Archivist or Curator

Archivists appraise, edit, and maintain permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.

Interest Area: 
Organizing
Average Yearly Pay: 
$42967
Education Needed: 
Graduate Degree
Employment: 
Growing as Fast as the Average
Job Growth: 
20%
Job Prospects: 
Competitive

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Job Duties: 

Archivists typically do the following:

  • Create and maintain accessible computer archives and databases
  • Organize and classify archival records to make it easy to find materials
  • Authenticate and appraise historical documents and archival materials
  • Provide reference services and help for users
  • Direct workers who help arrange, exhibit, and maintain collections
  • Safeguard records by copying to film, videotape, disk, or computer formats
  • Preserve and maintain documents and objects
  • Set and administer policy guidelines concerning public access to materials
  • Locate new materials and direct their acquisition and display
  • Career Overview: 

    Archivists appraise, edit, and maintain permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.

    Duties

    Archivists typically do the following:

    • Authenticate and appraise historical documents and archival materials
    • Preserve and maintain documents and objects
    • Create and maintain computer archives and databases
    • Organize and classify archival records to make them easy to search through
    • Safeguard records by creating film and digital copies
    • Direct workers who help arrange, exhibit, and maintain collections
    • Set and administer policy guidelines concerning public access to materials
    • Provide help to users
    • Find and acquire new materials for their archives  

    Curators, museum technicians, and conservators typically do the following:

    • Acquire, store, and exhibit collections
    • Select the theme and design of exhibits
    • Design, organize, and conduct tours and workshops for the public
    • Attend meetings and civic events to promote their institution
    • Clean objects such as ancient tools, coins, and statues
    • Direct and supervise curatorial, technical, and student staff
    • Plan and conduct special research projects

    Archivists preserve many documents and records for their importance or historical significance. Most archivists coordinate educational and public outreach programs, such as tours, workshops, lectures, and classes. In addition, archivists may research topics and items relevant to their collections.

    Some archivists specialize in an area of history, such as colonial history, so they can more accurately understand which records from that time period should become part of the archives.

    Archivists work with specific forms of records, such as manuscripts, electronic records, websites, photographs, maps, motion pictures, and sound recordings.

    Archives technicians help archivists organize, maintain, and provide access to historical documentary materials.

    Curators manage museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nature centers, and historic sites. The museum director often is a curator.

    Curators direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections, including negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange, and loan of collections. They also may authenticate, evaluate, and categorize the specimens in a collection.

    Curators often oversee and help conduct the institution’s research projects and related educational programs. Today, an increasing part of a curator’s duties involves fundraising and promotion, which may include writing and reviewing grant proposals, journal articles, and publicity materials. In addition, many curators attend meetings, conventions, and civic events.

    Most curators specialize in a particular field, such as botany, art, or history. Those who work in large institutions may be highly specialized. A large natural history museum, for example, might employ separate curators for its collections of birds, fish, insects, and mammals.

    Some curators focus primarily on taking care of their collections, some on researching items in their collections, and others spend most of their time performing administrative tasks. In small institutions with only one or a few curators, one curator may be responsible for a number of tasks, from taking care of collections to directing the affairs of the museum.

    Museum technicians, commonly known as registrars, help curators by preparing and taking care of museum items. Registrars also may answer questions from the public and help curators and outside scholars use the collections.

    Conservators manage, preserve, treat, and keep records of works of art, artifacts, and specimens—work that may require substantial historical, scientific, and archaeological research. They document their findings and treat items to minimize deterioration or to restore them to their original state. Conservators usually specialize in a particular material or group of objects, such as documents and books, paintings, decorative arts, textiles, metals, or architectural material. They use x rays, chemical testing, microscopes, special lights, and other laboratory equipment and techniques to examine objects, determine their condition, and decide on the best way to preserve them.

    In addition to their conservation work, conservators participate in outreach programs, research topics in their specialty, and write articles for scholarly journals. They may be employed by a museum or other institution that has objects needing conservation, or they may be self-employed and have several clients.

    Work Environment: 

    Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators held about 29,300 jobs in 2012.

    The industries that employed the most archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators in 2012 were as follows:

    Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions 38%
    Government 26
    Educational services; state, local, and private 18

    Archivists work in museums, government, colleges and universities, corporations, and other institutions that require experts to preserve important records.

    Because most curators work at museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nature centers, and historical sites, their working conditions vary. Some spend their time working with the public, providing reference assistance and educational services.

    Those who restore and set up exhibits or work with bulky, heavy record containers may have to lift objects, climb ladders and scaffolding, and stretch to reach items.

    Work Schedules

    Archivists in government agencies and corporations generally work full time during regular business hours. Curators in large institutions may travel extensively to evaluate potential additions to the collection, organize exhibits, and conduct research. However, for curators in small institutions, travel may be rare.

    Most archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators work full time.

    Education and Training: 

    Most archivist, curator, and conservator positions require a master’s degree related to the field in which they work. People often gain experience by working or volunteering in archives and museums. Museum technicians must have a bachelor’s degree.

    Education

    Archivists. Most employers prefer candidates to have 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 require candidates to have knowledge of the discipline related to a collection, such as computer science, business, or medicine. Many archives offer volunteer or internship opportunities where students can gain experience.

