Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in doing archival work, high school is not too early to begin your training. Since it is usually necessary to earn a master's degree to become an archivist, you should select a college preparatory curriculum in high school and plan on going to college. While in high school, you should pay special attention to learning library and research skills. Classes in English, history, science, and mathematics will provide you with basic skills and knowledge for university study. Computer and journalism courses will help you hone your database-searching and research skills, and political science courses will help you identify events of societal importance. Since many archives are becoming electronic, computer science, database management, and Web technology classes will be especially useful. You should also plan on learning at least one foreign language. If you are interested in doing archival work at a religious organization, Latin or Hebrew may be good language options. If you would like to work in a specialized archive, such as an art gallery or medical school archive, you should also focus on classes that will prepare you for that specialty.

Postsecondary Training

To prepare for archival work in college, you should get a degree in the liberal arts. You will probably want to study history, library science, or a related field, since there are currently no undergraduate programs that deal solely with the archival sciences. You should take any specific courses in archival methods that are available to you as an undergraduate.

Since many employers prefer to hire archivists with a graduate degree, consider any course load that may help you gain entrance into a program to earn a master's degree in library and information science or history. A few colleges offer master’s degrees in archival science.

Graduate school will give you the opportunity to learn more specific details about archival work. More than 65 colleges and universities offer classes in the archival sciences as part of other degree programs. These courses will teach you how to do many aspects of archival work, from selecting items and organizing collections to preparing documentation and conserving materials. While in graduate school, you may be able to secure a part-time job or assistantship at your school's archives. Many university archives rely on their own students to provide valuable help maintaining collections; students who work there gain firsthand knowledge and experience in the archival field.

A few colleges and universities offer master's degrees in archival studies. The Society of American Archivists offers a list of graduate programs in archival sciences at its Web site,

Many positions require a second master's degree in a specific field or a doctorate degree. An archivist at a historical society may need a master's degree in history and another master's in library and information science. Candidates with bachelor's degrees may serve as assistants while they complete their formal training.

Other Education or Training

Keeping up with industry developments is key to success as an archivist. Professional associations often provide continuing education (CE) opportunities. The Society of American Archivists, for example, offers a variety of workshops and seminars. Recent topics included "Basics of Managing Electronic Records: Getting You Started," "Introduction to Processing Digital Records and Manuscripts," "Preservation Formats in the Context of PDF," and "Project Standards for Digital Archives." Other organizations that provide CE resources include the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Association of Moving Image Archivists, National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, Council of State Archivists, and the Association of Canadian Archivists. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Although not currently required by most employers, voluntary certification for archivists is available from the Academy of Certified Archivists. Certification is earned by gaining practical experience in archival work, taking requisite courses, and passing an examination on the history, theory, and practice of archival science. Archivists need to renew their certification status every five years, usually by examination. Certification can be especially useful to archivists wishing to work in the corporate world.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Many archivists work in archives or museums during college to obtain experience. Some jobs may require three to five years of professional experience.

Archivists need to have excellent research and organizational skills. They should be comfortable working with rare and fragile materials. They need to maintain archives with absolute discretion, especially in the case of closed archives or archives available only for specific users. Archivists also need to be able to communicate effectively with all types of people that may use the archives, since they will be explaining the research methods and the policies and procedures of their organization. Finally, archivists may be required to move heavy boxes and other awkward materials. An archivist should be comfortable lifting or carrying large objects, although requirements may be different for various organizations and arrangements can often be made for professionals with different abilities.