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archivist

Archivist

An archivist manages and maintains collections of books, papers, maps, plans, photographs, prints, films, tapes, videos and computer records. These items help the work of researchers, providing a record of how people lived in the past.

The work of an archivist is likely to include:

  • arranging to acquire and retrieve records
  • identifying, evaluating and selecting documents to preserve or destroy
  • cataloguing and indexing
  • helping to make archives accessible
  • responding to requests from the public
  • advising on the use and interpretation of the material.

The working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and part-time work may be possible. Archivists work in offices, which may be comfortable and warm, although some may be cramped. Some tasks may be undertaken in dirty conditions. Records can be heavy and may be mouldy or dirty.

Salaries may range from £22,000 to £60,000 a year.

An archivist needs to:

  • be committed to heritage and information management
  • have an interest in history and in preserving records
  • be a strong communicator and have good customer service skills
  • have a logical mind
  • know how to do research
  • be comfortable with new technology.

There is a shortage of archivists and employment prospects are good. Almost half the archivists in the UK are employed in local government. The other main employers are national archives and museums, universities, businesses and charities. There are opportunities in all areas of the country, but a high proportion of specialist posts are in London.

Archivists need a good honours degree in any subject, followed by a postgraduate qualification in archives and records management. There are seven universities in the UK and Eire that offer these courses, most of which are one year full time or two years part time.

Many archivists are people who have changed careers.

In-house training may include archive interpretation, source studies, records management, dealing with electronic and digital records and archive service management, though this varies from one employer to another. The Society of Archivists runs short courses and workshops.

Short-term contracts are common in the first two years after qualification. Many people start as assistant archivists. Some progress to senior posts, taking on management responsibilities. Promotion may involve moving to another organisation or area.

What is the work like?

An archivist manages and maintains collections of archives, which may consist of books, papers, maps, plans, photographs, prints, films, tapes, videos or computer records. These archives help the work of researchers, providing a record of how people lived in the past, and how organisations, government and institutions operated. In turn, the information we generate today will, if properly preserved, show future generations how we live and work.

During everyday life, families, individuals and organisations create material that is collected by, for example:

  • museums
  • government agencies
  • local authorities
  • libraries
  • NHS sites
  • universities
  • businesses
  • charities
  • professional organisations.

Increasingly, archives that have widespread interest are being digitised and made available over the internet to make them more accessible.

Archivists have an important role in working with users of their services. They explain which archives exist, how they are organised and what information they contain.

The work of an archivist is likely to include:

  • arrangements for acquiring and retrieving records, which may involve negotiating for them to be donated or sold to the archive, if they belong to a private organisation or family
  • identifying, evaluating and selecting documents to be preserved or destroyed
  • preparing record-keeping systems, including cataloguing and indexing, using specialist software to store archives on computers and make them available over the internet
  • helping to make archives accessible to people who want to use them through computer-aided searches or by making archives available on the internet
  • responding to requests from members of the public (by phone, fax, email and in person), who may be researching family history or their local community as a leisure interest or for a university project
  • advising on the use and interpretation of the material
  • arranging exhibitions and events
  • giving talks
  • managing budgets and applying for grants.

Archivists usually work with a small team. Sometimes they work alone, but are often in contact with the public and other organisations.

Hours and environment

The working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although evening and weekend work may be required. Part-time work is possible.

The working environment can vary. Some offices are comfortable and modern with good facilities, but others may be more cramped. Some tasks may have to be undertaken in dirty conditions, particularly when retrieving records. Records can be heavy and may be mouldy or dirty.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries may be from around £22,000 a year.
  • An experienced archivist may earn around £27,000.
  • Senior archivists with specialist knowledge can earn from around £35,800 up to £60,000.

Skills and personal qualities

An archivist needs to:

  • be committed to heritage and information management
  • have good communication and customer service skills
  • be forward thinking, as demands for information are constantly changing
  • have a logical mind to identify and sort information
  • know how to do research
  • be comfortable with new technology, computer packages and systems
  • be committed to professional development after qualifying.

Interests

It helps to have an interest in:

  • history and preserving records
  • working with people
  • information technology.

Getting in

There is a shortage of archivists, and employment prospects are good at the moment. There are around 1,500 archivists in the UK. Just under half are employed in local government. The other main employers are national archives and museums, universities, businesses and charities. Although there are opportunities in all areas of the country, a high proportion of specialist posts are in London.

Competition for places on postgraduate courses is fierce and applicants need to gain some work experience first. This can be paid or voluntary. The Society of Archivists can provide details of organisations that offer work experience placements. Local authorities also offer voluntary opportunities.

Many archivists are people who have changed careers.

Initially, archivists tend to be employed on fixed-term contracts, so being able to move to different parts of the country for a job is an advantage.

Jobs are advertised in the Society of Archivists' recruitment publication ARC Recruitment and in the national and local press.

Entry routes

To enter training as an archivist, students need a first degree in any subject. Many archivists have degrees in history, classics, languages or information science, but the class of the degree is more important than the subject. At least a 2.1 honours degree is normally required.

The minimum requirements for a degree course are two A levels and five GCSEs grades (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. Those without the usual entry qualifications can take an Access course.

After gaining a first degree, students then study for a postgraduate qualification in archives and records management, recognised by the Society of Archivists. There are seven universities in the UK and Eire that offer these courses:

  • University of Wales, Aberystwyth
  • University College Dublin
  • University of Liverpool
  • University College London
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Northumbria.

Most of these courses are offered on a one-year full-time basis or for two years part time. Opportunities for distance learning are increasing. Further information is available on the Society of Archivists' website.

Knowledge of Latin is useful for some posts in county archives, but for the majority of jobs it is not necessary.

It is possible to enter archive work at a lower level, eg as a search room assistant, typically with A levels or equivalent qualifications. At present, there is no alternative qualifying route for people entering at this level. They still need to study for a degree and a postgraduate qualification to become professional archivists. Lifelong Learning UK is currently consulting with the Libraries, Archives and Information sector and it is envisaged that new qualifications will be available from December 2010.

Training

Many archivists continue with in-house training once they start work. Training opportunities vary with different employers. The Society of Archivists runs short courses and workshops.

Training may include archive interpretation, source studies, records management, dealing with electronic and digital records and archive service management.

Once qualified, archivists are encouraged to follow the Society of Archivists' Registration Scheme, which demonstrates a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD).

Getting on

Short-term contracts are common in the first two years after qualification. Once they have gained some experience, archivists are in a stronger position when applying for permanent positions. There may be some opportunities for self-employment and overseas work.

Many people start as assistant archivists. Some progress to senior posts, taking on management responsibilities. Promotion may involve moving to another organisation or area.

It is possible to move from archive work into records management.

Further information

http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/node/20744

The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. 020 8876 3444. Website: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Records Management Society (RMS), Benchmark Communications, 14 Blandford Square, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4HZ. 0191 244 2839. Website: www.rms-gb.org.uk

Society of Archivists, Prioryfield House, 20 Canon Street, Taunton, Somerset TA1 1SW. 01823 327030. Website: www.archives.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

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