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Professional certification: does it matter? What are the benefits of professional certification, and why should records managers pursue it?

In today's rapidly changing and increasingly competitive workplace, distinguishing yourself from the competition can be challenging, to say the least. How can you illustrate your professionalism, your advanced level of skill, experience, and understanding in a way that sets you apart from the hundreds of other candidates for a position.?

One way is through professional certification.

Professional certification has been a topic of sometimes spirited discussion within the records management community over the past few years. Some records managers believe certification adds value to an individual's professional credibility but is not absolutely necessary for delivering quality records management services. Others feel strongly that without a basic level of testing and consequent certification, it is difficult to independently establish a person's professional expertise.

For the records management profession, due in part to a dearth of formal university-level educational programs covering records management subjects, certification has tangible benefits insofar as it objectively establishes a base level of knowledge about the profession. For these reasons, there is a continuing interest in establishing professional competency through credentials.

Some credentials may improve personal income. Some may enhance professional influence, credibility, and effectiveness in organizations. The ability to realize records management program goals in organizations is often related to the respect and level of influence that records managers have. Professional credentials--derived from educational attainment, work experiences, and certification--may facilitate respect, power, and authority within any professional realm, including records management.

So what is a "professional" records manager, and how can an individual confidently prove that he or she is one? Would evidence of educational attainment, on-the-job professional experience, competency certification through testing, support of professional organizations, contributions to the professional literature, or all these activities, and more, be expected?

Determining whether you need to be certified requires addressing a variety of complex concerns, including understanding the role of certification in general and what it adds professionally to an individual as well as how it is perceived in the workplace. An understanding of these issues helps discern what alternative courses of certification may exist and what types of certification are most relevant for any particular course of professional endeavor. The same issues and concerns need to be considered when examining professional certification options for records managers.

Certification = Professional Identity?

Many records managers believe that gaining certification demonstrates professional competency. Currently, there are about 900 certified records managers worldwide. Perhaps this number would be larger if there were more marketplace pressure for records management certification.

Practicing medicine or law--at least in the United States--requires completing specific graduate-education programs and passing state-mandated exams. Of course, the educational background required to become a lawyer or a physician vastly exceeds that required to deliver records management services to an organization. This is probably due to the fact that the results of poor legal or medical advice during the practice of law or medicine could be catastrophic for the client, whereas poor advice from a records management professional might be less likely to create immediate or long-lasting injury for an organization. In addition, the legal and medical professions have existed for centuries, whereas the records management profession as it is known today, especially in the United States, only began in the 1940s.

With the increasing reliance on electronic records as information assets, the growing volume of litigation using e-mail for discovery, and the advent of recent compliance and regulatory-focused legislation (e.g., the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002), organizations are beginning to see records management in a new light. This newly established and increasing interest in records management programs and technologies may be one of the best opportunities for a certification program to build upon when developing content for testing or when simply marketing the need for professionals to become certified. Given these new marketplace trends, it may be possible to create more of a definite relationship between professional identity and the need for certification.

Records Management Certification Today

Many colleges, universities, and training companies are now offering certifications for continuing education courses (i.e., documentation of attendance). In addition, some software vendors offer a type of technical certification regarding knowledge in the installation and use of their technology-based systems. Such courses can vary dramatically in content and testing. However, objective testing by well-informed educators or certification bodies can validate the knowledge base of those achieving any particular certification.

The recognized professional certification for records managers is the Certified Records Manager (CRM) designation. The CRM designation is awarded to individuals who pass an examination designed to test knowledge and proficiency in records management subject areas. The CRM exam consists of six parts:

* Part 1--Management Principles and the Records and Information Management Program

* Part 2--Records Creation and Use

* Part 3--Records Systems, Storage, and Retrieval

* Part 4--Records Appraisal, Retention, Protection, and Disposition

* Part 5--Facilities, Supplies, and Technology

* Part 6--Case Studies

The goal of certification of records managers is to establish a professional standard of expected knowledge that balances formal education attainment, examination performance, job experience, and a need for long-term continuing education. To ensure that CRMs maintain and develop their professional knowledge, they must attain 100 hours of continuing-education every five years to retain their CRM status. This process is considered vital for the credibility of the CRM designation because of the constantly changing professional challenges that records managers face.

Besides the CRM, other certifications or educational requirements exist in fields related to records management. For example, to work as a professional librarian, even at the entry level, one must typically have completed the educational requirements for a graduate-level master's of science or arts degree from a university program accredited by the Committee on Accreditation of the American Library Association. (Here it is the program, not the graduate, that is being "certified.") The Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) "promotes fundamental standards of professional archival practice." Based on an examination, the ACA awards the CA designation and has a working relationship with the Society of American Archivists, though it remains an independent certification organization.