    Curators. Most museums require curators to have a master’s degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum’s specialty—art, history, or archaeology—or in museum studies. Some employers prefer that curators have a doctoral degree, particularly for positions in natural history and science museums. Earning two graduate degrees—in museum studies (museology) and a specialized subject—may give candidates an advantage in a competitive job market.

    In small museums, curator positions may be available to people with a bachelor’s degree. Because curators—particularly those in small museums—may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising are recommended. For some positions, applicants need to have completed an internship of full-time museum work, as well as courses in museum practices.

    Museum technicians (registrars). Registrars usually need a bachelor’s degree related to the museum’s specialty, training in museum studies, or previous experience working in museums, particularly in designing exhibits. Relatively few schools grant a bachelor’s degree in museum studies; more common are undergraduate minors and tracks of study that are part of an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as art history, history, or archaeology. Students interested in further study might get a master’s degree in museum studies offered in colleges and universities throughout the country. However, many employers feel that, although a degree in museum studies is helpful, a thorough knowledge of the museum’s specialty and museum work experience are more important.

    Conservators. When hiring conservators, employers look for a master’s degree in conservation or in a closely related field, together with substantial experience. Only a few graduate programs in museum conservation techniques are offered in the United States. Competition for entry to these programs is very strong. To qualify, a student must have a background in chemistry, archaeology, studio art, and art history, as well as work experience. For some programs, knowledge of a foreign language is helpful. Completing a conservation internship as an undergraduate can enhance admission prospects. Graduate programs last 2 to 4 years, the latter years of which include internship training.

    Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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

    Other Experience

    To gain marketable experience, candidates may have to work part time, as an intern, or even as a volunteer assistant curator or research associate during or after completing their education. Substantial experience in collection management, research, exhibit design, or restoration, as well as database management skills, is necessary for full-time positions.

    Advancement

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

    Many archives, especially those maintained by one archivist, are 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.

    In large museums, curators may advance through several levels of responsibility, eventually becoming museum directors. However, curators often start in small local and regional establishments at the beginning of their careers. As they gain experience, they may get the opportunity to work in larger facilities. The top museum positions are highly sought after and competitive. Performing unique research and producing published work are important for advancement in large institutions.

    Important Qualities

    Analytical skills. Archivists, curators, registrars, and conservators need excellent analytical skills to determine the origin, history, and importance of many of the objects they work with.

    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, curators, and registrars 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, curators, registrars, and conservators must be able to store and easily retrieve records and documents. They also must develop logical systems of storage for the public to use.

    Technical skills. Many historical objects need to be analyzed and preserved. Conservators must use the appropriate chemicals and techniques to preserve the different objects they deal with. Examples of these objects are documents, paintings, fabrics, and pottery.

    Pay: 

    The median annual wage for archivists, curators, and museum workers was $44,410 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,570, and the top 10 percent earned more than $80,070.

    In May 2012, median annual wages for archivists, curators, and museum workers were as follows:

    • $49,590 for curators
    • $47,340 for archivists
    • $38,220 for museum technicians and conservators

    In May 2012, the median annual wages for archivists, curators, and museum workers in the top three industries in which these workers worked were as follows:

    Government $54,460
    Educational services; state, local, and private 47,760
    Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions 37,760

    Archivists in government agencies and corporations generally work full time during regular business hours. Curators in large institutions may travel extensively to evaluate potential additions to the collection, organize exhibits, and conduct research. However, for curators in small institutions, travel may be rare.

    Most archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators work full time.

    Job Outlook: 

    Overall employment of archivists, curators, and museum workers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.

    Employment of archivists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,100 new jobs over the 10-year period. Jobs for archivists are expected to increase as public and private organizations require organization of, and access to, increasing volumes of records and information. The growing use of electronic records will cause demand for archivists who specialize in electronic records and records management to grow as well.

    Employment of curators is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Museums receive millions of visitors every year and the number of visits has been increasing steadily. Continued public interest in these cultural centers will lead to demand for curators and the collections they manage.

    Employment of museum technicians and conservators is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Public interest in science, art, history, and technology should spur some demand for museum technicians and conservators.

    Job Prospects

    Workers seeking jobs as archivists are likely to face very strong competition, because qualified applicants generally outnumber job openings.

    Graduates with highly specialized training, such as a master’s degree in library science or archival studies, with training in electronic records management and volunteer experience, should have the best job opportunities. However, archivist, curator, museum technician, and conservator jobs are attractive to many people, and many applicants have the necessary training and knowledge.

    Job opportunities for those who have the computer skills to manage electronic records are expected to be better than for those who do not have those skills. Jobseekers with foreign language skills and the ability to relocate also could have better job opportunities.

    Archives and museums can be subject to cuts in funding during recessions and periods of budget tightening, reducing demand for these workers. The need to replace workers who retire will create some job openings, but turnover is low for archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators.

    For More Information: 

    For information on archivists and on schools offering courses in archival studies, visit

    Society of American Archivists

    For information about archivists and archivist certification, visit

    Academy of Certified Archivists

    For information about government archivists, visit

    Council of State Archivists

    National Association of Government Archives & Records Administrators

    For more information about museum careers, including schools offering courses in museum studies for curators and museum technicians, visit

    American Alliance of Museums

    For more information about careers and education programs in conservation and preservation for conservators, visit

    American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

    For information on job openings as curators, museum technicians, and conservators with the federal government, visit

    USAJobs

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