Master’s in Archival Studies

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Updated on May 9, 2024
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What is an Archival Studies Degree? 

An archival studies degree is a graduate degree a student obtains from a library information science graduate program, specifically in the area of managing historical records in archives. An archival studies program involves the processes of acquiring, appraising, arranging, describing, and preserving as well as handling the inventory, classification, and retention of existing organizational records and materials. This article will explain how to get an archival studies degree, the various online graduate programs that have archival studies degrees, the skills learned within an archival graduate program, the careers available once a degree is obtained, and important organizations one must know about when pursuing an archival studies graduate degree.

Why Archival Studies?

There are many areas of specialization a library information science professional may obtain in the library information field, but archival work plays a critical role in many areas for academic and social users. Archival libraries house unique materials, records, documents, and other texts and artifacts that serve as fundamental tools for the development of a rich understanding of cultural, political, and social forces. The collection, circulation, and preservation of historical material and social accountability in the archival field bring a continuous stream of community, education, and information to societies. When studying to obtain a degree in the archival field, students gain a specialization that covers traditional manuscripts, archive practice, and theory, as well as addressing the ever-changing expansion of the field. An archival degree is important within the library science field because it accelerates technological developments and changes the forms and methods for disseminating and preserving records.

Pursuing an Archival Studies Graduate Degree

When enrolled in a library information science program, archival studies degree students will master the core archival functions of appraisal and description, arrangement and description, reference and access, outreach, preservation, and management of records in all formats, especially digital formats, in accordance with best practices, the law, and professional ethics. Graduates of the Archival Studies Program will be able to be successful digital archivists who are committed to curating comprehensive, trustworthy collections of records that merit long-term preservation. Students gain competency in theoretical knowledge and practical skills of archives. Graduates of the Archival Studies Program will understand the impact of technology on the profession and will have the knowledge and skills to work with and manage digital information. Listed below are two common steps needed to obtain an archival studies graduate degree.

Enroll in an ALA-Accredited Master’s in Library Science Graduate Program

In order to get an archival studies graduate degree, a student must apply to and enroll in an ALA-accredited Master’s in Library Science graduate program. Most Master’s in Library Science graduate programs have pathway options for students to study and become professionals in the archival field. For many schools, the application requirements may be to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited U.S. institution, send in an application, a resume, an academic transcript, a grade-point average of at least 3.0 (“A = 4.0″) on all undergraduate work (or in the final 64 credit hours) and 3.0 on any graduate-level work, pay the application fee, submit a written statement of interest, and provide letters of recommendation. These are the most common requirements for enrollment in a Master’s in Library Science graduate program, but requirements for a school’s graduate program may vary.

Meet The Minimum Academic Requirements For A Graduate Program

When enrolled in an archival studies program, students are expected to maintain the academic requirements that the school’s program has set for its graduates. This concentration prepares students to assume roles where they identify and preserve analog and digital records as trustworthy evidence and memories of the activities of individuals, families, and organizations. Most archival programs consist of 15–36 credit hours (approximately 12 courses). This includes a core curriculum in addition to electives, research, and a possible internship. Courses may be three credit hours, unless otherwise specified. So in order to obtain the archival degree, students will need to complete and pass courses that focus on archival and library information studies.

Archival Studies Graduate Programs and MLIS Concentrations

An archival studies graduate program should emphasize electronic records, digital records, or social and cultural artifacts. Many archival graduate programs provide the skills and knowledge of archival work in their graduate programs. Archival studies graduate programs offer more in-depth study than public history, information science, or library programs. Many of the programs are innovative blends of information technology and traditional archival knowledge that respond to the needs of professionals to understand contemporary record-keeping systems and records. Below are just a few online archival studies graduate programs that those interested can enroll in and study at.

