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Archivist

Assembles, catalogues, preserves and manages historically valuable collections of information, which may exist in a wide variety of formats.

Organisations and people accumulate archives, which 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. They are the records maintained permanently by a given institution in any medium because of their legal, fiscal, informational, evidential, and historical value. 'Archives' is also a term used to describe the physical site where records of permanent value are arranged, described, preserved, and made available, or the department within an organisation responsible for administering the Archives.

Archivists locate, preserve and store records to a professional standard. They are responsible for implementing the management and administration of records and storage and retrieval of collections. 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.

Work activities

  • Identifying records for preservation.
  • Sorting, listing and cataloguing collections.
  • Placement in and retrieval from repository
  • Advising employers, staff and researchers on storage, access and conservation issues.
  • Advising on use of archival material in exhibitions and publications.
  • Implementing records management schedule and formulating policy for future development of service.

Work conditions

Travel: during working day is occasional.
Working hours: mainly Monday – Friday Office hours possibly with some extra hours.
Location: widely available.
Opportunities for self-employment: while very few archivists are currently self-employed, opportunities for this are growing.

Typical employers

  • Civil Service and local authorities
  • National Archives of Ireland
  • Third level institutions
  • Religious bodies
  • Charitable & cultural organisations
  • Banks
  • Businesses
  • Hospitals
  • Museums
  • Professional organisations.

Career development

Many start as an assistant archivist on fixed term contracts. It may be necessary to move to another area to obtain posts or progress to senior positions. Some move into records management.

Salaries

Salaries vary depending on employer and sector of employment. However, the Society of Archivists recommends that the minimum salary paid to archivists, archive conservators and records managers who have recently qualified in their respective professions should be £22,001.

Entry requirements

Open to graduates of any discipline.

Other relevant degree subjects

  • Archive and museum studies
  • Classics
  • English
  • Geography
  • History
  • Law
  • Library and information studies
  • Modern languages.

Postgraduate study

To become a record professional (a term used to describe both archivists and records managers) you will need to achieve a postgraduate qualification in archives and/or records management. The minimum requirement for professional employment is a Postgraduate Diploma recognised by the Society of Archivists such as the Postgraduate Diploma in Archival Studies (UCD).

Specific entry requirements

History is occasionally stipulated as a degree subject by employers although other subjects such as literature, languages or geography may also be sought. Latin may be required for posts in archives services that preserve large quantities of medieval or ecclesiastical records; however, as most medieval records have already been catalogued and translated, knowledge of Latin is not as essential as it may have been in the past.

A high level of computer literacy is now essential for all posts, knowledge of technology is desirable and a clean driving licence is sometimes a requisite.

Training

Continuing development based at the workplace as well as through professional contribution, private study and further training courses is encouraged and the Society of Archivists offers various in-service courses and continuous professional development.

Tips for applications

Substantial practical paid or voluntary experience is required for applications to postgraduate programmes to be successful.

Skills and qualities

  • Good communication and interpersonal skills combined with the ability to work with many different people.
  • Forward thinking – ability to anticipate changing demands for and use of information.
  • Excellent research and organisational skills.
  • Commitment to professional development.
  • Comfortable with new technology and knowledge of industry specific software.
  • Curiosity about the past combined with patience and an eye for detail.