“The best way to finish an unpleasant task is to get started” ~Anonymous
No one likes taking tests! We study, cry, study some more, eat ice cream and then study again,—or maybe this was just my experience in graduate school. Nonetheless, through my matriculation of grad school, there was one nagging thought in my mind. “What if I graduate but can’t pass the Certification Exam?” Scary right, well, not exactly. Unlike some professions, not passing the exam does not signify a nail in the coffin of my career, — it is nonetheless, a testament to my understanding of the profession and my ability to maintain standards of excellence in historical preservation and access to primary resources. The certification exam, was developed by “the Academy of Certified Archivists, founded in 1989 at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists.”
(Academy of Certified Archivists,
The ACA exam was established in conjunction with the Society of American
Archivists and the Interim Board for Certification (IBC) in order to promote
understanding of archival goals, ethics and standards. The examination is
conducted annually in conjunction with the Society of American Archivist’s
Annual Meeting. Applicants are able to take the test either at SAA’s annual
meeting or request a host city where 3 or more applicants wish to take the
I applied for the test last year, and I must say as scared as I was about taking the exam, I was more inspired by the sight of all the other test takers in the room with me. Seeing former classmates and current colleagues take the test was exciting. One of the ways I studied for the exam was by reaching out to colleagues who had taken the test. One of the most surprising pieces of advice I received was to “relax.” The exam is challenging; it’s supposed to be. If everyone could pass, what would make the profession so special? Being an archivist is more than putting old stuff in boxes. It’s someone who preserves, manages, and provides access to the past. We are the gatekeepers to history, but more importantly we are a legitimate profession that requires training and higher education. We are not just a title to be used for the person who keeps all the “old stuff.” The certification exam is the Academy’s effort to help validate what we, as working archivists, already know -- our profession takes skill.
I eventually studied hard and passed the exam, and I encourage anyone who has been procrastinating, scared, or even unaware to visit the Academy of Certified Archivist website and learn more about certification. The Academy even provides an exam handbook that serves as a guide for anyone desiring to become certified. It includes an explanation of the Academy’s structure, principles guiding the exam’s creation, sample questions, study guide and bibliography. While it is too late to register for the upcoming 2017 exam, remember that applications for the 2018 exam usually open in February. For those who are taking the exam this year, I will see you July 26th as I am one of the proctors for the Atlanta site.
A wise person once said, “The best way to finish an unpleasant task is to get started.” Who that person is, I don’t know perhaps an archivist will find this quote in an archive somewhere, and when they do, hopefully the archivist will have a CA after their title.
Written by Tiffany Atwater