How To Become an Archivist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 June 2021

An archivist is a professional who collects, preserves and stores information. They mostly work for historical societies, libraries, and museums. There are also many opportunities to do private consultancy work. Understanding the steps you can take to become an archivist can help you plan your career. In this article, we look at what archivist jobs entail, archivists' education, training, skills and how to become an archivist.

What does an archivist do?

An archivist evaluates and documents various company records and historical documents. These can be letters, written records, photographs, audio and/or visual recordings and digital records of historical interest or significance. Such records may have a continuing historical value and will have to be preserved.

Below is a list of the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of an archivist:

  • Examining and preserving administrative, historical, academic, legal and evidential records.

  • Preparing record-keeping systems, guides, procedures and indexes for record retention or destruction.

  • Identifying and classifying artefacts for restoration work.

  • Examining items to determine their condition and genuineness.

  • Managing the company's central records systems.

  • Managing digitised and manual record management systems and advising on their usage.

  • Controlling access and retrieval of confidential information and recommending the best procedures for accessing them.

  • Liaising with depositors and donors of archives to acquire new collections.

  • Developing and monitoring the use of record-keeping, cataloguing, coding and classification systems.

How to become an archivist

Here are steps that describe how to become an archivist:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

You typically need a bachelor's degree to work as an archivist. Some employers consider applicants with a degree in social sciences, humanities and a postgraduate diploma in records management and archives. Additional qualifications such as information and library studies or information management also qualify you for employment as an archivist.

If you are not able to join university, you can also get Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification after completing your secondary school. Colleges have different entry requirements with English and mathematics being prerequisites.

2. Undergo training in archiving work

Whether you hold a formal qualification or not, there are many opportunities available to enhance your knowledge of archiving and gain more experience. Working as an apprentice or trainee with a library or historical society is a good way of honing your skills. A formal training contract with an institution can enable you to complete training towards a nationally recognized qualification so you can start applying for archives jobs.

You can undertake an apprenticeship while you're still in university or immediately after completing your vocational training. Talk to your internship or placement coordinator to start your training preparation now. If you've completed school, you can apply for a traineeship and get paid to work as you learn.

3. Develop the relevant skills

To work as an archivist, you can be inquisitive, be methodical and have an interest in records preservation and management. You can use computers a lot, so it's helpful to be IT literate.

Other essential attributes and skills include:

  • Categorising skills: These abilities can help you devise ways or methods of grouping things.

  • Researching and investigating skills: These skills give you the ability to search for, get, and understand different kinds of information

  • Public communication: This skill can help you disseminate information to the public, business or government agencies in person, in writing, or by telephone.

  • Administrative skills: As an archivist, you can use administrative skills to manage records and people working on archiving projects.

  • Interpersonal skills: It can be helpful to be able to communicate and relate well with different people as an archivist.

4.Get industry recognition

Join the Australian Society of Archivists after you complete your studies as this may help you find job opportunities and enhance your professional standing.

5. Find work as an archivist

Whether you are just finishing archival training or looking to change jobs, periodically check the jobs listing online and local job boards. Once you identify a job, check the specific requirements and preferred qualifications for the vacant position. Job listings will give you a good idea of the requisite skills and knowledge.

A helpful strategy for finding a job is to avoid limiting yourself to a specialty or certain types of jobs. Instead, you can look out for employment opportunities in records management, information management, conservation and record keeping. If you took fundamental courses in university, you may be able to meet the entry requirements for a large amount of archival work.

Working conditions for archivists

Archivists work for local government councils, tertiary institutions, banks, building societies, and large corporate companies that keep important historical records. Others work for museums and trade associations. A typical archivist works regular office hours, that is an average of 40 hours a week. They do most of their work in indoor storage areas with monitored and controlled light, heat and humidity to preserve the delicate material inside. In larger institutions with big archives, archivists often work with teams. Organisations and associations with a smaller collection of documents or records may have one person managing their archives.

Archiving work can allow you to meet people from different professional and academic backgrounds. Depending on your employer, you may work alone or with little supervision, which gives you the chance to experiment with new ideas. While most archive jobs are in public administration and safety, there are also opportunities in healthcare, arts and recreation. Some archivists specialise in the care of certain types of information and records such as maps, parchments and videos. These are historical archivists. Others focus on information relating to specific subject areas.

Common questions on archivist jobs

Here are answers to some common questions pertaining to archivist jobs:

How long does it take to become an archivist?

It can take between two and four years to start working as an archivist. The duration depends on whether you pursue a four-year university degree or a post-graduate after completing your university studies in related disciplines. If you're lucky, you might get archive work immediately after vocational training.

What qualifications do you need to become an archivist?

You typically need a bachelor's degree from a nationally recognized university in Australia to be considered for archivist jobs in Australia, even for entry-level positions. Once qualified, you can move between different organisations and assume various roles. Universities across the country have various prerequisites for applicants. Contact the university you'd like to join for more information.

How do I know if archiving is the right career for me?

You can develop a keen interest in and awareness of history and the value of records for you to work as an archivist. It's also important for you to have a high-level understanding of relevant legislation that governs the use of records and information management.

To work as an archivist, you can have an analytical mind. This means you can search for facts and find solutions to problems. You can also be willing to help people or provide them with the information they need. Another important aspect of this job is practicality. You can develop skills with hands-on work often with plants, materials and tools. Starting and carrying out projects is another important attribute for anyone seeking an archivist job. At times, you can lead people and make critical decisions that touch on the business or your organisation.

What is the salary for archive jobs in Australia?

The average salary for an archivist is $89,621 per year in Australia. Their pay can depend on work experience and location.

How can an archivist grow in their career?

Joining professional associations like the Australian Society of Archivists is a fantastic way of advancing your career and establishing professional networks. As a member, you will enjoy many benefits such as scholarships, access to their job board and even participate in various workshops.

Enrolling for a master's degree in library science, archival science, or public administration is another way that an archivist can grow in their careers. Once you complete your master's degree, you can take up more responsibilities within the institution or organisation.

Are archivists in demand?

The number of people employed in archivist jobs has grown strongly over the last five years from over 8,000 in 2014 to upwards of 10,000 in 2019. However, the job market is changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Demand for archivists is projected to grow much faster than the national average for other jobs. The demand is due to an increase in the number of public and private organisations that need their huge volumes of documents and records be organized and made accessible.

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