Do you want to be the next Edouard Desrochers (The Da Vinci Code) or Iva Vukusic? Well, you’re in the right place! Blow the dust and cobwebs off this job description and you’ll find out everything you ever wanted to know about the professional life of an archivist.
Archivists are the highly-organised people who accumulate, organise and preserve documents and other records. These ‘basement dwelling sentinels’ can work for all kinds of organisations, from universities and government departments to broadcasting corporations and hospitals.
Often looking after rare, fragile and historically significant records, archivists are responsible for helping researchers, academics and other people access the reports, documents, video footage, maps, books and photos that they need for their various projects.
Archivists speed up the process of locating relevant records, but they also oversee the use of archived materials, putting appropriate measures in place to make sure that these valuable and important items do not get damaged.
The preservation and conservation of archived materials is a primary concern for all archivists, and many professionals in this area are actually responsible for physically repairing damaged or weathered items.
New and improved ways of protecting archived materials from harm are being put in place all the time, and many archivists are now responsible for transforming documents, photographs and other records into a digital format. This makes materials easier to access andalso prevents any damage being inflicted on the records as a result of clumsy manhandling.
Archivists also work alongside records managers to develop and maintain record management systems, which are essential for the effective management of extensive archives.
Archivists who work for archive centres that are open to the public may also be required to lead presentations and guided tours from time to time.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level archivists tend to earn between £20,000 and £30,000 per annum, while senior archivists can earn up to £50,000 a year.
Although archivists typically work from nine-to-five, you may be required to work weekends and evenings from time to time.
You may occasionally be required to work in confined spaces, so people who suffer from claustrophobia may want to think about pursuing different career options.
For the majority of archivists, candidates will need to complete a postgraduate qualification in archive management or a similar subject.
At undergraduate-level, the subject you choose is not as important; however, the majority of archivists tend to complete a humanities or social sciences degree.
It is possible to enter this line of work with just an undergraduate degree, but you may have to start off as an assistant and then complete further study before you can move up the career ladder.
Check out our Courses section to find out which universities offer degrees in archive management.
Entry onto these postgraduate courses is often quite tough. Consequently, many postgraduate courses will require you to complete relevant work experience before applying.
Often, the ability to speak another modern language, or perhaps even an ancient language such as Latin or Hebrew, can be vital for those wishing to secure an entry-level archivist position.
Training & progression
The majority of your initial training will involve getting to grips with in-house processes and record management systems.
Once you have settled into your role, you may be given the opportunity to attend training courses offered by organisations, such as the Archives and Records Association (ARA).
Opportunities for internal career progression are fairly limited, as most archive management teams are quite small. Consequently, many people move to larger organisations in search of senior positions.
Some archivists move into records management, while others simply choose to specialise in one particular area of archive management, such as war crimes evidence.