How Do I Become an Archivist?

If you have a passion for history and an interest in cultivating and protecting documents and records, you may wonder how to become an archivist. An archivist handles records and other historical documents, usually on behalf of institutions like museums, governments, colleges and universities. Archival records can include manuscripts, maps, photographs, sound recordings, films, electronic records and even websites of historical or other value. Archivists work to evaluate, organize and preserve these records. They may back up original records by creating film or digital copies. An archivist may search for historical records, objects and documents to add to a collection, verify the authenticity of these records and obtain them on behalf of the institution.

Archivists make records easier to use. They organize records and establish databases of information. They develop policies to govern safe public use of records. Like librarians, they may act as a reference when others need help searching for information. Archivists may take active roles in community education by organizing classes, lectures and tours for community members. An archivist may have expertise in a particular period of history and specialize in records relevant to that historical time. Some archivists dedicate their time working with one particular type of record, such as print manuscripts, photographs or audio recordings.

Aspiring archivists should earn an undergraduate degree in a field like library science or history. To gain firsthand experience, students might complete relevant internships or volunteer work. A bachelor’s degree may qualify graduates to enter some archivist positions, though earning a graduate degree in library science, history, records management, archival science or archival studies will allow access to more career opportunities. To advance to high-level positions like director of a state archive, an archivist may need a doctorate degree in library science or history.

For archivists that earn a master’s degree, certification is available from the Academy of Certified Archivists. Certification requires at least one year of relevant experience and successful completion of a written exam. Though certificates are not required by the majority of employers, they illustrate an archivist’s commitment to the profession, according to the Academy of Certified Archivists. Archivists continue their education throughout their career by attending relevant workshops and conferences offered through historical and museum associations.

Archivist jobs are expected to increase by 12 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is comparable to the 14 percent anticipated growth rate of all jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts brighter job prospects for archivists who work with electronic records than those that specialize in older formats of media. To increase job marketability, aspiring archivists can develop their computer skills, volunteer in archives with local institutions and pursue advanced education options.

Do you have an interest in historical documents, excellent computer and customer-service skills and a flair for organizing and analyzing records? Knowing how to become an archivist can get you started in a satisfying new career working with history.

Featured Degree Programs