Archivist Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

An Archivist, or Conservator, assembles, preserves, catalogues and manages historical information, images and other collections to determine their significance and value. Their main duties include deciding which historical items should be kept for public viewing, creating descriptions and organization guidelines for each collection piece and updating and maintaining an archival database.

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Archivist Duties and Responsibilities

Depending on the position and their specialization, Archivists usually perform many of the following duties:

  • Analyze materials such as maps, films, documents and paintings, checking their authenticity, physical condition and historical content. By analyzing materials an Archivist is able to spot defects and determine if the material can be included in collections.
  • Preserve collections correctly. Archivists are knowledgeable regarding storing and conservation techniques from various time periods. Certain material needs specific environmental conditions, so Archivists monitor the storage space and security to protect the materials. 
  • Archivists design and maintain organizational systems, keeping track of archived material. Most archived materials are stored on databases for easy usage and efficiency. Thus, the Archivist will prepare indexes, meta-tags and material descriptions and, where possible, convert material into digital format.
  • Archivists make material available to the public through scans and copies. Generally, they’ll help persons who want to access the archives to retrieve information or do research. 
  • Archivists encourage the public to visit the archives through presentations, lectures, workshops, displays, exhibits or tours.

What Does an Archivist Do?

Archivists organize, research and review different historical records to decide how significant or valuable they are to history. They often work with an abundance of document types like maps, manuscripts and photographs. Archivists may also work with digital files like websites, sound recordings and films to determine their historical relevance. They typically provide these items to museums with descriptions of the artifact or document and guidelines for preserving and displaying it in their establishment. 

Some Archivists find ways to teach the communities about the historical documents or artifacts they discover by instructing sessions, showcasing their items at exhibits or presenting on certain documents or artifacts for community outreach programs.

Archivist Skills and Qualifications

Necessary skills to be a great Archivist include the following:

  • Analytical skills: An Archivist decides which material should be preserved, thus, they need to be able to determine the importance, origin and history of the material they work with.
  • Computer skills: An Archivist needs to access databases and other electronic management tools, so computer skills are vital. 
  • Good communication: Archivists interact with the public, helping them retrieve information or providing lectures and presentations, being able to communicate well is important. 
  • Organizational ability: Archivists need to store documents and records in a way that’s easily retrievable, developing logical systems for both themselves and the public to use. 
  • Technical skills: Much historical material needs to be analyzed and preserved, this means using the right chemicals and techniques according to the type of material such as a painting, documents, pottery or fabrics. 

Archivist Salary Expectations

The average Archivist salary in the U.S. is $50,395 per year. This salary estimate is based on 219 salaries submitted to Indeed by employees, users or collected from job advertisements over the past 36 months and is for an Archivist with less than one year of job experience.

Archivist Education and Training Requirements

Archivists need a bachelor’s degree in law, library science, history, archival science or a related field, followed by a graduate diploma or degree. Certain colleges or universities may require a Ph.D.

For a voluntary certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists, a candidate needs a master’s degree and at least one year of experience. Certification makes a person more marketable. 

Archivist Experience Requirements

Employers usually look for candidates with 1+ years of experience. Experience as an Archivist can be gained by working part-time, as an intern or even by volunteering as an assistant or researcher while studying. Good experience in collection management, exhibit design, research or restoration may be necessary to qualify for a position. 

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Frequently asked questions about Archivists

What makes a good Archivist?

An effective Archivist must be passionate about history and the preservation of documents and artifacts. They should dedicate their time to studying about different historical events that previously took place, so they can accurately determine the condition, origin and significance of various artifacts. Archivists should also have great organizational abilities to develop logical systems to effectively store and present objects to the public. 

They’re regularly using computers to access databases and conduct research, so they should have experience working with computers and database software.

 

Who reports to an Archivist?

If Archivists have many documents to organize and process, they may hire an Archives Assistant to work alongside them and complete smaller, day-to-day tasks. Archives Assistants collect historical documentation and convert them to digital files, so the Archivist can permanently store and reference these files when needed. 

They also store the rare and historically significant materials in safe and protected areas to prevent them from any damage or harm. Archives Assistants often maintain records and log books to document when any visitors access the archival inventory. 

 

What's the difference between an Archivist and a Curator?

Archivists preserve and submit historically significant artifacts and documents to a museum’s Curator. The Archivist provides the Curator with any instructions for taking care of and displaying the item. The Curator is then in charge of storing, cleaning and displaying the objects. They often work with the Archivist to negotiate and purchase the historical documents from them to add to their museum’s exhibits.

Curators often conduct research on current items to help them find additional related records, documents or artifacts that support and strengthen their current exhibit. They may ask the Archivist for additional assistance with research and historical information. If an Archivist works for a museum, they may report directly to the Curator for instructions on which artifacts or documents to locate for certain exhibits. 

 

What are the different types of Archivists?

There are a wide variety of Archivists who appraise different records and documents. Some may work with an abundance of document types while others may specialize in one type of media. Photo Archivists are responsible for archiving and organizing older photos. They’re often in charge of large amounts of photos and must conduct extensive research to learn which time period the photo came from based on its color, shape, tint and other appearances. 

Government Archivists work for government entities studying primarily government documents to determine the historical significance of government documents kept on file. Some Archivists work in history museums and specialize in a specific time period. They often only collect, analyze and research items from a certain time in history and find objects to display for an exhibit featuring a significant historical event.

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