What is an Archivist?

An archivist is someone who assesses whether a given piece of information is of value, then maintains and stores the information in the appropriate manner. The information that is being examined and maintained can take on any number of forms including documents, letters, photographs, audio recordings and videos. Beyond maintaining the records, an archivist must also ensure that the information is preserved in such a way that it is able to be found, and once found, be understandable.

Also known as: Preservationist, Museum Archivist, Chronicler

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What does an Archivist do?

An archivist's primary responsibility is determining which records are of value. This requires a great deal of understanding of the historical context of the records in question as the historical context reveals the record's relationship to other records, the intended use of the record, and the record creator's underlying motivations. Once a record is determined to be sufficiently valuable to preserve, archivists must describe and arrange the record in such a way that the institution's intended audience is able to access the information and make sense of it. In order to successfully accomplish these tasks, one who works with archives must employ strong organizational techniques and sound management skills.

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 certainly distinct. The primary duties of a records keeper include maintaining a large volume of temporary information for large institutions, whereas archives are rather small in number and are collected so that they might be maintained for a lengthy period of time. A historian's primary goal is to examine archives so that historical truths might be derived, whereas the archivist is objectively collecting the data so that it might be thoroughly researched.

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 exist for universities, businesses, religious institutions, museums, historical societies, hospitals, and all levels of government. A few are well funded, however the majority of institutions prosper and fail with shifts in the economy as a whole. A large portion of archival work is 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.

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