How do I Become an Archivist?

N. Phipps

An archivist performs many functions related to the identification, storage, and preservation of a wide range of records. Ranging from historical letters, manuscripts, diaries, and other documents to photographs, coins, maps, film, and video recordings, archivist careers abound. They can be found working in government agencies, museums, libraries, zoos, hospitals, universities, religious organizations, and private businesses. A person can become an archivist and find work in nearly any institution that requires these experts.

An archivist stores, identifies and preserves a wide range of records.
An archivist stores, identifies and preserves a wide range of records.

Since numerous opportunities are available, a person wanting to become an archivist can choose just about any field of interest. In addition to the general duties previously listed, an archivist’s work may vary according to the field chosen. For instance, museum archivists might also research and document various artifacts. Library archivist careers involve the acquisition, indexing, and storage of various historically valuable records and documents. Genealogists archive and keep track of family historical records.

Museum archivists research and document artifacts.
Museum archivists research and document artifacts.

Zoo archivists help maintain veterinary records and historical information on individual species. Medical archivists compile, process, and maintain medical records of hospitals and patients. Digital archivists organize and protect a variety of digital files. As technology increases, many people are choosing to become archivists in this particular field.

Depending on the field, archivists may also plan educational programs and participate in workshops and lectures. Regardless of the chosen field, all archivists require an understanding of the historical context of the records they are working with, the uses for which they were intended, and their significance to other sources. Individuals can prepare for a career in archives through a variety of educational programs.

Most entry-level archivists have degrees in archival science, history, or library science. Therefore, in order to become an archivist, it helps to have or obtain either a bachelor’s or master’s degree within one of these fields. A PhD is often preferred for high-ranking positions in academic institutions. Many colleges and universities also offer additional training courses in archival science and techniques.

Public administration and political science experience may also be helpful. Particular knowledge of certain subjects may be important for work in archives that have specialized topics, such as Native American history. At least a year of archival experience is also required. Oftentimes, internships are provided by museums or related organizations that allow students to gain this experience while pursuing their degrees.

In addition, those training to become an archivist will usually receive voluntary certification. This is accomplished through the Academy of Certified Archivists. Generally, applicants for certification must have a minimum of a master degree along with related archival experience. Passing a written exam is also required to become an archivist, in many areas. These certifications, once obtained, must be renewed about every five years.

Archivists may find work at a library.
Archivists may find work at a library.

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How would someone become a medical records archivist? Is there a need for this career?

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