How To Become an Archivist

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Updated on April 5, 2023
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When exploring the field of information professionals, it is common for people to come across librarianship and the roles and skills associated with becoming a librarian at the many different information organizations. But it is important to highlight an additional and important role that is included in the information professional field, which is that of the archivist. This article will explain what an archivist is, the skill set an archivist has to have to be successful in the role, the type of institute an archivist may work in, how much they make, and the specific steps needed to become an archivist.

Differences Between an Archivist vs Librarian

Before understanding the steps to becoming an archivist, it is important to know the difference between the titles of a librarian and an archivist and what an archivist is. Knowing the major differences between archivists and librarians can give someone looking to get into the field a better understanding of the role and if it’s the best fit for them. An archivist works directly with historical documents and tends to be behind the scenes. While the role doesn’t involve directly working with or communicating with members of the community as often as that of a public librarian or academic librarian, an archivist’s work is just as important because it contributes to the preservation of the history of a place and its people. A librarian’s role tends to be working directly with the community, searching, collecting, and managing current and present materials and resources that members of the community may be looking for. An archivist has a wide range of responsibilities that primarily revolve around collecting, cataloging, preserving, and managing momentous historical materials, including pieces of parchment or videos.

Several other duties an archivist may have that differ from those of traditional librarians are that they also oversee the possession of new items that are found and brought in for preservation, update existing archival lists, or add to prior collections. It is the responsibility of archivists to distinguish and separate the records that need to be archived and recommended for destruction because of the material’s shape and damage range. Another set of duties an archivist may have depending on the type of materials they are archiving is organizing and conducting talks, educational programs, public outreach programs, exhibitions, workshops, tours, and classes. 

Additionally, here are a few of the typical job responsibilities an archivist may have:

  • Facilitate procurement, arrangement, description, preservation, and access to historical artifacts
  • Evaluate the material or makeup of an archive and deal with relevant conservation and preservation issues accordingly
  • Updating, organizing, and maintaining an archival database
  • Research historical objects and facilitate their identification, descriptions, and dating
  • Creating historical exhibits, partaking in outreach activities, and teaching archival instruction sessions
  • Locate new artifacts to add to an institution’s archives
  • Negotiate the procurement of archival material donations and the acquisition of new materials
  • Authenticate the value of historical objects to document them correctly

Skills of an Archivist

Being an archivist requires various skills in addition to educational and technical requirements. Listed below are a few skills that an archivist should possess when considering this path and leading a successful career. The skills required for this career include:

Organizational Skills

Archivists must have great organizational skills, as this plays a significant role in developing storage systems for artifacts, arranging items, identifying them, and making them available to the public or institution. To keep historical documents in good shape, archivists must be careful and pay close attention to every detail. Similarly, curators, museum technicians, conservators, and archivists all require organizational skills to develop and maintain a logical storage system for the efficient retrieval of materials, documents, and records.

Research Skills

Archivists need to know how to do research that helps them evaluate, find, and prove the authenticity of an artifact. Archivists look into the background of a historical artifact and do a lot of research to find out where it came from, when it happened, what it was used for, and how important it is. Therefore, having excellent research skills is beneficial. 

Computer Skills

Archivists need to know how to use computers well because this is a big part of making complicated databases for storing and managing artifacts. Archivists also have to use different electronic document management tools to keep track of the digital management of artifacts or historical documents.

Steps to Become an Archivist

A Master’s degree in the field is needed to work as an archivist, conservator, or curator. In exploring the steps to becoming an archivist, it is important to highlight the steps required to follow similar paths to most careers in information library science. Below are the five steps to becoming an archivist:

  1. Get an Undergraduate Degree

An undergraduate degree is required to be an archivist. This can be a bachelor’s degree in any field, like art, science, or history, which are also good choices for this job. However, there are benefits to having a bachelor’s degree in archival science or library science if a school offers that program. Those with a degree in other fields may choose concentrations or specializations related to archival science to help them attain a thorough understanding of the field. Another helpful step may be to learn or speak a second language, as in the archival field, non-English documents may be found in collections. Some employers may require archivists to have a background in a specific subject matter, while others will be looking at professional skills first and assume the subject matter can be learned through professional experience.

  1. Obtain a Master’s degree in Archival Studies

Next, an archivist needs a Master’s degree in library information science with a specialization in archival studies. Many, but not all, employers will require a Master of Library Science “or equivalent.” A Master of Library Science was a common degree for new archivists, but as traditional library school programs have evolved, many universities have created a separate degree for archives, records, and information management (often called a Master of Information Studies). Students can complete an archival internship at their local museums, libraries, or non-profits to learn how to be an archivist and get hands-on experience. An internship can serve as prior work experience on a resume and provide networking, which helps highlight applicants when applying for a job.

  1. Certification, Licensures, & Registrations

Students looking to become archivists may choose to attain certification in a specific area of the field that highlights their expertise. Students can complete the Certified Archivist credential from the Academy of Certified Archivists. However, there are some requirements to earn certification, including having a Master’s degree in Archival Studies, one year of prior professional archival experience, and passing a written examination. Those with a Master’s degree in a field other than archival studies require two years of work experience. Certification holders renew their certification every five years. They can do this by fulfilling continuing education credits or retaking the exam.

  1. Gain Work Experience

Aspiring archivists can gain work experience through a part-time position, as an intern, or as a volunteer to gain experience either during or after their graduate education. When looking to gain an archivist skill set, it is necessary to look for those experiences that correlate with the field, such as exhibit design, restoration, collection management, research, and database management skills that can lead to full-time work as an archivist.

Where Does an Archivist Work?

What an archivist does can depend on the type of information organization one works for. There are many environments an archivist may work in, such as at a desk working through digital files, or an archivist may spend most of their time being in charge of physically assembling a collection. This career offers versatility in employment. Thus, archivists can pursue several roles that coincide with their interests and objectives. A qualified archivist can work in any institution, in both the government and private sectors, in their chosen field.

The majority of archivists work for historical sites and museums, working with artifacts that correlate with the site or museum. Other archivists may work in international services. Apart from that, additional employment opportunities for archivists are typically found at

  • Museums
  • Historical Sites and Societies
  • Local and Central Government Agencies
  • Cultural Centers and Landmarks
  • Religious Institutions
  • Philanthropic or Non-profit Organizations
  • National Repositories
  • Art Galleries
  • Auction Houses

How Much Do Archivists in America Make Per Year?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for an archivist in May 2021 was $60,000. The archival field has a current boost in outlook due to the increasing volume of documents arriving at institutions as well as the continuing transition from written to online systems. Archivists have an average annual salary of about $60,000, or $28.87 per hour. The top 10% of archivists can make over $100,000 per year, whereas the bottom 10% make about $36,000 per year.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

American Historical Association

Society of American Archivists