To work as an archivist, you will need a graduate degree and related work experience—perhaps gained working in an archive while completing your formal education. Although archivists earn a variety of undergraduate degrees, most employers prefer a graduate degree in history or library science, with courses in archival science. You may find that some positions require knowledge of the discipline related to the collection, such as business or medicine.
A few institutions now offer master’s degrees in archival studies. Many colleges and universities offer courses or practical
training in archival science as part of their history, library science, or other curriculum. The Academy of Certified Archivists offers voluntary certification for archivists. You are eligible for the designation Certified Archivist once you have completed your master’s degree and a year of appropriate archival experience. The certification process requires that you pass a written examination, and you must renew your certification periodically.
Archivists need research and analytical ability to understand the content of documents and the context in which they were created and to decipher deteriorated or poor-quality printed matter, handwritten manuscripts, photographs, or films. A background in preservation management is often required because archivists are responsible for taking proper care of their records.
They also must be able to organize large amounts of information and write clear instructions for its retrieval and use. In
addition, computer skills and the ability to work with electronic records and databases are very important. Because electronic records are becoming the prevalent form of record keeping and archivists must be able to create searchable databases, a knowledge of Web technology is increasingly required.
Many archives, including one-person shops, are very small and have limited opportunities for promotion. In these settings, archivists typically advance by transferring to a larger unit that has supervisory positions. A doctorate in history, library science, or a related field may be needed for some advanced positions, such as director of a state or provincial archive.
Continuing education, which enables archivists to keep up with developments in the field, is available through meetings, conferences, and workshops sponsored by archival associations. Some larger organizations, such as the National Archives, offer in-house training.