Additional information industry-related certifications have a more technical focus than the CRM or CA. These certifications include the certified document imaging architect (CDIA+) designation, which tests individuals' technical understanding of document imaging technologies and related implementation issues. Offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), this technical certification is seen as evidence of specific technical knowledge and intellectual skills.

Of course, each information management-related professional area--and individuals seeking certification--will have somewhat different priorities regarding certification. Some certification bodies stress a formal educational background to establish knowledge comprehension; some focus on professional and societal responsibilities; and others require hands-on, demonstrable technical skills. Still other certification organizations emphasize understanding of a highly specialized knowledge base and how such knowledge may maximize professional high-quality contributions in the workplace.

Who Benefits?

Is the goal of certification to assist individuals, organizations, or professions? There is no single answer to this seemingly simple question. Some individuals want a credential that signals to their management that they are improving professionally. Others see the accomplishment of certification as a demonstration of adherence to ethical responsibilities and the importance of long-term professional goals and social roles.

Organizations may encourage employees to seek CRM certification or to attend continuing-education courses when they have experienced a need for improving the quality of their records management activities and programs. This is especially true if an organization experiences poor performance appraisals during an audit or when ongoing litigation draws unfavorable attention to the quality of an organization's records management program. In addition, some records management consulting firms enhance their marketing efforts by stressing the certification of their employees. Among some organizations, the CRM designation is becoming a differentiator when candidates for a position have otherwise similar credentials. For government positions, for example, professional certification often is a requirement.

As organizations become more technology-driven and as implementation of electronic records management practices becomes the norm, they will seek well-qualified individuals to lead efforts to develop truly comprehensive records management programs. This means that these organizations may also take an interest in the value that certification brings to their employees, their business, and their customers. As this interest in certification arises, they may ask several questions of certified individuals or the certifying body, including:

* What varieties of certification are available?

* What knowledge base does the certification award actually "certify"?

* Can individuals be certified at different levels of basic skills?

* Are different types of additional certification available?

* What is the difference between (a) professional certification, (b) receiving a certificate of completion for attending educational seminars, and (c) credit-bearing academic courses?

* Does employment of certified individuals accrue or imply any sense of "certification" to the employing organization?

The quantifiable personal value of any particular credential for specific individuals may depend largely on their assessment of the certification's relationship to immediate job responsibilities. Those practicing in an archival science or a related job may benefit from gaining CA certification. If practicing in a document imaging technology-dominated arena, they may benefit from CDIA+ certification. Each individual will need to make becoming certified a personal decision, taking into consideration their immediate job needs and long-range professional goals.

The Future of Certification

There is little question that the growing reliance of many organizations on managing records in electronic formats will increase management's expectation that records managers must be exceptionally competent in both computer skills and knowledge of computer technologies. Records managers, then, must be competent in information and computing technologies if they are to participate in systems design and management. In addition, it will be increasingly impractical to inventory, accession, describe, index, and apply retention concepts to electronic records residing in electronic repositories without a thorough understanding of computer technologies and systems.

Ultimately, individuals must consider their personal goals for professional development and determine the best educational and certification processes to achieve those goals.


Cox. Richard J. "Who Are We? Who Knows What We Are?" Records and Information Management Report. December 2002.

Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies. Available at (accessed 26 August 2004).

At the Core

This article

* examines professional certification in records management

* explains why and how to pursue professional certification

* discusses the future of records management certification

Learn More About Professional Certification For more information about professional certification, visit these Web sites:

* Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA)

* American Library

* Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA)

* The Institute of Certified Records Managers (ICRM)

* Nuclear Information and Records Management Association (NIRMA)

* Society of American Archivists (SAA)

The CRM/NS Certification

In addition to the Certified Records Manager (CRM) designation, there is a CRM/NS (Nuclear Specialist) certification. This additional specialist designation is available to a CRM who wants to be tested and certified as a Nuclear Information and Records Specialist. It came about through a formal agreement between the Nuclear Information and Records Management Association (NIRMA) and the Institute of Certified Records Managers to perform appropriate testing for certification of nuclear records managers.

Individuals cannot be a CRM/NS, however, without first attaining the CRM designation. In addition, the knowledge base required to pursue the CRM/NS designation would be almost valueless for general records managers not actively engaged in nuclear environments. This model represents a knowledge specialization rather than attainment of a higher level of achievement of overall professional competency.

This certification differentiation model could prompt future consideration of additional specialist certifications for records managers, such as a CRM/E (Electronic Records Specialist) or CRM/L (Legal Records Specialist), should additional specializations become desirable and have market value.

For more information, visit NIRMA's Web site,

John T. Phillips, CRM, CDIA, FAI is a Senior Consultant at Information Technology Decisions. Over the past 25 years, he has worked as a management consultant, data systems project manager, computer research associate, librarian, and records manager in a variety of information resources management activities. He may be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2004 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Career Path
Author:Phillips, John T.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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