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Schools for Aspiring Archivists: How to Choose

Archivists organize, manage and preserve digital and physical materials. They work in libraries, museums and historical societies. Not all archivists have the same academic background; students may wish to choose a program based upon the type of materials they wish to work with. Keep reading to learn more about program options for archivists, and get school info.

How to Select an Archivist Program

Archivists work in many different capacities, from the smallest museum to the largest library. Programs range from one-year certificates to master's degrees. Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. offer a variety of options for prospective archivists.

Summary of Considerations

  • Career goals
  • Educational history
  • Internship and study abroad opportunities

Career Goals

Prospective archivists may want to consider in what capacity they'd like to work. For those who just want an introduction to archiving and have no prior education in the field, some archival schools and societies offer short-term programs. Some certificate programs are more relevant for those who want to become entry-level professionals in the shortest amount of time and work in broader settings.

For those interested in working in museums, a bachelor's degree in a related field like history, anthropology, cultural studies, art or another museum collection-related field is often appropriate. Archivists who know they want to work primarily with library materials, either at a university or even the Library of Congress, should look at library-specific programs. Master's degrees are required for many jobs, such as that of librarian in a public or university library.

Educational History

Choosing an archivist program depends partially on the prospective student's prior educational history. Some advanced programs in library science only accept students with previous education or a baccalaureate degree in a related field.

Internship and Study Abroad Opportunities

Additionally, students may want to consider programs that offer internship opportunities and practical work experience. These experiences help them develop real-world skills and connections within the archiving field.

Archivist Program Overviews

Library and Information Services Certificate

Library and information services certificate programs are perfect for aspiring archivists who do not have a specialization interest or are undecided about an area of specialization. Certificate programs can take up to a year to complete. While some are offered by community colleges, most are part of larger library and information science schools. Students learn about:

  • Cataloguing
  • Library organization
  • Information management
  • Types of data
  • Collections

Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Information and Library Science

Prospective archivists should understand that some schools differentiate between the titles of Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Library Science. Undergraduate programs in library science or archival studies are not as common as schools that offer a graduate or joint bachelor's and master's degree. The few schools that do offer a B.S. in Library Science specifically prepare students to continue on to a master's program in information or library science. Minors in library science, on the other hand, are available to undergraduate students at some colleges and universities. Students who complete a B.A. or B.S. may be able to continue to advanced certification for specific library or teaching jobs. Coursework covers:

  • Cataloguing and classification
  • Collection development and acquisitions
  • Reference
  • History of libraries
  • Digital technology

Master of Science in Library and Information Science

Candidates who want the job of curator or museum or university archivist may want to consider a Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS). Graduate programs typically take two years to complete.

Prospective master's students may also want to consider a dual or joint degree program. Specialization in particular areas can help archivists find jobs in the fields they are most interested in. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), museums also want curators and archivists to have a master's degree in the discipline of the museum (www.bls.gov). To meet this requirement, many prospective archivists earn degrees in art, history, archaeology and even museum studies. Enrolling in dual degree programs or taking elective courses in related historical fields can help archivists become more marketable. Coursework for a master's degree often includes:

  • Information technology and organization
  • Web content management
  • Subject resources
  • Thesis project

Advanced or Graduate Certificate

While some masters programs include advanced certification, most archivists will have to complete additional continuing education to receive advanced certificates in specialized areas. Advanced certificate programs are generally available to any graduate student in a MSLIS program, and sometimes to graduate students in the humanities or liberal arts. Graduate certificate programs last up to one year, and some include student teaching or advanced internship opportunities. Archivists with these credentials may be allowed to work with rare collections and hold advanced positions in institutions or with a state's archives. Areas of specialization include:

  • Manuscripts
  • Preservation and conservation
  • Public history
  • Special collections
  • Curatorial work

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