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How to Become an Archivist: A Comprehensive Guide

File Storage for an Archivist

Preserving history is as significant as making history, and archivists play a substantial role in safeguarding and conserving the world as we know it. They are an integral reason behind our past knowledge and are responsible for protecting a society’s memory.

If you are interested in special collections, historical manuscripts, and cultural preservation, choosing this career might be the right fit for you. This article aims to answer all questions that you may have about becoming an archivist in 2022. So let’s get right into it!

Who Is An Archivist?

An archivist is a public or private employee qualified to manage archives, research records and documentation, and evaluate their intricacies to determine their potential value and significance. Archivists also catalog and preserve historical materials to allow future public or private access and thus make sure remnants of the past are not lost or forgotten.

Typically, archivists hold expertise in a particular document type, such as maps, manuscripts, websites, films, photographs, or sound recordings. Those working in each specialization have different names -such as conservators- and we will discuss them further in the education requirements of becoming an archivist. Some archivists may also hold disciplines in a particular area of history.

What Does An Archivist Do?

An archivist has a wide range of responsibilities that primarily revolve around collecting, cataloging, preserving, and managing momentous historical matter, including pieces of parchment, videos, or maps.

They also oversee the acquisition of new items, update existing archival lists, or add to prior collections. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of archivists to distinguish and separate the records that need to be archived and recommended for destruction.

Several archivists organize and conduct talks, educational programs, public outreach programs, exhibitions, workshops, tours, and classes. Let us look at some typical job responsibilities of an archivist:

  • Facilitate procurement, arrangement, description, preservation, and access to historical artifacts
  • Aid researchers, interns, and staff that intend on accessing any archives
  • Develop heritage research files pertinent to specific business objectives
  • Evaluate the material or makeup of an archive and deal with relevant conservation and preservation issues accordingly
  • Updating, organizing, and maintaining an archival database
  • Develop archival teaching material
  • 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 acquisition of new materials
  • Authenticate the value of historical objects to document them correctly
  • Determine the best possible solution for resolving conservation-related issues
  • Research funding opportunities
  • Transform historical records into digital formats
  • Organize, plan, and coordinate public displays, exhibitions, and presentations
  • Supervise and coordinate with staff members and direct finances at the managerial level

Where Does an Archivist Work?

This occupation 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 government or private sectors, in their chosen department.

Almost 50% of archivists work for historical sites and museums, and another 39% work in international services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017. Since historical sites and museums are plentiful in Maryland and New York, a significant portion of the total archivists is employed there. Apart from that, employment opportunities for archivists are available at:

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

Archivists involved with maintaining records work with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the F.B.I., NASA, and the U.S. Army. However, most archivists typically work in standard office settings during regular business hours. When working in larger institutions, they may collaborate with other professionals in relevant fields, such as archive technicians, educators, museum curators, librarians, and I.T. specialists. Archivists often work independently and are self-directed.

Archivist Salary and Growth Outlook

The salary of an archivist depends upon various factors, including education, experience level, industry, institute or organization, and geographical location of the institute or organization.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2020, the median salary for an archivist was $52,140 per year. The number of jobs in 2020 was around 35,000, and about 6,600 new positions may open up during 2020-2030.

The BLS predicts a favorable job outlook for archivists. It predicts employment to grow by 19% in the coming years, much faster than the expected average for other occupations. The statistics also include data for archivist technicians and museum curators, as they are also career opportunities for educated archivists.

Skills Of An Archivist

Becoming an archivist requires a set of soft skills in addition to the educational and technical requirements. An individual who possesses these skills can easily undertake this path and lead a successful career. The skills required in this occupation include:

Interpersonal Skills

Several large organizations employ many archivists specializing in different fields to manage a shared database. Therefore, the ability of an archivist to thrive in collaborative environments is crucial.

Archivists should possess the ability to listen patiently, decipher body language, and communicate verbally with clarity. These skills play a vital role in facilitating interactions with the public, clients, colleagues, and superiors. Since archivists have to coordinate procedures for preserving records, good interpersonal skills come in handy.

Organizational Skills

Organizational skills play a significant role in developing storage systems for artifacts, arranging and identifying them, and making them available to the public. Curators, museum technicians, conservators, and archivists require such skills to develop a logical storage system for public use and retrieve documents & records efficiently.

Analytical Skills

Sound and systematic problem-solving ability is a valuable trait for an archivist that requires adequate analytical skills. Archivists may need to conduct thorough background research related to a historical artifact and conduct extensive studies to determine an object’s origin, location, history, time frame, and importance. Therefore, analytical skills come into play. They also need to have conflict resolution skills and make the proper judgment in emergencies.

Analytical thinking also helps consult originators of records or experts in a specific field to settle preservation and conservation differences. Archivists also need exceptional analytical skills to classify new documents and create specialized educational programs.

Computer Skills

Archivists should have exceptional computer skills to develop complex databases related to the storage and management of artifacts. They also have to use various electronic document management tools.

Certification Needed To Become An Archivist

Certification is not necessary to become an archivist. However, it is beneficial for a practicing archivist. Certification opens doors to new and better career options. It also makes a person a more marketable job candidate. Prerequisites for certification include a Master’s degree and at least one year of practical experience. Candidates also have to pass a written exam to be eligible for certification.

