Archivist Job Description
Archivists evaluate, preserve, and arrange records and documents. Depending on their specialization, they handle books, letters, old photographs, audio recordings, or other materials, storing them over the long-term based on an organizational system that provides efficient retrieval. They also make information within the archives more accessible to the public, usually by promoting its contents, assisting with archive perusal, or creating digital copies of materials. They typically work full-time in public sector organizations, schools, and museums, though part-time arrangements are possible; they may travel occasionally to procure materials or hold educational events.
Archivist Duties and Responsibilities
Archivists perform many tasks based on their employer and their specialization, but we analyzed several job listings to identify the following core duties and responsibilities for archivists:
Archivists handle a wide variety of materials, including documents, paintings, maps, and films.
Archivists analyze materials, examining the authenticity, historical context, physical condition, and content of the material. This allows them to spot defects and to determine whether to include the materials in their collections.
Archivists are responsible for preserving materials correctly. They are knowledgeable about conservation and storage techniques, especially if the materials come from different time periods. Because materials may require specific environmental conditions, archivists carefully monitor the storage space, installing additional security measures to protect against disasters or intrusions, if needed.
Archivists design and maintain organizational systems to keep track of all archive materials. As there has been a shift towards computer-based databases for greater efficiency and ease of access, this entails developing metadata, preparing indexes, meta-tags, and descriptions of materials, and then converting these into digital format when possible.
Assist with Retrieval
Archivists make records more available to the public through photocopies and scanned images. In general, they assist people with accessing the archives, guiding them in the use of relevant software, retrieving copies of the material or supervising direct viewing, and conducting research on requested topics.
Promote Archive Content
Archivists promote individual materials or collections, encouraging the public to visit the archives by holding lectures or presentations, facility tours, and workshops. On a larger scale, they may organize displays and exhibits, as well as curate materials to be featured in publications.
Archivist Skills and Qualifications
Archivists mostly rely on technical skills and critical reasoning to complete their job duties. The ability to think systematically and logically is vital; they must also be adaptive to technology. In addition to a master’s degree related to archival science, employers seek out archivists with the following skills:
- Archiving knowledge – archivists are knowledgeable about both digital and traditional archival procedures and capable of preserving physical material as well as using metadata schemes for computer systems
- Research – to assess materials accurately, archivists conduct thorough research, seeking information from various sources with a critical eye
- Organizational – archivists classify all materials, preparing indexes and inventories for efficient access for often complex projects
- Analysis – successful archivists are adept at deducing the condition of documents and other materials, use problem-solving skills to minimize damage and choose the best storage methods
- Interpersonal – along with helping patrons and visitors with requests and occasional public outreach, archivists address inquiries and present complex information clearly
Tools of the Trade
Archivists work with a variety of tools to complete their daily goals:
- Archive materials (such as books, letters, or photographic slides)
- Analysis tools (such as rulers, magnifying glasses, or tweezers)
- Preservation tools (such as silica gel, bone folders, or temperature meters)
- Protective wear (such as laboratory coats, gloves, or protective masks)
- Archival management software (such as Eloquent Archives, ArchivesSpace, or Cuadrastar SKA)
- Office equipment (such as printers, photocopiers, or scanners)
- Microsoft Suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
Archivist Education and Training
Archivists need a bachelor’s degree in history, archival science, law, library science, or a related field, followed by a relevant graduate degree or graduate diploma. Afterward, they may obtain certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists, which requires one year of experience and a master’s degree. Employers also look for candidates with at least one-year previous experience, depending on the complexity of the role.
Archivist Salary and Outlook
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that archivists, curators, and museum workers earn around $47,000 per year median pay, with archivists earning higher than average for this sector at $52,000. Those in the 10th percentile of this sector make less than $27,000, while those in the 90th percentile make more than $85,000.
The estimated job growth for this sector is 14 percent from 2016 to 2026. Because public interest in history, art, and culture is growing and organizations have more information than ever to manage, job opportunities for archivists are likely to increase.
Are you interested in learning more about the professional life of an archivist? If so, check out our list of resources:
Society of American Archivists – SAA is the first and largest organization for archivists in North America, with more than 6,000 members in different industries. It offers certificate programs, access to the profession’s premier journal, a mentoring program with specializations, and networking opportunities.
Archives, Second Edition: Principles and Practices – This book tackles the core concepts of archiving, situating it within the modern context of emerging digital technology, making it perfect for both students and for professionals who want a refresher of the fundamentals.
International Council on Archives – Archivists seeking an international community can look into ICA, which is committed to promoting high-quality archival management. Members may attend regional events and international conferences, peruse digital publications, and participate in International Archives Day.
Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives, and Museums – Dubbed the most comprehensive book on digital preservation, this book addresses the technological transformation that’s rippling through the archival industry. It takes a holistic approach to the topic, discussing content, management, and technology rather than focusing only on technical details.
Academy of Certified Archivists – ACA provides archival certification, which employers consider a standard of excellence among aspiring archivists. Applicants must have a master’s degree and related work experience to qualify for the certification exam. Once they pass and attain the title of Certified Archivist, they must recertify every five years.
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