What is an Archivist?

An archivist is responsible for the preservation, organization, and management of historical records and documents. The primary objective of an archivist is to ensure the longevity and accessibility of records that are significant for future generations.

Archivists typically work in a variety of settings, including libraries, museums, historical societies, government agencies, and corporations. They may also work in academic institutions, archives, or research centers that specialize in specific subject areas, such as science or medicine. Archivists use specialized techniques to evaluate, acquire, arrange, describe, and preserve records, ensuring that they remain in good condition and are accessible to researchers and other users.

What does an Archivist do?

An archivist working on her computer.

Archivists play an important role in maintaining our cultural heritage and ensuring that we have access to important historical documents and artifacts. Archivists also play an important role in providing information and guidance to researchers, scholars, and the general public who seek to access historical records. T

Duties and Responsibilities
Here are the detailed duties and responsibilities of an archivist:

  • Collection development: Archivists must be knowledgeable about the history and context of the records and documents in their collection. They evaluate potential acquisitions based on the collection's mission and goals, and consider factors such as historical significance, uniqueness, and condition. They may also negotiate with donors or sellers to acquire records for the collection.
  • Preservation: Archivists are responsible for preserving the physical integrity of the records and documents in their collection. They assess the physical condition of records and documents, identify preservation issues, and develop strategies to prevent damage or deterioration. These strategies may include environmental controls, proper storage and handling, and conservation treatments.
  • Access and reference: Archivists make the records and documents in their collection available to researchers, scholars, and the public. They develop finding aids and catalog records that describe the contents of the collection and assist users in locating materials. They also provide reference services, helping researchers find and use the materials they need.
  • Description and arrangement: Archivists organize records and documents in the collection into logical groupings that reflect their content and context. This process, called arrangement, may involve sorting materials into series, folders, or boxes, and labeling them appropriately. Archivists also create finding aids and catalog records that describe the contents of the collection and assist users in locating materials.
  • Outreach and promotion: Archivists promote the collection and its resources to the public through a variety of outreach activities. They may create exhibits, offer tours of the collection, or develop educational programs. These activities raise awareness of the collection and encourage people to use its resources.
  • Digitization and digital preservation: Archivists may digitize records and documents in the collection to make them more accessible to users. They also develop strategies for the long-term preservation of digital materials, which may include creating backups and monitoring file formats and storage media.
  • Records management: In some cases, archivists are responsible for the management of records in a non-archival setting, such as a government agency or private business. They develop policies and procedures for the management of records, and ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Research and scholarship: Archivists conduct research and scholarship in their areas of expertise, and may publish articles, books, or other materials based on their research. They may also collaborate with other researchers to develop new approaches to managing and preserving historical materials.
  • Administration: Archivists may have administrative responsibilities, such as managing budgets, supervising staff, and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the archive. They must also stay up-to-date on developments in the field of archival science, and may attend conferences or participate in professional organizations to maintain their knowledge and skills.

Types of Archivists
There are several types of archivists, including:

  • Appraisal Archivists: These archivists evaluate collections to determine their historical and research value. They may also work with donors to acquire new collections that are relevant to the archive's mission and goals. They use their knowledge of the archive's subject areas and research interests to identify materials that will be of long-term value.
  • Processing Archivists: These archivists arrange and describe archival collections to facilitate access and use by researchers. They create finding aids and other descriptive tools that help users navigate collections and find relevant materials. They may also rehouse materials and perform basic conservation tasks to ensure that the collections are preserved for future generations.
  • Reference Archivists: These archivists assist researchers in using archival collections, providing reference services and helping researchers locate materials. They may also provide instruction on how to use archival materials and offer guidance on research strategies and methodologies.
  • Digital Archivists: These archivists specialize in managing digital records and archives, including electronic documents, photographs, and other born-digital materials. They may work to digitize physical collections, or they may focus on born-digital materials that were created in digital format. They use specialized software and tools to manage and preserve digital materials.
  • Preservation Archivists: These archivists focus on the preservation of archival materials, developing and implementing preservation strategies to protect collections from deterioration. They may work to mitigate risks such as environmental hazards or pests, or they may focus on preventive measures such as proper storage and handling techniques.
  • Outreach Archivists: These archivists work to promote the use of archival collections and increase awareness of their historical and research value through public programming and outreach activities. They may develop exhibitions, give presentations, or create educational materials to engage diverse audiences.
  • Institutional Archivists: These archivists manage the archival collections of a particular organization or institution, such as a university, government agency, or museum. They may also work to acquire new collections that are relevant to the institution's mission and goals.
  • Community Archivists: These archivists work with communities and organizations to document their history and culture, and to preserve and make accessible their archival materials. They may work with underrepresented groups or communities to ensure that their stories and experiences are documented and preserved for future generations.

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?

Archivists work in a variety of settings, including museums, libraries, universities, government agencies, and private companies. The workplace of an archivist can vary depending on their employer, but there are some common elements that can be found in most archivist positions.

One of the primary tasks of an archivist is to organize and maintain collections of historical materials. This can involve a significant amount of physical work, as archivists must carefully sort through documents, photographs, and other artifacts to ensure that they are properly categorized and stored. This work can be physically demanding, requiring long hours of standing and lifting heavy boxes and files.

In addition to physical work, archivists also spend a significant amount of time conducting research and analyzing historical materials. They must be skilled at identifying important historical documents and artifacts, as well as interpreting them for researchers and other interested parties. This requires a deep understanding of history and the ability to think critically about the significance of different pieces of information.

Another important aspect of the archivist's workplace is their interactions with other professionals and stakeholders. Archivists often work closely with museum curators, librarians, historians, and other professionals to develop exhibits, conduct research projects, and promote their collections to the public. They must also be skilled at communicating with donors, funding agencies, and other stakeholders to secure funding and support for their work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Archivists are also known as:
Chronicler Preservationist