Careers in Archive Conservation

If you are keen to specialise in archive conservation please read on tofind out about the skills and qualifications you will require and the opportunitiesavailable to you

An archive conservator is responsible for the preservation and conservation of archives. They are responsible for a wide range of material such as manuscript books and documents, seals, maps, photographs, film and possibly magnetic recordings and machine readable records, such as computer punch cards.          

An immense amount of job satisfaction can be gained from handling and repairing unique historical materials and helping to preserve for posterity items which would otherwise not survive.

The Skills

Archive conservators need to have a unique combination of skills. A high level of manual dexterity is obviously necessary, as is an understanding of chemistry and a lot of patience and concentration.  Conservators also need to be:

  • forward thinking - conservators need to assess new treatment options and the physical demands of new technologies on archives,
  • open minded - in choosing an appropriate treatment, conservators must resolve the often conflicting needs of the document and the user,
  • analytical - conservators need to investigate the history and make up of documents. The techniques and materials that are available for their treatment and how these affect the document in the long term,
  • technology savvy - you will need to be comfortable with rapidly evolving ICT (Information Communication Technology) packages and systems.          

The Qualifications       

General Courses

There are general courses in conservation specialising in books and archives at:

There are also S/NVQs available in Collections Care and Conservation at Levels 3-5.

Entrance requirements naturally vary from course to course and you must make enquiries to each institution            

The ARA Conservation Training Scheme

Training posts are also occasionally offered by Record Offices wherein the trainee undertakes the Archives and Records Association Conservation Training Scheme. The scheme offers practical and theoretical training by ARA certified instructors at a variety of offices around the country.

Candidates should have at least 5 'O' Levels/GCSEs, including English Language. It would be useful to demonstrate craft skills and to have an appreciation of the intrinsic value of historical material.      

The Market

Many archive conservators work in local authority archives, library and university archives, local history centres and museums. Employment possibilities don't just end in this country, as many UK trained conservators have found work all over the world, particularly in Europe, America and Australasia.

Some conservators choose to work on a freelance basis, working for organisations or private individuals. As freelance work can be particularly challenging, it is advisable to gain some experience before considering the pressures of working independently.

Most local authority and university jobs are advertised through ARC Recruitment. This ARA publication is sent to all members and becomes available later to non-members through the Association's website.

Jobs are also advertised through the Conservation On-line (CoOL) discussion list, and the archives-nra email discussion list and the national and local press.     

Salary recommendation

See ARA's salary recommendations here.