Career Path Options for an Archivist

The average value of the Master degree needed to become a Archivists is $769,569.00.

Points of Interest

  • Archivists work in a wide range of settings; among these, the most common include museums, universities, and government offices.
  • The majority of archivist positions require an advanced degree and at least one year of relevant work experience. 
  • Since the number of available positions is relatively small, applicants should anticipate an exceptionally competitive job market.

Nature of the Work

Archivists are chiefly responsible for the preservation and arrangement of significant documents and artifacts. An archivist safeguards an enormous variety of objects, from photographs and video recordings to letters and transcripts. Additionally, he or she may locate and incorporate new items into pre-existing collections. Thus, the duties of an archivist often change over time; as new documents and artifacts arrive or depart, the responsibilities of the archivist adapt and expand.

Since these collections are diverse and frequently evolving, an archivist must ensure that all preserved pieces are properly catalogued and easily accessible. Through careful analysis and categorization, he or she effectively streamlines the process of retrieving such objects in the future. Moreover, archivists must maintain records documenting the quality and arrangement of these pieces. The media used to generate and preserve records vary widely depending on the nature of the collection. In some cases, information is simply stored on paper; in others, records are preserved in the form of audio or video tapes. Today, many archivists utilize computer records in order to expedite the retrieval process and preserve original items. Since computer copies are easily viewable by anyone, electronic storage dramatically expands the accessibility of important documents. Consequently, the use of computers by archivists will continue to expand in the coming decades. As advancements in computer technology increase, the demand for tech-savvy archivists will inevitably rise in tandem. Thus, successful archivists must possess an aptitude for the recording, maintenance, and retrieval of electronic information.

Archivist

In addition to documenting these items via computer databases, an archivist will also learn to analyze and maintain the original records with due diligence and care. Given the aged, fragile state of many historical objects, archivists must be able to catalog and store items without compromising the integrity of the original copy. Furthermore, the age of such objects often render them difficult to inspect or read. With this in mind, archivists must also learn to examine and interpret items that contain missing, faded, or distorted information. Although these duties often necessitate a solitary work environment, many archivists interact with the greater public on a frequent or daily basis. Since the items overseen by archivists contain historically significant information, a great number of researchers, students, and curious citizens may wish to explore these collections. With this in mind, archivists must also prepare for various exhibitions, tours, and lectures. In this way, archivists are not only responsible for cataloguing the items within a collection; they must also research these objects and retain a thorough understanding of the history, context, and implications of each piece.

Training, Qualifications, and Advancement



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In order to become a full-time archivist, it is first necessary to obtain an advanced degree. Since archivists tend to possess a diverse array of baccalaureate degrees, a student’s undergraduate degree program is not a crucial consideration. However, the majority of archivists go on to earn graduate degrees in either library science or history, often coupled with an emphasis in archival science. In rare cases, universities may offer a master’s degree in archival studies. Furthermore, many archivists will seek specialized training related to the particular subject area in which they expect to work. For example, a student who wishes to work in a state government archive may enroll in courses related to the history of the state in question. Keep in mind that not all universities offer courses specifically tailored to your favored subject area; therefore, it is imperative that students examine the curricula of prospective schools before applying.

In addition to earning a graduate degree in a relevant field, employers also frequently expect applicants to possess related work experience. With this in mind, students should explore opportunities to work in an archive prior to graduation. In some cases, these positions will take the form of paid internships; in others, it may be necessary to volunteer your time. If you are unable to find employment following graduation, it may be wise to continue building your resume by seeking internship or volunteer opportunities. Regardless of whether a position is paid or unpaid, earning some degree of archives-related work experience is essential.

Although a graduate degree and work experience are the two most important features of an archivist’s resume, it is also possible to enhance your credentials by receiving advanced certification. In particular, archivists may voluntarily receive accreditation from the Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA). Since the ACA effectively establishes the national standard for performance and experience among archivists, acquiring certification from this organization can be highly beneficial. In order to qualify for ACA certification, candidates must possess a minimum of a master’s degree in a related subject area and one year of work experience in the field. Additionally, applicants must pass a written, multiple-choice exam. Once accepted, archivists reapply for certification every five years. In order to be recertified, members may either retake the exam or simply petition for recertification.

