How to Become an Archivist

Archives are built with informative artifacts that are no longer current, but continue to have great value to specific organizations, communities, institutions, businesses, individuals, or governments. These records may be in formats such as sound recordings, manuscripts, photographs or video recordings.

Archivists collect these everyday items to be used for research and study for many reasons. In order to obtain the right kinds of records, the archivist must understand the historical context and importance of the items. They must also be able to physically obtain the records, and the intellectual rights that go with them, in order to display or use them for the archive purposes.

Similar to a librarian or museum curator, archivists are responsible for understanding the content, finding new sources, knowing how these items relate to one another and the time period, and creating a collection specific to their work.

Archivists often work closely with a number of other professions such as historians, teachers, researchers, lawyers or anyone else who may desire to use information from the archives.

Education and Requirements

An undergraduate and graduate degree will be needed to acquire an entry-level position as an archivist. While there is no specific undergraduate degree that is needed, the graduate level degree required is history or library science (or both). Often, in order to move to a higher archivist position in academic institutions, a doctorate is needed.

It is important for the archivist to acquire in-depth knowledge about the specific field he or she is going to be working in. Understanding the culture and time period is necessary when trying to determine the important items to archive and how they relate to other items in the collection.

Course work will also teach the archivist to describe, arrange, and provide items for the archives in a professional manner. Archivists should become experts at outreach abilities, legal concern and ethical principles in their profession.

Job Salary and Outlook

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an average salary of $45,200 for archivists. The projected job growth in this field is 12 percent for 2010-2020. This is about average for the growth of jobs in a field.

The continued need for archives and the increasing need for the organization and digitalizing of records will produce more job opportunities for archivists. The competition in this field is expected to be strong with a great number of highly-qualified applicants.

3 Helpful Tips For Becoming an Archivist:

1. Gain Higher Education

With a lot of competition expected in this field, you will need to be educated and prepared. Acquiring your bachelor’s and master’s degrees is important if you are hoping to be a lead candidate for the jobs you apply for. Choose coursework that will benefit the specific field you are going to be working in. If you have multiple interests then take classes for all of them—the more diverse you are able to be the more options you will have.

2. Join Organizations to Further Your Knowledge

Joining student or professional groups like the Society of American Archivists will help you gain information you will need in your studies and as an expert in your field. Continuing your education, even after graduation, will be important and can happen through training at events like SAA Professional Education Workshops.

3. Learning to Communicate and Serve

Archivists are important contributors to society. Work on your people skills—this is going to be a great skill in an archival job. Learn how to ask the right questions and understand what people are searching for. You want to be an invaluable tool in the preservation and research of history and culture, so challenge yourself to know your audience as well as the history you preserve.


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