What is an Archivist?

Are you someone who loves history, and wants to have a hand at preserving it? Being an archivist is an amazing role, and one you may want to consider.

What an archivist does today will actually matter decades from now. Archives are all about understanding the present by preserving the past.

Archivists assess whether a piece of information is of value, then maintain and store the information in the best way possible. The information that is being examined and maintained can take on any number of forms including documents, letters, photographs, audio recordings and videos.

What does an Archivist do?

An archivist keeping records in a filing drawer.

An archivist's main responsibility is to decide which records are of value. This requires a great deal of understanding of the historical context of the records. The historical context shows the record's relationship to other records, why the record was used, and why the record was created in the first place.

Once a record is determined to be valuable to preserve, archivists must describe and arrange the record in such a way that people are able to access the information and make sense of it.

Archivists need to have a good grasp of history and, in particular, the history surrounding the time period that is relevant to the archives that are being collected. Archives are most often paper records. However, accurate records require a good deal of technological competency. Maintaining paper records is not as simple as filing in the appropriate location. They must be conserved in the right way so that they do not deteriorate.

Several professional fields work closely with archives including the records manager and the historian. While there is a great deal of overlap between these professions, the goals of maintaining archives are different.

Records managers maintain large volumes of temporary information for large institutions, whereas archives are small in number and are collected so that they might be kept for a long periods of time. A historian's goal is to examine archives so that historical truths might be derived, whereas an archivist is collecting the data so that it can be researched.

Are you suited to be an archivist?

Archivists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also conventional, meaning they’re conscientious and conservative.

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What is the workplace of an Archivist like?

The places in which archives are stored are known as 'archival repositories' and vary a great deal. Archival repositories are found in universities, businesses, religious institutions, museums, historical societies, hospitals, and all levels of government.

Archival work is typically done within an office setting. For larger institutions, an archivist works alongside other archivists, historians, and assistants. In many archival repositories there are only one or two employees which leads to much of the work being performed independently.

Archivists are also known as:
Chronicler Museum Archivist Preservationist