Archivist: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

ProfGuide Updated 
Archivist: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

Are you fascinated by history and enjoy working with documents? Are you meticulous, detail-oriented, and enjoy organizing information? If so, a career as an archivist might be right for you. In this article, we will explore the ins and outs of the archivist profession, including specializations, tasks and responsibilities, demand, salary ranges, important qualities, career paths, and educational requirements. By the way, recently the ProfGuide career guidance center has developed a precise career orientation test, which will tell you which professions are suitable for you, provide a conclusion about your personality type and intelligence.


Introduction to Archivist as a Profession

Archivists are professionals who are responsible for collecting, organizing, preserving, and providing access to historical records and documents. These records can include manuscripts, letters, photographs, maps, films, and other materials that provide information about the past. Archivists play a crucial role in preserving our cultural heritage and ensuring that historical records are available to researchers, scholars, and the public.


There are many different types of archives, and archivists can specialize in different areas. For example, some archivists work in government archives, where they collect and preserve records related to the government's activities. Others work in university archives, where they collect and preserve records related to the university's history. There are also archivists who specialize in preserving records related to specific topics, such as art, music, or literature.

Tasks and Responsibilities

The tasks and responsibilities of an archivist can vary depending on their specialization and place of employment. However, some common tasks and responsibilities of an archivist include:

  • Collecting and appraising records and documents
  • Organizing and cataloging records and documents
  • Preserving and protecting records and documents
  • Providing access to records and documents
  • Creating finding aids and other tools to help researchers navigate the archives
  • Conducting research and answering inquiries from researchers and the public
  • Managing budgets and staff

Pros and Cons

As with any profession, there are both pros and cons to working as an archivist. Here are a few to consider:


  • Opportunity to work with historical documents and artifacts
  • Ability to contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage
  • Flexibility in job settings (government agencies, universities, museums, etc.)
  • Opportunities for research and continuing education


  • Limited job opportunities, particularly in smaller communities
  • Some job duties can be repetitive and tedious
  • Some positions may require a significant amount of time spent working alone
  • May require advanced education for higher-paying positions


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for archivists is projected to grow by 11% from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to the increasing need to preserve and manage electronic records and the growing interest in historical research and genealogy.

Salary Ranges

The salary ranges for archivists can vary depending on their place of employment, level of education, and years of experience. According to PayScale, the average salary for an archivist in the United States is $52,000 per year. However, salaries can range from $35,000 to $79,000 per year.

Where do Archivists Work?

Archivists work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, universities, museums, libraries, historical societies, and other cultural institutions. Archivists are needed to help these institutions preserve and manage their historical records and to provide access to researchers and the public.

Important Qualities of a Successful Archivist

To be successful as an archivist, there are several important qualities to possess. These include:

  • Attention to detail and strong organizational skills
  • Excellent research and analytical skills
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and manage projects
  • Strong interpersonal skills and ability to work collaboratively

Step-by-Step Career Path

The career path of an archivist typically involves several steps, which can include:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree: Most archivists have a bachelor's degree in a field such as history, library science, or archival studies.
  2. Gain experience: Many entry-level positions in archives require some experience in the field, which can be obtained through internships, volunteering, or part-time work.
  3. Earn a master's degree: Some archivist positions require a master's degree in archival studies, library science, history, or a related field. A master's degree can provide additional knowledge and skills needed for advanced positions in the field.
  4. Obtain certification: The Academy of Certified Archivists offers certification for archivists who meet certain educational and professional requirements.
  5. Advance in the field: With experience and additional education, archivists can advance to higher-level positions such as department head, director, or curator.

How to Become an Archivist

To become an archivist in the United States, a bachelor's degree is typically required. However, some positions may require a master's degree in archival studies, library science, history, or a related field. There are several universities and colleges in the United States that offer degree programs in archival studies, including:

  1. University of Maryland, College Park
  2. Simmons University
  3. University of Pittsburgh
  4. New York University
  5. University of California, Los Angeles

The length of time required to complete an archival studies program can vary depending on the program and the student's course load. Many master's degree programs can be completed in two years.

Can You Enter the Profession with a Different Degree?

While a degree in archival studies or a related field is preferred for most archivist positions, it is possible to enter the profession with a different degree. For example, someone with a degree in history or library science may be able to obtain a position in an archive with additional training and experience in archival studies. However, it may be more difficult to advance to higher-level positions without a degree in archival studies.


Archivists play a vital role in preserving our cultural heritage and making historical records accessible to researchers and the public. While the profession has its challenges, it can also be rewarding for those who have a passion for history and enjoy working with documents. If you are considering a career as an archivist, there are many educational and career opportunities available to help you pursue this exciting and important profession.

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