What Does an Archivist Do?

Job Description

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An archivist appraises records and documents to determine their importance or potential value to the organization for which he or she works. He or she then preserves and catalogs these materials so that people can access them in the future.

Most archivists have expertise in a particular document type, for example, manuscripts, photographs, maps, websites, films, and sound recordings. Some specialize in a specific area of history.

An archivist also provides outreach to the public.  He or she coordinates facility tours, lectures, classes, and workshops.

Quick Facts

  • Archivists earn a median annual salary of $51,760 (2017).
  • Almost 7,000 people are employed as archivists (2016).
  • Most work for museums, colleges and universities, and government agencies. Corporations and other institutions employ others.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

A Day in an Archivist's Life

If you decide to become an archivist, what can you expect to do? With this question in mind, we looked at some typical job duties employers specified in online ads on Indeed.com:

  • "Facilitates acquisition, preservation, arrangement, description, and access to born-digital materials"
  • "Create heritage research files relevant to business objectives"
  • "Assist staff, researchers, and interns interested in accessing the Archives"
  • "Appraise the materials, determine preservation and conservation issues, and determine best practice for resolving issues"
  • "Complete organization, preservation and description of the collection"
  • "Teach archival instruction sessions, create exhibits, and engage in other outreach activities"
  • "Maintain and update archival database"

How to Become an Archivist

To work as an archivist, you will likely need a master's degree in history, history, art history, library science, archival science, or records management. Coursework in archival techniques is usually required as well. When working in a specific industry or type of collection, you may also need knowledge in that area. Internships are also very useful.

An archivist may, if desired, receive voluntary certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists. To become a Certified Archivist you will need a master's degree and a year of experience, and have to pass a written exam. This designation may make you a more marketable job candidate.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

In addition to the hard, or technical, skills one acquires while earning his or her degree, success in this occupation depends on having certain soft skills.

  • Analytical Skills: You will to be able to assess materials in order to determine their origin, importance, and condition. This will help you decide which items to preserve.
  • Organizational Skills: As an archivist, you will use your organizational skills to develop systems for storing materials and making them available to the public.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Your ability to listen and verbally communicate, in addition to decipher body language and instruct people, will facilitate your interactions with the public.
  • Reading Comprehension: You must be able to understand written documents.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Familiarity with data protection and Freedom of Information legislation"
  • "Ability to work as part of a team"
  • "Computer literacy (including use of database and other electronic document management tools, word processing, and e-mail)"
  • "Exceptional written, communication, and presentation skills"
  • "Ability to work under time constraints and to meet regularly recurring deadlines on multiple, concurrent projects"
  • "Demonstrated ability to follow standard practices and procedures, receive general instruction and supervision, and contribute to projects and initiatives"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Do you have the interestspersonality type, and work-related values that make this career a good fit?  A thorough self assessment will help you discover if you have the following traits:

    Related Occupations

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
    LibrarianHelps people locate and use information in a public, school, university or special library$58,520Master's Degree in Library Science (MLS)

    Oversees a museum's collections 

    $53,770Master's Degree in art history, history or museum studies
    Museum TechnicianPrepares items for display in a museum$40,670Bachelor's Degree in museum studies, archaeology, history or art history
    HistorianStudies historical documents and sources$59,120Master's or Doctoral Degree in history or a related field

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited June 13, 2018).