th e one hand, but also potential sources of frustration on the other.
What are the professional requirements for the archivist of the 21st century and what are the consequences for archival education? Allow me, dear colleagues, to single out the main topics.
In 1993, in the special issue of the American Archivist on "educating the archivist of the information age", two conclusions were drawn:
1. The future viability of our profession rests with our ability to address the needs of those whom we serve and the electronic records that they create and employ, and
2. The archival profession has not yet dealt adequately with educating archivists to manage automated techniques and, especially, electronic records.
The impact of the revolution in information and communication technology on the requirements for professional competence - and hence on the archival educators' mission - can hardly be overrated. Bound to prepare young students as well as experienced arch ivists for a new information handling community, archival educators must innovate the offerings of their schools in contents and structure as well as in orientation. They must adapt their programs to the new paradigm and the autonomous character of archiv al science. They must expand the scope of their programs in breadth as well as in depth and harmonize them with programs of other professional schools such as library and information science schools. And finally they must integrate all components, the new subjects and the traditional ones, in preparatory as well as in continuing education.
Primarily, archival educators are teachers. But, in this period of rapid development in archival theory and practice, they can only teach archival science while developing it at the same time. Teaching in archival science and research in archival science must be linked closely.
In addition to these developments, which are more or less archival by character, general changes in professional education do force archival education to change as well.
Professional demands change rapidly, while the labor market is getting broader and more diverse. Professional education is forced to become more flexible and adaptive. Archival education must be life-long education, provided by a variety of organisations . The focus of paedagogical strategies shifts from the traditional manpower- and curriculum-strategies to flexibility-strategies, aimed at promoting general qualities like flexibility, learning capacity, working discipline, communicativeness and cooperati veness. In designing learning objectives the focus shifts from skills and knowledge to understanding and attitudes.
As a result, teaching aids like manuals are rapidly outdated. New digital teaching aids are developed. A shift in the allocation of resources for teaching aids to computer-programs has started. Archivists in Australia are already trained by means of inte ractive computer software, as Karen Anderson demonstrated a few days ago at the symposium of the Section on Archival Education.
In modern professional education, however, the most crucial factor is the teacher himself. Teachers in archival science can only educate competent professionals if they master the professional knowledge and skills of the information age themselves. They must constantly update their knowledge on archives and archival functions, but also develop their skills as professional teachers. On the one hand, they must use the media involved in open and flexible learning and modify and develop teaching materials th at suite their purposes best. On the other hand, they must teach their students to use modern information and communication technology in order to enable them to study independently and to become a competent professional in a preponderantly digital enviro nment. Their teaching, like all teaching, is becoming more technology-oriented. And because there are only a few archival educators at this moment who are fully qualified to execute those duties, specialist education for teachers is a matter of urgency.
Archival education can only meet the demands of the archival profession if all parties involved in the educational process cooperate closely.
The demanded expansion of the total supply of education asks for cooperation of archive schools with educational programs in the neighbouring disciplines, with institutions specialized in teaching information and communication technology, with other prov iders, such as professional societies, archives and other information handling services, and lastly, with the information industry.
In many cases, universities can and will serve in this situation as nods in a network. Different university departments, information science, history and others, must cooperate in teaching and research in order to give archival education a multi-discipli nary character. Those archive schools and programs which are not provided with research facilities, will have to cooperate with universities in order to keep pace with developments in archival science.
The effective incorporation of professional standards into first-entry education is one of the objectives of international cooperation in archival education. Harmonization is another one. International communication can hardly exist without arrangements on terminology, languages and interfaces. Standardization, however, can only be a means to facilitate the free exchange of ideas, and not a goal in itself. Archival educators are and will be context-oriented: they order the world of archival education wit h respect for different structures caused by different circumstances.
It is extremely important for all the different establishments of archival education, regardless of scale, scope and level of their programs, to foster intensive mutual relations - on a national but also on an international level. Close cooperation with sister institutions is the only way for the smaller establishments to adapt educational programs timely and adequately to the changing needs. In the processes of expansion, integration and innovation, the cooperation with sister institutions at home as we ll as abroad can prevent archive schools from reinventing the wheel as well as facilitate the development of curricula standards.
New technology will give archival education and research a network-based organization.
In the information age providers of archival education, training and research, together with professional information providers like archives and libraries, need to be part of the open, global information network.
Networking allows archival education to become more open and flexible in terms of level, character, time and place. It facilitates continuous education as well as open and distant teaching. It promotes student self-sufficiency. It improves communication and cooperation between different providers and it changes the interaction of teachers and students by engaging them in networked training arrangements. It stimulates the production, distribution and use of teaching aids and makes the best products of num erous teachers and writers available to every teacher and student in archival science.
Networking could turn out to be the only means for small-scale educational establishments to do large-scale business, the only means to upscale activities without building a larger building. Networking facilitates not only the development of large projec ts for global target groups, it also facilitates up-to-date, tailor-made education and training programs to small target groups to be carried out. Networking research allows the smaller educational establishments to participate in archival research projec ts. It facilitates universities to carry out spearhead research projects, but it also increases the know-how of the smaller archive schools.
In the information age archival educators are not only transmission media, but also information producers and users. In all these qualities, their networking capacity is decisive for their succes.
Anyhow, two conditions must be fulfilled. The first one is the availability of adequate equipment and the resources for its maintenance. While networking can reduce costs, building an electronic communication infrastructure asks for additional investment s. Therefore we must make our governments pay due to their formal statements. If they truly recognize knowledge as the key resource of the post-industrial information society, if they indeed consider effective telecommunication links as an investment in t he most important resource of any educatioal establishment, then in this field the archival profession and its neighbouring professions have only one thing to accomplish: advocating jointly the benefits of the information professionals to society.
The second condition is: the recruitment of sufficient numbers of students. Students, who regard the dynamics of modern information and communication business as interesting, stimulating and exciting challenges. Students who respond to the professional p rofile of the archivist of the information age. Archivists cannot be characterized anymore by the archives they keep, by the specific group of public they serve nor by the institution that employs them, but only by their professional specialism and by the way they use their professional knowledge to the benefit of society. Translating these abstract words into a positive, concrete and recognizable image is probably the greatest challenge to be met.
Dear colleagues, developments in information and communication technology bring about rapid and radical changes in archival education. Cooperation and networking on a global scale must prevent the world of archival education to be split up in the haves a nd the have-nots. If common problems are addressed on a global scale, unequalities in the field of expertise and resources could be bridged. The central challenge for the archival educators and the rest of the archival profession, however, is not the equa l acquisition of resources, but the definition and marketing of a new professional image, in order to recruit from new target groups the future professionals we need.
e-mail to Dr. Karsten Uhde, as at: 13.01.2005