Digital Archives Specialist Certified: Or, Reflections on the Last Two Years of My Life

By Marielle Gage, Archivist

Digital archivists specialize in the management and preservation of born-digital records.

Until you’re in the moment, you can never really appreciate how nerve-wracking a few milliseconds can be. But this past January, sitting on a faded couch in a rented apartment half the world away from home, those few milliseconds slowed into ages as I watched my laptop screen refresh.

I began my journey through the Society of American Archivist’s (SAA) Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certification program almost two years ago. I had studied the new field of digital archiving in school, but it didn’t take me long in the professional world to realize I needed a stronger foundation to properly assist my clients with their digital-born materials. At first, the program was strictly utilitarian, but it soon became a labor of love.  The field is still new enough to feel fresh and exciting, and there are endless possibilities to leave my own mark. Best practices are still being refined, and the tools of the trade are constantly evolving.

My first experience with DAS was an all-day, in-person workshop hosted near my home in Washington, D.C.  Four online courses followed, and then a trip to SAA’s annual conference in Austin, Texas, for another in-person workshop. After three more online courses, I was ready to take the final exam. By that point, I was halfway through a three-month work stint in Tunisia, and I was very much missing my books, my pillow, and bacon. But if this went well, I told myself, I could treat myself to the biggest bacon cheeseburger I could find once I got home. I pulled up the online examination portal, took a deep breath, and dove in.

Back in March, my colleague Laura Starr reflected on the importance of digital archivists in the midst of a global pandemic. Read her insightful post here.

The exam was long and covered a wide arrange of topics. Digital archiving isn’t a neat and orderly field; the rules seem to change every time a tech producer has a press conference. In today’s multi-faceted Information Age, archivists and other cultural heritage custodians are attempting to identify, capture, and preserve significant records of the present for the future in all sorts of formats and media, from emails and tweets to websites and video games. The tools and workflows are different for each, and the complexities can be as confusing as they are exciting.

Two hours later, I was ready to hit submit. My colleague sat a few feet away, on the other side of the couch, trying not to smile at my anxious expressions. That smile turned into a full laugh when I cheered a second later, as the passing grade appeared on the screen.

We derive satisfaction from success for its own sake, but this time that satisfaction was compounded by the confidence gained on the topic. I’m most excited about the new perspectives and knowledge I’ll be able to bring to my future projects (and clients!).

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