Archivist Vs. Curator

Nov 21, 2018

If you've ever had an entertaining and educational day at the museum, you have archivists and curators to thank. Archivists preserve and organize important historical items, while curators manage the purchasing and displaying of these pieces.

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Comparing Archivists to Curators

Archivists and curators both play key roles in preserving history and allowing the public to learn from the past. Curators shape the museum experience, as they are responsible for obtaining historically important pieces and designing the overall layout of the exhibits. Archivists are in charge of the preservation of these pieces, through proper storage, cleaning, and organization. Other similarities and differences are discussed below.

Job Title Education Requirements Average Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2016-2026)**
Archivist Master's Degree in History or a related field $47,185 14%
Curator Master's Degree in History or a related field $49,220 14%

Source: *PayScale.Com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Archivists vs. Curators

Archivists and curators can have some similarities, but their primary responsibilities are different. Both tend to work for museums where they specialize in a certain area of expertise, such as art or astronomy. Both are responsible for ensuring that important historical items are cared for and properly preserved. In the case of archivists, this is their biggest role, as they are in charge of preserving and properly cataloging items of importance. While curators can oversee this area as well, especially if they work for a smaller museum, they are mainly in charge of the overall museum, as they manage the purchasing and displaying of the historical artifacts.


Archivists preserve, organize, and catalog historically important items, such as documents, artifacts, and books. It is common for archivists to specialize in a particular era of history, as well as a particular type of historical item. Excellent written and verbal communication skills are key, as archivists must make accurate notes and be able to work with teams of researchers, as well as potentially speak to classes or tours. Employment is usually offered by museums or other types of historical organizations. A master's degree in history, library science, or a related field is generally required.

Job responsibilities of an archivist include:

  • Develop or update a system of categorization
  • Track down and study potential items of historical value
  • Craft best practices for storage
  • Create rules regarding item safety and public viewing


Curators are the directors of museums, as they are in charge of deciding what pieces will be purchased and displayed. Additionally, curators help craft the overall look and layout of the museum by working closely with teams of designers. As museums specialize in a specific area, such as art or history, curators must be experts in the specialized subject of the museum. Normal business hours can be expected, but some travel for research or to procure museum pieces may be required. Curators generally have a master's degree in history, museum studies, or in the field that they specialize.

Job responsibilities of a curator include:

  • Act in a forward thinking manner for museum design and interactivity
  • Negotiate the loaning and purchasing of items
  • Ensure that collections are properly cleaned and stored
  • Maintain open communication with staff and supporters of the museum

Related Careers

Like curators and archivists, librarians also need a master's degree in an area of expertise and spend time cataloging, arranging, and maintaining books. If you do not have a master's degree but are interested in working at a museum, you may find work as a museum technician.

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