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How to Become an Archivist

Archivists must usually have a bachelor’s degree in history or library science, although some employers require an advanced degree and related work experience. People often gain experience by working or volunteering in archives.


Although archivists may enter the profession with a variety of undergraduate degrees, including history and library science, most employers prefer a graduate degree in history, library science, archival science, or records management.

Many colleges and universities offer courses or practical training in archival techniques in history, library science, and other similar programs. A few institutions offer master's degrees in archival studies.

Some positions may require knowledge of the discipline related to a collection, such as computer science, business, or medicine. Some institutions are developing special computer and information systems training to prepare students to manage digital records.

Many archives offer volunteer or internship opportunities where students can gain experience.


The Academy of Certified Archivists offers voluntary certification for archivists. Archivists with at least a master's degree and a year of appropriate archival experience can obtain the Certified Archivist credential by passing a written exam. They must renew their certification periodically by retaking the exam or fulfilling continuing education credits. At this time, only few employers require or prefer certification.


Continuing education is available through meetings, conferences, and workshops sponsored by archival, historical, and museum associations. Some larger organizations, such as the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, offer training in-house.

Many archives, especially those maintained by one archivist, are very small and have limited opportunities for promotion. Archivists typically advance by transferring to a larger archive that has supervisory positions. A doctorate in history, library science, or a related field may be needed for some advanced positions, such as director of a state archive.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Because not all documents are easy to decipher, archivists need good analytical skills to determine a document’s importance or historical significance.

Computer skills. Archivists should have good computer skills because they use and develop complex databases related to the materials they store and access. 

Customer-service skills. Archivists work with the general public on a regular basis. They must be courteous and friendly and be able to help users find materials.

Organizational skills. Archivists must store and easily retrieve any records or documents. They also develop logical systems of storage for the public to use.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition