Preserving the Past in the Present: How to Become an ArchivistPreserving the Past in the Present: How to Become an ArchivistPreserving the Past in the Present: How to Become an Archivist

Without archivists, we would have no record of important historical documents, artifacts, and computer activity. Imagine how different our world would be if we didn’t have the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or photographs of significant events in U.S. history.

If you love reading stories and viewing images of the past, a career as an archivist may be right for you. But what does an archivist do, and how do you become an archivist? These protectors of our past play a crucial role in preserving valuable pieces of history and ensuring they’re available for future study and consumption.

What Does an Archivist Do?

An archivist’s role is to organize, maintain, and display records, images, and documents. Because most institutions and organizations have a history they wish to preserve, archivists work in a variety of settings, including universities, libraries, museums, and even hospitals and corporations. In our modern world, digital archivists have become increasingly important in preserving materials in digital formats for long-term storage and protection.

In addition to preservation, archivists appraise, process, and catalog documents. Their appraisal entails determining the value, authenticity, and quality of each piece. They create or use a preexisting system to track and manage the pieces and then display them, if necessary, for public record. Archivists also manage other employees and search for new pieces to add to collections. They may collaborate with specialists, technicians, curators, and records managers during different parts of a project.

What an archivist does can depend on the type of organization one works for. Some archivists may work at a desk most of the day, while others may be in charge of physically assembling a collection. Archivists must be meticulous and have a strong attention to detail to maintain the integrity of historical documents.

Archivist poses in library aisle by books.

Steps to Become an Archivist

If the above job description sounds interesting to you, take a look at the steps you’ll need to take to become an archivist.

Earn Your Degree

Becoming an archivist typically starts with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in History. This kind of program will teach you historical context, as well as how to analyze and organize information. You’ll also develop computer competency and research skills, which will help you maintain digital records.

Most archivist jobs require a master’s degree in history, library science, archival science, political science, or public administration. When you begin your path to become an archivist with a bachelor’s in history, it’s smart to also prepare yourself to pursue an advanced degree to enter the market as a competitive candidate.

Earn Your License

The Academy of Certified Archivists offers an archivist certification. While this is not required for most archivist jobs, it could provide you with an advantage in your job search. To earn certification, you must already have a master’s degree and professional experience as an archivist.

Continue to Learn

The methods and systems for archiving information change constantly, so it’s essential that archivists continue to learn and update their practices. There are conferences and workshops available to these professionals through state and national organizations. There is also an annual meeting sponsored by the Society of American Archivists that brings together archivists from all across the country.

Archivist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for archivists in May 2018 was $48,400. Archivist salaries range from $27,190 to $86,480 depending on the size and location of the organization. For example, an archivist working for the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., would likely earn more than one working for a small library. An archivist’s level of education and experience will also impact his or her earning potential.

Employment Outlook for Archivists

The BLS projects the employment of archivists will grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, which is far faster than the average rate of growth for all jobs during that period (7%). One reason for this growth is that museums and organizations are processing increasing volumes of information. Another reason is the shift in record-keeping from paper to electronic, causing a demand for more digital archivists.

Learn More About Becoming an Archivist

If you’ve always loved digging through old photographs, letters, and maps, and you enjoy creating systems to process and organize information, a career as an archivist may be a great fit for you. Archivists document, catalog, and preserve history for later generations. They don’t just learn about history — they actively participate in writing it. Take the first steps toward becoming an archivist by reading about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in History.


National Archives, “What’s an Archivist?

Society of American Archivists, “So You Want to Be an Archivist”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers

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