[Ask an Archivist] Q: Should I follow my degree with a certificate in digital libraries or special collections?

Ask an Archivist Question:

I’m a few years out of library school and am working full-time on an archival project within a university special collections department. I’m hoping to take advantage of tuition waivers to further my skills-especially since my job search last year (before my contract was renewed) was very un-fruitful. I concentrated on archives entirely while in library school. I’m considering a Digital Libraries or a Special Collections certificate. In your opinions, which focus would most improve my job prospects?

Ask an Archivist Answers:

It appears you are already gaining academic special collections experience.  So I think broadening, in this case the digital libraries certificate, would make you more marketable to a wider range of employers.

– Michael Nagy

How much digital content was involved in your schooling, and how comfortable are you with it?  Most positions now required some fluency with digital processes, so if you are there, you’re good.  I would suggest taking continuing education workshops and webinars to keep up with the latest (yes, we all need to do this) but if you have the basics down it’s ok.  Listing courses on your resume came make that point. Taking the DAS certification may also, but if you are already adept, it’s a lot of $$ for what you already know. Though if you can test out of several of the foundation classes, it may be worthwhile.

If you want to move in a particular direction, a certificate or con’t ed class in that direction (again, listed on resume) will also inform future employers. Rare Book School, held in VA and NY through the year, or other programs can be great experiences to add to your documentation.

Sometimes, I hate to say, it’s just hard to know what to do to make oneself more ‘sell-able.”  But do use the tuition benefits on something, it’s bound to be useful.

– Michala Biondi

Jobs that include “digital” in the title are relatively plentiful these days, though the nature of the jobs differs widely: some are for archivists who have skills in managing born-digital materials, some are focused on digitization, some involve managing institutional repositories that principally or solely contain non-archival materials, and some even are principally web managers. All require a variety of technical skills, some of them quite sophisticated. Do you enjoy the tech-oriented aspects of your job? If so, you’d be smart to focus in that direction. But if not, then you’re likely to be happier doing a more generalized special collections-oriented program. Regardless, try to acquire as much variety as possible in your current position. Even though you’re in a project-based position, your supervisor may have the freedom to expand your duties somewhat when she knows how enthusiastic you are.

– Jackie Dooley

With the changes in technology and archival formats found in collections, I’d recommend taking digital archives courses. I’ve heard that SAA’s DAS Certificate is worthwhile.

– Burton Altman


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