Careers in Archives
Understand more about what a career in archives entails, the skills andqualifications you need and how to take your interest further.
In the course of business lots of organisations and people accumulate archives. These include government agencies, local authorities, universities, hospitals, museums, businesses, charities, professional organisations, families and individuals.
Archives may be books or papers, maps or plans, photographs or prints, films, tapes or videos, or computer generated records. Archives are intended to be kept permanently, to preserve the past and allow others to discover it.
It is the job of the archivist to preserve and exploit this archival heritage and the information contained within it. This includes assisting users and answering enquiries, promotional work including exhibitions, presentations or media work, as well as the curatorial skills of selecting, arranging and cataloguing archives. In addition, archivists at a more senior level will also carry out management tasks as they take control of budgets, staff and strategy.
Archivists can gain immense job satisfaction from the variety of tasks they are involved in; handling items hundreds of years old and widening access to heritage.
To work as an archivist you must be committed to customer service as well as heritage and information management. Archivists also need to be:
- good with people: archivists meet and work with many different people and need the ability to relate to and encourage them all
- forward thinking: our demands for and use of information are constantly changing: archivists need to be able to anticipate these changes and to prepare to meet the challenges they bring
- logical: archives need identifying and sorting before they can be effectively interpreted or used
- able to undertake research: archivists are not researchers but may occasionally need to research in order to interpret archives; an understanding of research skills is also helpful for advising users. An interest in history is often advantageous, although many archivists possess degrees in other disciplines
- committed to professional development: archivists need to be prepared to continue their development after qualification, acquiring management skills and skills which enable them to play a full part in the development of the heritage sector
- comfortable with new technology: you will need to demonstrate the ability to use and adapt to rapidly evolving ICT (Information Communication Technology) packages and systems.
To become an archivist you need a first degree (subject not strictly relevant) and a postgraduate qualification recognised by the Archives and Records Association. There are courses currently offered by:
- Aberystwyth University
- Maynooth University
- University College Dublin
- University of Dundee
- University of Glasgow
- University of Liverpool
- University College London
Most of these courses are offered full or part time, and opportunities for distance learning are available at Aberystwyth and Dundee.
All the above universities and courses have been accredited by the Archives and Records Association's Qualifications Accreditation Team against set criteria. These can be viewed via the following link Accreditation of Post-Graduate Qualifications Criteria
Please note the new course offered by Plymouth University is not currently accredited by the Archives and Records Association.
Work experience placements
Competition for places on courses is fierce. Some substantial practical paid or voluntary experience is very helpful for applications to be successful. Many local archives are prepared to accommodate volunteers interested in a career in archives. See the ARA guidance on work experience placements.
Principal employment sectors are national archives or museums, universities, businesses and charities. Just under half the archivists in the UK and Ireland are employed in local government. Although very few archivists are self-employed, opportunities for this are growing.
Most jobs are advertised through ARC Recruitment. This ARA publlication is sent to all members and becomes available later to non-members through the Association's website. Jobs are also advertised occasionally in the national and local press, and on the archives-nra email discussion list.
Continued Career Development
Once qualified, archivists are encouraged to undertake the Archives and Records Association's Professional Development Programme, which demonstrates a commitment to continuing professional development and improves career prospects.
See ARA's salary recommendation here.