What is a Library Archivist?

An archivist is an information professional who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains control over, and provides access to records and archives determined to have long-term value.

The items which an archivist preserves can, of course, be books and manuscripts, but also digital files, letters, logs, sound recordings, or physical objects.

While archivists do not have to work in libraries, their purpose is similar to that of librarians – to preserve and provide access to information. Therefore, many do end up working in libraries (or museums!), especially special libraries focusing on, for example, law or medicine.

How to Become a Library Archivist

Archivists job requirements vary greatly depending on the position and the organization, however, there is consistently an expectation of at least a Masters degree. For a public or academic library, a Masters in Library Sciences with an emphasis on archival studies may be sufficient. For a special library, you may be able to exchange a Masters in a degree related to the library’s topic for an MLS or MLIS – for example, a Masters in political science or history.

As with any area of librarianship, the more experience you have, the better chance you will have of getting a job. Archivism often requires going through large quantities of documents or files and is well-suited to volunteer work. If you want to see if archival work is for you, contact a local library or museum about volunteer opportunities.

Librarian Education & Degree Requirements

Of the job requirements to become a librarian, the strictest requirement is often education. Most libraries in the United States and Canada require you to have either an MLS, MSLS or MLIS from an accredited institution. Following is a short description of each degree.

Library Science Degrees

Master of Library Science (MLS)

Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS)

Master of Library and Information Science (MSIS)

Master of  Archives and Records Administration (MARA)

Archivist Skills

Some skills that these employers ask for include:

  • organizational skills
  • interpersonal skills
  • teamwork & collaboration
  • IT skills, like searching databases or using the internet
  • management of people and resources
  • presentation and verbal communication skills
  • the ability to write clearly and succinctly
  • subject specific expertise

Library Archivist Salary

One of the first questions many people have is “how much do librarians make?” The answer is, “it depends”, library salaries can vary by type of librarian, type of library, the location and other factors.

In 2018, the median library archivist salary in the United States was around $53,880, with a range of about $47,000 up to $120,000. Many of the highest-paying jobs are for the US government and are in Washington D.C. – being willing to relocate can increase your odds of higher pay.

Assuming 40 hours of work and two weeks of vacation per year, a salary of $53,880equates to a monthly pay of $4,144, weekly pay of $1,036, and an hourly wage of $25.90, all before taxes.

Here are examples of librarian salaries by state:

California: $69,200
Texas: $50,568
New Jersey: $59,000

Library Archivist Job Description

Library archivists usually deal in “special materials” -physical or digital – versus, for example, copies of the hot new novel or monthly magazines.

These might mean original documents, rare copies of important books, photographs, and more. Their job is to organize, categorize, and make these items accessible to visitors of the library. Your customers might be the public, students, or professionals employed by the same organization (for example, lawyers who need access to a document within the law library).

Library Archivist Job Duties

What does a librarian do?

  • Analyzes, develops, plans, and participates in difficult arrangement or rearrangement at all hierarchical levels, as well as the unification of dispersed archival collections.
  • Develops finding aids and catalog records for collections with complex subject matter, obscure administrative history, complicated organization and/or confused provenance.
  • Ensures that finding aids are in compliance with industry and national standards.
  • Researches, translates, or works with qualified volunteers who assist with translation and interpretation of materials, to create accurate descriptions of contents of collections; conducts research, in online and other bibliographical reference sources.
  • Identifies problems and trends; develops methodologies for research; evaluates primary and secondary sources; updates methods to acquire and present data; and keeps up with trends and current technologies in research and information services.
  • Review audio and create descriptive metadata.
  • Ingest audio content into a media asset management system.
  • Transfer and enter metadata.
  • Save audio and metadata to archiving database.

Types of Library Archivists

Archival work can look as different as the many organizations who have material to keep organized. One archivist might handle hundreds-year-old documents each day with gloves and tweezers, and another might simply organize files on a computer of items that interns scanned in before.

Archivist Job Titles

  • Archivist
  • Archival Assistant
  • Access Services Librarian
  • Records Manager
  • Special Collections Manager
  • Librarian, Special Collections
  • Digital Preservation Specialist
  • Archival Records Clerk
  • Curator
  • Curatorial Specialist

Pros and Cons of Being a Library Archivist

Library archives are fascinating and important places to work, and are better suited to some interests and personalities than others. Here are some pros and cons of being an archivist:

Pros

  • You are surrounded by real history all day long!
  • Archival jobs are expected to increase by 14% by 2026.
  • Usually in a quiet, structured environment.
  • Steady hours – you’re usually not working with the public, so rarely need to work nights and weekends.
  • As you grow in your career, salaries provide a reasonable or strong standard of living.

Cons

  • Not ideal for people who enjoy a lot of interaction with the public.
  • Some work could be perceived as tedious.
  • Job options may be limited by the number of special libaries, museums, or government organizations in a specific location. d