How Much Does an Archivist Make? A Definitive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Learning a job's salary can influence a candidate's decision to pursue that career path. Archivists can earn a competitive salary with experience and the right skill set. Understanding how much an archivist makes can help you determine whether it's financially viable for you to pursue this career path, and what steps you might take to get there. In this article, we answer the question, "How much does an archivist make?" with a complete explanation of their salary and a career overview for context.

How much does an archivist make?

The average salary of an archivist is $24,100 per month. Depending on the archivist's level of experience and specific industry, salaries may be higher. For example, a fine arts archivist might earn more money than an entry-level museum archivist. Education level can also impact earnings, as archivists with master's degrees or higher typically earn a higher salary.

What does an archivist do?

Archivists have many duties, including:

Maintaining and updating the archival database

An archivist's main duty is to maintain and update the archival database for a business, museum or other organisation. This might include adding new items to the database and categorising each item, updating previous items with new details, photos or pieces and maintaining the integrity of digital or physical records. This can also include verifying the integrity of new materials and determining whether they're genuine or historically accurate replicas. Archivists also keep databases of their work, so other archivists don't create replica databases or handle sensitive materials too often.

Read more: What Is an Archivist? (With Definition and Job Duties)

Creating accurate descriptions of archived items

Archiving historical documents or items often requires that archivists create accurate descriptions of these items for experts, the public and other archivists. They accurately describe what each database contains and might use keywords to make web searches more accurate. For example, an archivist might describe a historical document like this: "An original copy of the original Treaty of Nanking, signed by the British Empire and China in August 1842. The signing of this treaty ended the First Opium War between the nations, establishing a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which lasted nearly three years."

Appraising materials or data for value

An archivist is also an appraiser, determining the value of historically significant data or materials. They examine materials and data for authenticity and accuracy and then determine whether they're valuable. An archivist might also decide whether an item or data is worth keeping in the archives. For example, a government archivist might determine the authenticity of a piece of artwork from a government building and determine it's worth several million dollars. Archivists may be subject to regulations that limit what materials they archive, depending on the monetary, historical or cultural value of each item.

Cataloguing items or data for easy access

Archivists use software and sometimes ledgers to catalogue each database item for easy access. They typically catalogue an item by name, type or other factors like age. The catalogue provides a way for the public or other archivists to access the items in the archive if they have permission to do so. Some archives remain private, so an archivist might catalogue the archive in a way that permits only certain people to access it. Cataloguing often requires a lot of research and significant writing and software skills.

Coordinating facility tours, outreach programmes and workshops

Archivists might also provide facility tours to the public, government officials or private citizens, depending on where they work. They might also coordinate and organise facility outreach or fundraising programmes and workshops. This can include scheduling events, discussing the items in an archive, helping participants access and learn from the archives and ensuring the integrity and security of all archives during such events. For example, a museum archivist might organise a fundraiser to help raise funds to restore a historical document and protect it from further damage.

Assisting staff or stakeholders in accessing archives

If other staff members, company stakeholders, donors or government officials request access to specific archives, the archivist may assist them and provide access to the information. This might include checking security clearances, asking specific questions about why it's important to access an archive and supervisor archive access to ensure the person accessing it doesn't compromise the integrity of the archives. Archivists often have the authority to deny access to specific archives based on security clearances or suspicions. For example, an art history archivist might grant access to an ancient piece of artwork only to people with certain credentials.

Related: What Does an Art Curator Do? (And How to Become One)

What are archivist skills?

Developing or advancing your skills may help you earn more as an archivist. Here are the skills that can help archivists perform their duties effectively:

  • Software skills: Archivists typically work with computer software to catalogue or archive digital items or data and create entries for physical archives. This often requires basic software skills and often learning how to use proprietary archiving software.

  • Strong writing skills: Archivists often create descriptions of archives so anyone accessing the archives knows what each entry is. This can require strong writing skills, both handwritten and typing skills.

  • Cataloguing skills: Archivists typically possess strong cataloguing skills, which helps them organise information and categorise it based on specific factors. Archivists also have strong organisational skills, which aid them in categorisation.

  • Historical knowledge: Archivists are often knowledgeable in history, as they often work with historical replicas and actual historical pieces. Historical knowledge can help archivists verify the authenticity of items and determine their significance.

  • Research skills: Archivists typically possess strong research skills, which they use to determine the authenticity and value of archived items or data.

  • Teamwork skills: Archivists often work as part of a team, requiring strong teamwork skills, such as communication and collaboration.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Key Differences and Examples

Where can archivists work?

Archivists can typically find work in a variety of settings, and these locations may offer varying salaries. Depending on their specific expertise, they might work for:

  • government agencies

  • museums

  • records management facilities

  • public records facilities

  • libraries

  • private businesses

How do you become an archivist?

To become an archivist, you can follow these steps:

1. Earn a degree

While some archivists have a bachelor's degree, the majority of archivists in the field hold a master's degree or higher. Many employers look more favourably on candidates who hold a master's degree because it shows a degree of knowledge in the subject and processes of archiving. To become an archivist, consider what degree path to take. A bachelor's degree can take up to four years to complete and might limit your job options, whereas a master's degree can take up to seven or eight years to complete, but might offer more career options. Typical majors include:

  • library science

  • records management

  • history

  • art history

  • political science

  • archival science

Related: 15 Well-Paid Science Jobs (With Salaries and Job Duties)

2. Determine your career pathway

While earning your degree, consider what career path you want to take as an archivist. You can work in a variety of industries as an archivist, but determining your specific career path can change your education pathway and job options. For example, if you want to become an art history archivist, you might need to specialise in art history and find work at a museum. If you want to become a public records archivist, you might specialise more in records management and consider employment with the government or your city government.

3. Earn an archivist certification

Some archivists earn a postgraduate certification in archiving through organisations like the HKU School of Professional and Continuing Education. The institution offers a three-week certification course in archival studies that may help supplement your education and make your CV more impressive to future employers. Consider earning a certification to help establish yourself as an expert in the field of archiving and further differentiate yourself from job competitors and increase your chances of getting a position. Certification programmes typically require a fee, so you can also decide whether the cost is worth the extra accolades for your employment journey.

4. Apply for open positions

After you complete your degree and certification programme, you can begin applying for open positions. You might start applying for entry-level museum or records management positions to gain experience in the field. You can also apply to internships to learn how to directly apply your education in an archivist work environment. Consider positions in your specialisation if they're available or earn experience in general archiving until a more specialised position is available. Work experience can be a strong factor in an employer's decision to hire you, so accumulate as much experience in the industry as possible during your entry-level years.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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