How To Become An Archivist – Step by Step Guide

Archivist, conservator, and curator positions require a Master’s degree pertinent to a field. In contrast, museum technicians should have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area. However, the question of which degree to attain to become an archivist is tricky. Some positions require a Master’s degree, whereas a Bachelor’s is enough for others.

The 5 Steps to Become an Archivist:

  1. Get an Undergraduate Degree
  2. Obtain a Masters in Archival Studies
  3. Certification, Licensures, & Registrations
  4. Gain Work Experience
  5. Advance in the Field

Related Resource: The 40 Most Affordable Master’s in Library Science Online

1. Get an Undergraduate Degree

A necessary archivist qualification is an undergraduate degree, which can ideally be a Bachelor’s in archival science or library science. However, other degrees such as art, science, or history are also suitable for this career choice. Those with such a degree may choose concentrations or specializations related to archival science to help them attain a thorough understanding of the field.

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Let us look at some of the careers that you can pursue in this field, along with their educational requirements.


Archivists usually require a Master’s degree in library science, archival science, public administration, history, or political science. Several universities and colleges offer degrees in library sciences, history, and other similar programs. Still, very few institutions offer Master’s degrees in archival studies.

GetEducated’s Pick: Master of Science in Library & Information Science / Archival Studies from St. John’s University


Curators typically require a Master’s degree in archeology, museum studies, history, or art history. Furthermore, courses in public relations, fundraising, marketing, and business administration are also recommended. They may have to take managerial and administrative responsibilities.

Applicants with a Bachelor’s degree are also eligible for curator positions in small museums. Those with relevant internship experience may benefit from a competitive advantage in the employment market.

Related Resource: Top 3 Online Art History Master’s Degree Programs

Museum Technicians

Museum technicians, also known as registrars, commonly require a Bachelor’s degree for this position. However, some posts may require a Master’s degree. Candidates typically attain an undergraduate degree in relevant fields such as archeology, anthropology, history, or art history. Very few schools offer a Bachelor’s degree in Museum Studies. Candidates with prior training in museum studies, knowledge of the museum’s specialty, or previous work experience with museums are typically preferred.

Related Resource: Anthropology Jobs: 15 Highest-Paying Careers


Conservators usually require a Master’s degree in conservation or a relevant field for these positions. Since graduate programs typically last between two to four years, they indulge in internship training for the latter years. Students with degrees in archeology, art history, studio art, and chemistry are preferred.

In addition, students who complete conservation internships as an undergraduate also have higher admission prospects. A limited number of universities in the United States offer graduate programs in museum conservation.

GetEducated’s Pick: Master of Arts in Public History from Liberty University

2. Obtain a Graduate Archivist Degree

The next step in becoming an archivist in a suitable position is obtaining a Master’s degree in Archival Studies. Several universities and colleges offer Master’s degrees in archival studies, such as working on and protecting paper or film.

Students may also participate in an archival internship to achieve archivist training with firsthand experience. Students can establish valuable networking connections during this time. An internship can serve as prior work experience on a resume, which helps highlight applicants when applying for a job.

3. Certifications, Licensure, and Registration

Few employers prefer or require certification or licensure for archivist positions. However, archivists can choose to attain voluntary certification as it allows them to achieve expertise in a specific area. Candidates 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 after every five years. They can do this by fulfilling continuing education credits or retaking the exam.

4. Work Experience

Candidates can work part-time, as an intern, or a volunteer to attain marketable experience either during or after their education. Prior work experience plays a meaningful role in highlighting an archivist’s resume when applying for a position. It is necessary to have substantial experience in exhibit design, restoration, collection management, research, and database management skills for full-time jobs.

5. Advancement Opportunities

Like any other career, archivists need to remain active in their field by pursuing continuing education through conferences, workshops, and meetings sponsored by historical, archival, and museum associations. For example, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, offers in-house training sessions.

Promotional opportunities for archivists are highly competitive and rare. Taking part and distinction in unique research and producing published works is essential to receive promotions to supervisory or managerial roles at more considerable archives. Attaining a doctorate can significantly enhance an archivist’s chance of a promotion to a more significant position, especially with state archives.

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Archival studies is a well-reputed and considerably sought-after career path. Preserving pieces of history for present generations is a rewarding job, and you can opt for it if you have the passion and skills.

It is now possible to secure a career in archival studies right from the comfort of your home by getting an online degree. Head over to to get to know more and make an informed career choice!

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Question: How much do archivists in America make per year?
Answer: Archivists in America have an average annual salary of about $52,140 or $25.07 per hour. The top 10% can make over $106,000 per year, whereas the bottom 10% makes about $23,000 per year.

Question: Where do archivists work?
Answer: Many employment opportunities are available for archivists, including universities, colleges, museums, historical sites, cultural centers and landmarks, religious institutions, local and central government agencies, and many more.

Question: Is archival studies an old educational career?
Answer: No, archival studies is a rapidly expanding field with about 35,000 jobs in 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts about 6,600 new jobs to open up between 2020-2030, making the employment growth much faster than other occupations.