Who Is an Archivist? With Duties, Education and Skills

Updated 26 March 2023

An archivist keeps vital documents and documentation so that others can examine them in the future. Archivists are vital because they help keep significant information safe throughout time. Knowing what an archivist is might assist you in determining whether this is the correct career choice for you. In this article, we explain who is an archivist, what are the responsibilities of an archivist, how to become one and answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the role.

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Who is an archivist?

An archivist is an information specialist who performs extensive studies on various records, papers and media. Archivists then assess the worth of these items, conserve them and compile a catalogue for others to use. It's very typical for an archivist to specialise and be well-versed in certain types of materials.

As an archivist, you may specialise in a certain historical period. Your function as an archivist depends on the size of the archive. Some archivists conserve, gather and keep all documents in small archives. For bigger archives, archivists typically branch out and specialise in a certain subject area.

Related: What Does a Library Assistant Do? Job Scope and Skills

What are the job responsibilities of an archivist?

An archivist's job duties may differ based on their company or the subject of their study. Regardless of their speciality, most want to keep materials in their most natural state. Some records are extremely valuable due to their authenticity as well as their cultural or worldwide relevance. It's the archivist's responsibility to keep these sensitive records private. To better understand who is an archivist and what is the exact role, learn about the following common duties:

  • Maintaining the condition of materials and storing them correctly

  • Assisting people in accessing and using archive records

  • Contributing to the availability of records in a variety of forms and channels

  • Conducting document, material and record research

  • Authenticating and appraising records to assess their worth

  • Delivering presentations, exhibits and tours

  • Assisting in the negotiation and purchase of new archive papers and resources

  • Overseeing the system for archiving electronic and digital records

  • Following record-safety protocols, such as making digital and film copies

  • Organising archival materials and classifying them appropriately for easy access

How to become an archivist

Here are the steps you can take towards becoming an archivist:

1. Obtain a bachelor's degree

Consider earning a bachelor's degree in ancient history, archival science, records administration, library research, archives preservation or a closely related subject before commencing a career as an archivist. Be mindful to pursue a specialisation in at least one area to establish your niche. You can also pursue other relevant areas that offer knowledge in history or artefact preservation.

Related: 8 Library Roles (Plus Career Scope, Salary and Job Duties)

2. Get a master's degree

To demonstrate mastery of the information related to their profession, most organisations require archivists to acquire an advanced degree in archiving, history or preservation. While you may pursue a specialisation in any subject, earning a master's degree in one of the archive studies can be useful to supplement your preceding history degree. Consider getting a master's degree to enhance your earning potential as well.

3. Volunteer or undertake internships

Many companies seek archivists who have prior work experience in the field or a museum setting, so consider completing a volunteer programme or an internship. Such programmes may be available through professional archiving and museum groups, and they may frequently lead to networking possibilities or employment offers. Whether you know an archivist or are a member of a networking club, try reaching out to someone currently working in the area to request to shadow or work alongside them to get the necessary expertise.

Related: What Is the Importance of an Internship?

4. Get certified

While certificates are usually optional, they can help you advance your knowledge as an archivist and add marketability to your resume. The Academy of Certified Archivists is the most widely known certification organisation. To obtain a certificate, it's vital that you pass an exam that assesses your ability to choose, reference, organise and maintain documents.

5. Continue pursuing your education

Remaining up to date on the latest archive trends and procedures is critical to establishing and sustaining a career as an archivist. Archive institutions and museums provide courses, workshops and on-the-job training to assist you to advance in your profession. Participating in independent research is another option to further your education. You may also read books on the subject, join online groups and forums for archivists and stay up to date on the latest approaches and recommendations regarding archival. You may also test new preservation and organising procedures on your own papers at home before adopting them in your workplace.

