Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historical 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  • Authenticate and appraise historical documents and archival materials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 manage a system to maintain and preserve electronic records
  • Organize and classify archival materials
  • Safeguard records by creating film and digital copies
  • Direct workers to help arrange, exhibit, and maintain collections
  • Set and administer policy guidelines concerning public access to materials
  • 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 important or historically significant documents and records. They coordinate educational and public outreach programs, such as tours, lectures, and classes. They also may work with researchers on topics and items relevant to their collections.

Some archivists specialize in a particular era of history so that they can have a better understanding of the records from that period. Archivists typically work with specific forms of documentation, such as manuscripts, electronic records, websites, photographs, maps, motion pictures, or sound recordings.

Curators, who also may be museum directors, lead the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections. They negotiate and authorize the purchase, sale, exchange, and loan of collections. They also may research, authenticate, evaluate, and categorize the items in a collection.

Curators often perform administrative tasks and help manage their institution’s research projects and related educational programs. They may represent their institution in the media, at public events, and at professional conferences.

In large institutions, some curators may specialize in a particular field, such as botany, art, or history. For example, a large natural history museum might employ separate curators for its collections of birds, fish, and mammals.

In small institutions, one curator may be responsible for many tasks, from taking care of collections to directing the affairs of the museum.

Museum technicians, who may be known as preparatorsregistrars, or collections specialists, care for and safeguard objects in museum collections and exhibitions.

Preparators focus on readying items in museum collections for display or storage. For example, they might make frames and mats for artwork or fit mounts to support objects. They also help to create exhibits, such as by building exhibit cases, installing items, and ensuring proper lighting. And they transport items and prepare them for shipping.

Registrars and collections specialists oversee the logistics of acquisitions, insurance policies, risk management, and loaning of objects to and from the museum for exhibition or research. They keep detailed records of the conditions and locations of the objects that are on display, in storage, or being transported to another museum. They also maintain and store any documentation associated with the objects.

These workers also may answer questions from the public and help curators and outside scholars use the museum’s collections.

Conservators handle, preserve, treat, and keep records of artifacts, specimens, and works of art. They may perform substantial historical, scientific, and archeological research. They document their findings and treat items in order to minimize deterioration or restore them to their original state. Conservators usually specialize in a particular material or group of objects, such as documents and books, paintings, or textiles.

Some conservators 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. They also may participate in outreach programs, research topics in their specialty, and write articles for scholarly journals.

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Work Environment

Archivists, curators, and museum workers held about 35,900 jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up archivists, curators, and museum workers was distributed as follows:

Museum technicians and conservators                                      14,400
Curators 13,700
Archivists 7,800

The largest employers of archivists, curators, and museum workers were as follows:

Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions                     42%
Government 23
Educational services; state, local, and private 17

Depending on the size of the institution and the position archivists, curators, and museum workers hold, these workers may spend time either at a desk or with the public, providing reference assistance and educational services. Museum workers 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

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

Archivists in government agencies and corporations generally work during regular business hours. Curators in large institutions may travel extensively to evaluate potential additions to the collection, organize exhibits, and conduct research. For curators in small institutions, however, travel may be rare. Museum technicians may need to work evenings and weekends if their institutions are open to the public during those times.

Education and Training

Archivists, curators, and conservators typically need a master’s degree in a field related to their position. Museum technicians typically have a bachelor’s degree. Experience gained through an internship or by volunteering in archives or museums is helpful.

Education

Archivists. Archivists typically need a master’s degree in history, library science, archival studies, political science, or public administration. Students may gain valuable archiving experience through volunteer or internship opportunities.

Curators. Curators typically need a master’s degree in art history, history, archaeology, or museum studies. In small museums, curator positions may be available to applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Because curators have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising are recommended.

Museum technicians. Museum technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in museum studies or a related field, such as archaeology, art history, or history. Some jobs require candidates to have a master’s degree in museum studies. In addition, museum employers may prefer candidates who have knowledge of the museum’s specialty or have experience working in museums.

Conservators. Conservators typically need a master’s degree in conservation or a related field. Graduate programs last 2 to 4 years, the latter part of which includes an internship. To qualify for entry into these programs, a student must have a background in archaeology, art history, chemistry, or studio art. Completing a conservation internship as an undergraduate may enhance an applicant’s prospects into a graduate program.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although most employers do not require certification, some archivists may choose to earn voluntary certification because it allows them to demonstrate expertise in a particular area.

The Academy of Certified Archivists offers the Certified Archivist credential. To earn certification, candidates usually must have a master’s degree, have professional archival experience, and pass an exam. They must renew their certification periodically by retaking the exam or fulfilling continuing education credits.

Other Experience

To gain experience, candidates may have to work part time, as an intern or as a volunteer, 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.

Top museum positions are highly sought after. Performing unique research and producing published work are important for advancement in large institutions. In addition, a doctoral degree may be needed for some advanced positions.

Museum workers employed in small institutions may have limited opportunities for promotion. They typically advance by transferring to a larger institution that has supervisory positions.

Personality and Interests

Archivists or curators typically have an interest in the Thinking, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a archivist or curator, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Archivists or Curators should also possess the following specific 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 $49,850 in May 2019. 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 $28,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,760.

Median annual wages for archivists, curators, and museum workers in May 2019 were as follows:

Curators $54,570
Archivists 53,950
Museum technicians and conservators                                      44,430

In May 2019, the median annual wages for archivists, curators, and museum workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private $55,460
Government 50,840
Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions                    46,550

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

Archivists in government agencies and corporations generally work 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. Museum technicians may need to work evenings and weekends if their institutions are open to the public during those times.

Job Outlook

Employment of archivists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for archivists is expected to increase, as public and private organizations require that more volumes of records and information be organized and made accessible. The growing use of electronic records may cause an increase in demand for archivists who specialize in electronic records and records management.

Employment of curators is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Continued public interest in museums and other cultural centers should lead to increased demand for curators and for the collections they manage.

Employment of museum technicians and conservators is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Public interest in science, art, history, and technology is expected to spur some demand for museum technicians and conservators.

Archives and museums that receive federal funds can be affected by changes to the federal budget. When funding is cut, there may be a reduction in the demand for these workers. However, budget surpluses may lead to more job openings.

Job Prospects

About 4,400 openings for archivists, curators, and museum workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who exit the labor force, such as to retire, and from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations.

Candidates seeking archivist, curator, museum technician, or conservator jobs should expect competition because of the high number of qualified applicants per job opening. Jobseekers with highly specialized training, a master’s degree, and internship or volunteer experience should have the best job prospects.

For More Information

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

Society of American Archivists

For more information about archivists and archivist certification, visit

Academy of Certified Archivists

For information about government archivists, visit

Council of State Archivists

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

For information about museum technicians, registrars, or collections specialists, visit

Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists

For more information about museum careers, including schools offering museum studies and related programs, visit

American Alliance of Museums

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

American Institute for Conservation

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

USAJobs

CareerOneStop

For a career video on archivists, visit

Archivists

 

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