Digital Archivist

Are you a person who enjoys organizing and managing media? Do you enjoy telling stories, history, and learning all about people and the communities around you? If so, becoming a digital archivist may be the right career for you! Digital archivists work with digital documents, rare manuscripts, letters, film, postcards, photographs, organizations records, diaries, and much more. Digital archivist is just one of the many career options for those holding a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree.

Digital Archivist female librarian working on desktop PC at a library.

Digital archivists collect, store and maintain digital archives of historically significant collections of documents and records.  A knowledge of library policies and principles along with up-to-date technology knowledge are both vital to this position. An ability to learn and use accepted industry standards for preservation of these archived records is also necessary. Management skills to deal with large amounts of data, as well as interpersonal skills to work with researchers, are good traits to have if you want to become a digital archivist. Here, we will delve into the position of digital archivist.

What Does a Digital Archivist Do?

There are many different job duties that a digital archivist may be asked to do, depending upon where they work. They may include:

  • Locate original materials produced in a variety of formats
  • Preserve these materials in digital format for long-term storage and preservation
  • Organize these records, cataloging them and preparing them for public access
  • Write descriptions of the preserved records, used by researchers to locate them
  • Interacting with creators, donors, and dealers in developing a collection
  • Gain overall knowledge of the digital component of a collection
  • Explain digital preservation to creators and others 
  • Use forensic software to access, process and deliver digital collections
  • Use natural language processing/data mining/visualization tools to process and deliver digital collections
  • Publish digital collection metadata in semantic web/linked open data
  • Describe files with special formats

What Tools, Skills and Technology Are Used by Digital Archivists?

Digital archivists use many types of technology and tools in their work. Some of them include:

  • Programming languages (PERL, XSLT, Ruby, HTML)
  • Databases such as SQL
  • Repositories like DSpace, Fedora
  • Computer forensic tools (FTK Imager, AccessData Forensic Toolkits
  • Network graph and tools (Gephi, NodeXL)
  • Knowledge of controlled vocabularies and software used with them
  • Knowledge of semantic/web-based data
  • Knowledge of Library of Congress Recommended Format Specifications
  • Knowledge of preservation systems and services (Archivematica, LOCKSS, Portico, DuraSpace)
  • Knowledge of preservation options available in web archiving (Archive-It)
  • Knowledge of emulation/virtualization tools (KEEP, JSMESS, MESS, VMNetX, XenServer)
  • Knowledge of uploading procedures to respective union catalogs (like OAC)
  • Knowledge of linked data publishing platforms (Linked Media Framework, Apache Marmotta, OntoWIki)
  • Knowledge of linked data publishing services (like Open Metadata Registry)

Where do Digital Archivists Work?

Archival repositories are found in a variety of places. Therefore, digital archivists may work at museums, libraries, universities, government agencies and departments, corporations, foundations, or anywhere where there is digital media to be archived. 

Education for Digital Archivists

Digital archivists usually need a minimum of a MLS or MLIS degree (although some positions may allow candidates with just a bachelor’s degree to apply). Many employers prefer candidates who have specialized in digital archiving during their college years. Examples of MLIS or MLS programs in which you can specialize in digital archiving include:

  • Wayne State University – Master of Library and Information Science, Path in Archives & Digital Content Management
  • San Jose State University – Master of Library and Information Science, Pathway in Archival Studies
  • Indiana University – Master of Library Science, Archives and Records Management Specialization
  • Southeast Missouri State University – Master of Arts in Public History – Historic Preservation Program
  • University of Washington at Seattle- Master of Library and Information Science – Archiving, Special Collections and Records Management

Courses found in a digital archives specialization include subjects like:

  • Basic archival theory
  • Methods and practice of appraisal of archives
  • Description of digital archives
  • Preservation of digital archives
  • Reference services
  • Outreach
  • Legal concerns and ethics in digital archiving
  • Records management
  • Historical and research methods

Certification for Digital Archivists

Certification for most digital archivist positions is voluntary, although some positions may ask only for certified candidates to apply. Most certifications require a master’s degree and a certain number of years of experience. The following certifications are the most commonly recommended in the industry:

  • The Academy of Certified Archivists – Certified Archivist
  • Society of American Archivists-Digital Archives Specialist (DAS); Arrangement & Description (A&D) Certificate

Jobs and Career Outlook for Digital Archivists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor, as of May 2017 archivists across the United States earned a mean annual wage of $55,470. This includes all types of archivists, however, not just digital archivists. Employment opportunities for archivists are expected to grow by 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average projected growth for all other occupations. 

A recent search for digital archivist jobs brought up the following possibilities, most of which require or prefer a MLS or MLIS degree:

  • Digital Archivist– Contracting Resources Group, Washington, DC- $87,198 to $113,362/year
  • Digital Archivist –Sager Family Traveling Foundation, Boston, MA – $50,000/year
  • Nonprofit Digital Media Archivist – The HistoryMakers, Chicago, IL- salary not specified
  • Digital Archivist – BCFS Health and Human Services, San Antonio, TX- salary not specified
  • Digital Audio Archivist – Warner Music Group, Los Angeles, CA- salary not specified
  • Digital Projects Archivist – University of Texas at Austin- $50,000/year
  • Archivist/Digital Asset Manager Coordinator – Slate Studies, Long Island, NY – salary not specified
  • Digital Archivist – The Interviews- Television Academy, Hollywood, CA – $65,000/year
  • Electronic Records Archivist – Drake University, Des Moines, IA – salary not specified
  • University Archivist – La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA – salary not specified