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How to Become an Archivist: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an archivist. Learn about the job description and duties and explore the step-by-step process to start a career in archiving. View article »

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  • 0:01 Should I Become an Archivist?
  • 1:11 Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
  • 2:17 Consider a Graduate Degree
  • 2:58 Pursue Voluntary Certification
  • 3:26 Consider Advancement…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become an Archivist?

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree preferred
Degree Field Art, history, library science, archival science, or related field
Certification Voluntary and beneficial
Key Skills Analytical, organizational, research, and communication skills
Salary $53,880 (2015 average for all archivists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Archivists help control, organize and collect information. Their aim is to preserve sound recordings, videos, documents, photographs, films and electronic data. Archivists typically work for museums, schools, government agencies or other institutions that keep permanent records. These professionals usually work during normal business hours. They often come into contact with the general public and may have to deal with difficult individuals on occasion. These professionals may have to lift heavy objects and climb ladders.

The career requirements for archivists includes strong analytical, organizational, research and communication skills, as well as at least a bachelor's degree. So, how much can archivists earn? Salary varies by industry but, in general, archivists earned an average yearly salary of $53,880 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now let's walk through the steps archivists take to enter and succeed in this career.

Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

An undergraduate degree is necessary to become an archivist. Ideally, an archivist acquires a bachelor's degree in library science or archival science. However, archivists can also hold bachelor's degrees in subjects such as history, art or science. Concentrations, specializations, minors and classes focusing on archival studies can help archivists gain a solid understanding of the field.

During college, you may want to take advantage of volunteering opportunities Volunteer work in a museum or library can help an aspiring archivist gain valuable first-hand experience working in the field. Job seekers can list volunteer experience on a resume, which may appeal to potential employers. Additionally, aspiring archivists should use this time to familiarize themselves with the necessary technology. You might take elective courses in computers and study archival computer software. Computers play a vital role in archival work, so archivists who are familiar with them might have a better career outlook.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • American History
  • Ancient Studies
  • Asian History
  • Classical Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies
  • Cultural Resource Management
  • European History
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  • History of Science and Technology
  • Holocaust Studies
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  • Museum Studies
  • Public History and Archival Administration

Step 2: Consider a Graduate Degree

While a bachelor's degree may suffice for some positions, many employers prefer to hire archivists with master's degrees. At the graduate level, many schools offer master's degrees in archival studies, which may allow students to concentrate their studies on specific types of archival studies, like protecting and working with film or paper.

Participate in an Internship

Archival internships can help an aspiring archivist practice the skills learned in the classroom and establish valuable networking connections. Additionally, an internship can serve as relevant work experience to list on a resume, helping you stand out when applying for jobs after graduation.

Step 3: Pursue Voluntary Certification

Many employers prefer archivists who have acquired voluntary certification with the Academy of Certified Archivists. The designation of Certified Archivist requires a master's degree in archival studies, one year of work experience and passage of a written exam. Anyone with a master's degree in a field other than archival studies needs two years of work experience. Certified archivists must re-certify every five years.

Step 4: Consider Advancement Opportunities

Archivists remain current in the field of archival studies by attending workshops, meetings and conferences sponsored by historical museums and archival organizations. Archivists are often faced with limited promotional opportunities, though some can receive promotions to managerial or supervisory roles at bigger archives. Obtaining a doctorate can improve archivists' chances of rising to director positions, particularly with state archives.

Continue Your Education After Your Academic Career

A variety of continuing education options are available to archivists, such as workshops, courses and independent study. Continuing education may improve advancement opportunities and help an archivist stay current on industry trends and topics.

Additionally, you may want to join a professional organization, such as the Society of American Archivists. Doing so can provide an archivist with a variety of resources that may help with career advancement, including continuing education options, access to academic publications, an invitation to an annual meeting for archivists and networking opportunities.

Archivists generally need at least a bachelor's degree, many employers prefer a master's degree and professional certification.

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