Related: How to Build Education Section In Your Resume

6. Build a professional network

Given the fact that archiving is such a niche subject, employment is only available in a few businesses. Joining organisations, locating meet-up groups and clubs online or participating in other networking activities are all effective methods to meet people who may either give you a job or notify and refer you to one. You may also meet other archivists to remain up to date on the newest archiving and preservation techniques, enabling you to stay knowledgeable about your industry while extending your network and creating contacts that could lead to your next job opportunity.

Related: Why Is Networking Important and How To Start Networking

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FAQs regarding the archivist role

Outlined below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the archivist role:

What is the work environment of an archivist?

Archivists spend a majority of the work time at desks in offices, spending hours performing research on acquired documents and determining their worth before preserving them. They occasionally work in public institutions to give educational and reference assistance. Most archivists spend their days working at archive repositories. The following locations may keep archival repositories:

  • Government agencies

  • Genealogy agencies

  • Museums

  • Corporations

  • Universities

  • National parks

  • Historical sties

  • Hospitals

  • Religious institutions

  • Charities

  • Research facilities

Depending on the assignment, project or establishment, archivists operate independently as well as collaboratively with other archivists, historians, assistants, interns and curators. They often work a 40-hour per week schedule. Archivists may travel to provide tours of historical documents or to conduct seminars and lectures about them. It's also essential for archivists to be able to handle stacks of documents and climb ladders to access and store documents on high shelves.


  • What Does a Curator Do: Duties, Essential Skills and Salary

  • A Guide on How To Become a Museum Curator (With FAQs)

What kind of materials do archivists preserve?

Archivists keep a wide range of documents with various degrees of cultural and historical significance. Archivists work with a variety of items, including:

  • Audio recordings

  • Movies and films

  • Maps

  • Photographs

  • Artwork

  • Manuscripts

  • Letters

  • Diaries

  • Logs

  • Government documents

What are the education and training requirements for an archivist?

To become a certified archivist, archivists may have a master's degree, one year of professional experience and a passing score on an industry-specific written exam. Certain archive disciplines may require more college education, such as a doctoral degree. Degrees in the following disciplines are most advantageous for this position:

  • History

  • Art history

  • Modern and ancient languages

  • Film and media studies

  • Information science and management

  • Library science

  • Political science

  • Public administration

  • Archival studies

  • Records management

Internships and volunteer work are common ways for students interested in working as archivists to obtain experience. Coursework with a focus on record and archival management may also be a requirement. Obtaining a voluntary certification can enhance an applicant's chances, but such qualifications are usually optional to operate in this sector.

Read more: What Does a Records Manager Do? (Plus Salary and Skills)

What are the essential skills of an archivist?

As an archivist, you may possess a wide range of soft and technical talents that enable you to excel in your job. Archivists are generally inquisitive and very systematic and structured in their work methods. Although archivists are to be able to work independently, it's essential that you're able to collaborate with other team members. An archivist typically has the following extra skills:

  • Detail-orientation: Because archivists handle and manage vast volumes of materials and data, many of which are stored digitally, their work is very detail-oriented. To ensure accuracy, they often keep a close eye on their performance while they explore complicated datasets.

  • IT skills: Archivists deal with a variety of information systems and management technologies. It's essential that you possess some technical knowledge and expertise to perform independent research and use electronic document management applications successfully.

  • Communication skills: It's important that you demonstrate exceptional communication skills to work with the general public and accurately relay your research and information to others.

  • Analytical skills: Archivists are analytically strong to assess items and identify their origin, worth and condition before deciding whether or not to preserve them.

  • Research: It's important that you possess the ability to unearth information that leads to the discovery, contextualisation and authenticity of historically significant artefacts and documents.

  • Restoration: Archivists typically understand the procedures used to safely restore documents to the best state possible.

  • Organisation: It's essential that you're equipped with the capacity to arrange, label and store such goods for safety and convenience.

  • Interpersonal skills: It's important that you're able to communicate effectively with clients, superiors and colleagues for streamlined work processes and the shipping, storing and selling of such documents.

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