  1. Clayton State University – Master of Archival Studies. No GRE is required to apply
  1. Claremont Graduate University – MA in History and Archival Studies. Two Years to Complete and 48 Units
  1. University of Missouri – Master of Library and Information Science – Archival Studies. 100% Online & ALA Accredited
  1. San Jose State University – Master of Archives and Records. 100% Online & ALA Accredited
  1. University of North Texas – MS-LS with a Concentration in Archival Studies

What Will You Learn in an Archival Studies Degree Program? 

In an archival studies graduate program, students will gain the foundation needed to transform into successful archivists committed to curating trustworthy, comprehensive collections that deserve long-term preservation. Courses within an archival studies graduate degree may cover all aspects of the profession, including theoretical foundations, appraisal and acquisition, arrangement and description, reference services and access, preservation, outreach and advocacy, management, and professional, ethical, and legal responsibilities. As well as technical courses, explore the impact technology has on artifact preservation so that students understand the context of digital information systems and have the skills to work with electronic records. Below are five archival subjects students may learn about within an archival studies program.

  1. Archival Principles & Practices

Topics covered in a course in archival principles and practices may include:

  • Fundraising
  • Financial and legal systems
  • Social and cultural systems
  • Preservation
  • Description
  • Arrangement
  • Appraisal
  • Acquisition
  • Authentic record-keeping systems
  • Cultural memory
  • History of archives
  • Records life cycle
  1. Archival Description & Access –

In an archival description and access course, students would like to learn the advanced practice and theories of archival description, arrangement, and appraisal, including creating access tools to archival collections and records. This is important within the archival field as it develops skills in selecting and applying management tools, metadata schemes, appropriate archival descriptive standards, and outreach programs.

  1. Preservation Management –

In a preservation management course, students would learn the practices and principles for the physical and intellectual preservation of cultural heritage and historical materials in all forms. This is important within the archival field as it assures continued accessibility and durability of the items and materials through selective, digitization, conservation, migration, preservation strategies and management, and ongoing evaluation

  1. Digital Curation

A course on digital curation is important within an archival studies program, as it teaches students the value-add management and life cycle for future access, use, and re-use and addresses the practices, principles, and strategies of digital preservation. This may include: 

  • File formats
  • Metadata
  • Trusted digital repositories
  • Digital curation at data centers, museums, libraries, archives, and other institutions of heritage
  1. Enterprise Content Management

Lastly, a course on enterprise content management may be available in an archival graduate program because the course helps teach students the management of content in the digital form relating to an organization’s operational process for decision-making, governance, and compliance purposes, addressing tools, methods, and strategies. 

Careers with an Archival Studies Graduate Degree

Information preservationists and archivists work in a variety of settings, including non-profit organizations, religious organizations, universities and colleges, corporations, government records and information services, and cultural heritage institutions. The varying job titles that may be presented in the field include:

  • Archivists
  • Archival Librarian
  • Computer System Managers
  • Digital Resources Managers
  • Forms Managers
  • Information Managers
  • Manuscript Curators
  • Preservation Librarians
  • Records Analysts
  • Records Center Supervisor
  • Record Managers
  • Reports Managers
  • Special Collection Librarian

Organizations to Know

While in an archival graduate degree program, or even after obtaining the degree, there are a few archival archivist associations that inspiring archivists should be aware of that seek to foster professional and academic development.

  1. The Association of Moving Image Archivists is an organization that fosters the advancement of moving image archiving. It also promotes cooperation among those within archival organizations and individuals concerned with acquiring, describing, preserving, exhibiting, and using moving image materials.
  1. ARMA International is a not-for-profit association for information professionals. It is known for its guidelines and standards. The association also provides educational publications and opportunities that cover all aspects of information management. 
  1. The Academy of Certified Archivists is a nonprofit, independent professional archivist certifying organization. Individual members meet a series of defined professional standards to qualify for certification.
  1. The American Library Association is the largest library association in the world. This not-for-profit association promotes library services and librarianship, as well as provides library staff and organizations with a platform to advocate leadership and information for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship.