Archivists are responsible for the identification, selection, protection, organization, description, and preservation of archival records and papers and, eventually, for their accessibility by any user. By ensuring that archival documents are identified, preserved, and made available in a systematic fashion, archivists help to secure society's cultural heritage, protect legal rights and privileges, support reusability of research data and results, and contribute to the effective management of a wide range of institutions. Without careful selection of records, society’s individual, commercial, cultural, institutional, scientific, and social heritages will be lost. Without the preservation of legal documents, individual and institutional rights cannot be preserved and protected. Finally, without the proper management of administrative records, governments and organizations cannot be held accountable. Records held in archives are, thus, essential in a democratic and educated society.
Per the Society of American Archivists' strategic plan, "The relevance of archives to society and the completeness of the documentary record hinge on the profession’s success in ensuring that its members, the holdings that they collect and manage, and the users whom they serve reflect the diversity of society as a whole." A graduate program in archival education should embrace this philosophy through its course offerings, faculty, and student body. (See the entire strategic plan at http://www2.archivists.org/governance/strategic-priorities.)
Records come in all formats and on a multitude of media. Archivists and manuscript curators have centuries of expertise in managing and preserving paper-based records. The management and long-term preservation of digital objects, however, presents new and complex challenges for archivists. It is essential that archival education programs educate their graduates to preserve today's cultural, governmental, scientific, and personal documentary heritage, be it paper-based or digital.
The current guidelines recognize the growth and maturation of archival studies programs and serve as a benchmark against which graduate programs in archival studies may be measured. These guidelines establish minimum standards for archival education programs in terms of mission, curriculum, faculty, and infrastructure.
Graduates of such programs can anticipate careers in a variety of professional positions, from archives or records management to digital archives management or historical records preservation in institutions ranging from government or institutional archives and local historical societies and high-technology business enterprises. Graduates of archival programs are increasingly in demand for information management positions, and the value of archival knowledge continues to gain recognition in an ever-broader range of organizational settings, such as digital forensics. These guidelines are intended both to define the academic preparation needed to meet these new challenges and to identify a strong common core of archival knowledge that the diverse institutions that provide graduate archival education should all deliver.
The ultimate goal of these guidelines is to improve the quality of graduate programs in archival studies, specifically by raising the minimum expectations of students and universities. By establishing these basic guidelines as minimum standards for archival studies programs, SAA also hopes to encourage the continued development of more extensive and more comprehensive programs and, by doing so, to improve the archival profession by better educating its members.
 The "Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies" (GPAS) were approved by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Council in January 2002 and revised in 2005 and 2011. GPAS replaced the "Guidelines for the Development of a Curriculum for a Master of Archival Studies Degree," adopted by the Council in 1994. By means of these guidelines, the Society of American Archivists endorses the development of coherent and independent graduate programs in archival studies. SAA believes that programs of the extent and nature outlined in these guidelines are the best form of pre-appointment professional education for archivists. For this reason, these guidelines supersede prior documents on archival education issued in 1977, 1988, and 1994.
 Archival records and papers are recorded information, regardless of physical format or type of creator (public or private), that is created or received by an individual or organization carrying out its activities and that is set aside for preservation and future use. Archival records and papers are instrumental for evidence and accountability as well as for social and cultural memory. In these guidelines, the phrase “records and papers” will be used to encompass documentary evidence produced by organizations and individuals in all media (paper, digital, audio, and visual) and in any format.
 For information about archival education programs in North America, including a directory of such programs, see the SAA website at http://www2.archivists.org/gpas.