Given the somewhat isolated nature of an archivist, opportunities for advancement are not abundant. In many cases, a single archivist will oversee an entire collection; consequently, there is no higher tier of employment to attain. If you wish to advance in the profession, it is usually necessary to work for a larger complex that manages a vast and diverse collection. In this case, a small number of supervisory positions may be available. In order to qualify for such promotions, consider earning academic credentials that extend beyond the master’s level. Post-graduate education may include activities as simple as attending national workshops and conferences. If you desire to obtain one of the profession’s most respected and lucrative positions, such as the director of a major government archive, consider pursuing a doctoral degree in library science or history, especially one with a specialization in archival management.

Employment

In 2008, a total of approximately 6,300 archivists operated within the United States. Of these, around one quarter worked for the state or federal government. The majority of federally-employed archivists work in the National Archives or preserve military records at the Department of Defense. Furthermore, all fifty states maintain historical records that require the expertise of an archivist. Apart from government positions, an additional quarter of archivists work in academic institutions, preserving both the university’s academic records as well as its historical documents and artifacts. Next, the third most prevalent profession among archivists, accounting for approximately 17% of all jobs, involves overseeing the archives at museums and other historical sites. Rather than maintaining bureaucratic records, archivists in these fields are more likely to arrange and preserve important letters, photographs, and other historically significant documents. The remaining occupations available to archivists—comprising roughly one third of the field—frequently involve managing the voluminous records of large-scale corporations, organizations, and research firms.

Job Outlook

Analysts expect the employment rate of archivists to increase at a moderate pace over the next decade. Since the quantity of records in the United States invariably rises each year, the number of archivists needed to collect, examine, and organize this information increases proportionately. In particular, the marked growth of computer-based records will result in an increased demand for archivists with solid technological skills. For this reason, students concerned about their future employment prospects should strongly consider becoming versed in electronic recordkeeping.

Although the number of jobs available to archivists will continue to grow, the job market remains fiercely competitive. Since multiple degree paths qualify one to apply for an archivist position, numerous well-educated professionals frequently apply for every available job opening. As a result, many qualified graduates are unable to find work in the field. In order to increase your chances of discovering employment, pay close attention to the recommended levels of education and work experience. In a large applicant pool, the candidate with the more prestigious degree and the longer record of work experience will undoubtedly possess an advantage.

While finding a job in such a competitive market may prove difficult, the job security of an employed archivist is relatively stable. However, organizations that rely on donations or government funding—in particular, public or private museums—are frequently subject to wildly variable budgets. In this case, the stability of the occupation may become more volatile. For those employees that manage to weather such fluctuations, the career of an archivist is often much longer-lasting than that of other vocations. Since the position does not require a great deal of physical exertion, men and women may remain in their professions for many decades.

Projections

According to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), archivists will experience job growth of approximately 7% between 2008 and 2018. Among all archivist positions, the greatest growth–projected to be around 22%–will appear in the electronic information services sector. Other high growth areas include museums and historical sites, sports-related archives, and social sciences research. Alternatively, the field of non-electronic publishing–including the newspaper, magazine, and book publishing industries-will likely experience negative job growth, employing around 22% fewer archivists by 2018. With this in mind, students would be wise to concentrate their studies on the newer, more technologically advanced methods of organizing and archiving materials.

Wages

As of 2008, the median annual income of an archivist stood at approximately $45,000. While those in the bottom 10% earned $26,000 or less, the highest 10% of earners received over $76,000. The most consistently well-paid archivists work for the federal government; among these employees, the average annual income is close to $84,000.

Related Occupations

The two vocations most commonly associated with archivists are curators and conservators:

Curators are responsible for the management of museums, historical sites, zoos, and other natural attractions. Rather than simply organizing records, curators may possess a greater variety of responsibilities, from exhibiting paintings and wildlife to conducting research or directing fundraising projects. The BLS projects job growth among curators to increase 23% by 2018.

Conservators focus exclusively on the preservation of items within a collection. To this end, they may use a variety of technical and scientific techniques to ensure that a document, piece of artwork, or artifact remains in its desired condition. In most cases, conservators are experts in a particular field, such as touching up paintings, preventing the deterioration of paper documents, or maintaining the integrity of a structure. The BLS expects the number of conservator positions to increase 27% by 2018.

Sources of Additional Information

If you wish to discover more information about careers in archiving and related degree programs, the following websites may be useful:

  • The most comprehensive information regarding archivist careers and educational opportunities is available at the Society of American Archivists’ official website.
  • Those specifically interested in exploring archivist degree programs may want to examine a list of the Society’s numerous student chapters.
  • In order to learn more about the process of becoming ACA certified, please visit the Academy’s official website.
  • If you would like to review a list of the archivist job opportunities available within the federal government, visit the USAJOBS online database.

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