Is It Hard to Become an Archivist?

Many archivists call libraries their second home.
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If preserving documents, helping researchers find records, digitizing old records and performing the vast array of tasks attributed to an archivist sound interesting to you, chances are they sound interesting to others. That can be bad news when you consider archivist positions aren't exactly swollen in numbers. The highly competitive field means you'll need to offer employers qualifications they not only require, but also ones they prefer.


    You most likely won't be pushing open any doors in the archival field without at least some type of college education. Bank on just about all employers requiring a bachelor's degree at minimum; many archivists, the U.S. National Records and Archives Administration points out, have a master's degree in library science or history -- two fields of study that employers place a lot of emphasis on. Opt for a dual degree in those two fields of study and you'll really stand out.

Job Outlook

    There aren't a whole lot of archival positions out there. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6,100 archival jobs existed in 2010. BLS does project that about 700 additional positions will be added through 2020, a jump of about 12 percent, which is on par with the average for all other occupations.

Digital Age

    The digital age has completely changed the archival landscape. A decade ago, a lack of computer skills or familiarity with modern technology might not have marred your application. But now, the Smithsonian Institution Archives notes, many positions involve working with databases, electronic records, websites, social media and digitization. An absence of experience in those areas can add a few layers of difficulty to your job search. The BLS echoes the Smithsonian, explaining that demand for archivists who specialize in electronic records will grow more rapidly than demand for archivists who focus on older, increasingly dated formats.

Internships and Volunteer Work

    You'll typically strengthen your job prospects in any field if you participate in an internship or have volunteering experience, but interning and volunteering are especially important in the competitive archival field. The Smithsonian Institution Archives says that any type of hands-on experience, typically gained from interning or volunteering, is a "critical factor" in determining whether you receive a job offer. Most libraries, museums and other archival institutes offer volunteering positions and many offer internships. Visit the institute's website or contact it directly for that information.


    Show employers you offer the skills they're looking for in an archivist and you further separate yourself from the pack. All archivists must have excellent organizational skills to aid them in the vast amount of sorting, listing and uploading they'll take part in. Employers want archivists with solid research and writing skills to help describe collections, promote the organization through social networking, help determine which records to acquire and which to keep, and help researchers make use of those collections. Attention to detail, teamwork and problem-solving are other skills that will benefit your job search and you as an archivist.

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