Job Description of a Museum Archivist

Sep 26, 2019

Museum archivists must have significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and skills required to see if this is the right career for you.

If you believe that there is a worth to and use for the preservation of archival materials and collections, you might be well-suited for a career as a museum archivist. Duties and responsibilities of an archivist are as varied as the skills necessary to affect the proper handling and preservation of disparate objects of historical interest.

Essential Information

Museum archivists arrange and preserve archival materials and allow these collections to be available for research. They're usually required to have a graduate degree in a field such as museum studies, archival management, history and or a related area. An internship, volunteer work, research associate experience or previous part-time work may be required to qualify for a full-time position. Training in skills such as technical writing, data management and other subjects may also be required.

Required Education Graduate degree typically required
Other Requirements Work or volunteer experience
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 9% (for all archivists)
Median Salary (2018)* $52,240 annually (for archivists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description

Archives are collections of important materials of historical, cultural, scientific and artistic interest kept indefinitely by companies, organizations, government bodies or individuals. These materials range from autobiographies of notable literary figures and sketches of artists to annotations of scholars. Archives may be composed of photographs, memoirs, film clips, audio and video recordings, architectural designs, diaries, letters and other manuscripts, publications or electronic documents. Museum archivists study the purpose of those records and take their historical background into account, find links to similar sources and assess which ones hold value.

Museum archivists then properly categorize and manage this material. The Society of American Archivists provides systematized instructions on organizing and preserving museum archives, including how to keep them secure from fire, floods and other threats. Museum archivists may create their own archiving programs to handle existing archives and acquire or add new items.

Archivists also help set up exhibits and related events that showcase collections. They interpret the given documents and explain their context in history. Moreover, they ensure that records are available to scientists and researchers who need to examine the materials for reference. Since museum archivists provide a narrative behind the artifacts, they need to have strong research proficiency and effective written and oral communication skills.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Individuals may seek employment as archivists at art museums, history museums, maritime museums or science museums. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that job openings for all archivists will grow by 9% between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also reported in 2018 that archivists earned median wages of $52,240 annually.

Education Requirements

There are different undergraduate degree programs that individuals can choose from, but employers usually prefer archivist applicants who possess a graduate degree in history, museum studies, library science, archival management or a relevant field. Individuals with a graduate degree and years of professional archival experience may file for certification with the Academy of Certified Archivists.


Training in exhibit arrangement, technical writing, archiving processes and data resource management, as well as knowledge of art history, can be helpful. Museum archivists are expected to be familiar with new media techniques and software programs that enable electronic data storage and virtual exhibits.

As a rule, you'll need an appropriate graduate degree to be considered for a position as a museum archivist. Prior work experience, whether paid or in the capacity of a volunteer or docent, may also be required. Once you've acquired some years of experience as a museum archivist, you may apply for certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists, which can stand as a testament for your professionalism and expertise.

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