Museum Archivist

Are you interested in preserving history and valuable items for posterity or display? If so, becoming a museum archivist might be the right career for you. Museum archivists typically work in museums, historical sites, educational institutions, government agencies, corporations, and anywhere that requires experts to help preserve important documents and other records. They value the worth of archival materials and collections and learn the proper handling methods and techniques to preserve important records that are vital to the history of a place, organization, or people. 

Jobs for museum archivists are a great way to make a living, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for a museum archivist in the U.S. is $61,210, or $29.43 per hour. Growth in this job category is expected to grow at a rate of 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average projected growth for all other occupations, adding 4200 new jobs during that decade. 

Education and learning books

The highest-paying industries in which museum archivists work, along with their corresponding annual salaries, are:

  • Federal Executive Branch $95,490
  • Radio and Television Broadcasting $73,530
  • Computer Systems Design/Related Services $70,590
  • Management of Companies/Enterprises $69,790
  • Newspaper, Periodical, Book and Directory Publishers $68,000

The top-paying states in which museum archivists work as of May 2020 are:

  • District of Columbia $88,710
  • Massachusetts $73,420
  • California $72,200
  • Maryland $71,590
  • Alaska $70,170

Read on to discover more about becoming a museum archivist with a MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) or MLS (Master of Library Science) degree. 

What Does a Museum Archivist Do?

Archives can be defined as collections of important materials. These materials are valued due to their historical, scientific, artistic, and/or cultural interest, and organizations, companies, libraries, government agencies, or individuals wish to preserve them for posterity. They may be documents, photographs, film clips, audio clips, video recordings, letters, manuscripts, diaries, publications, or electronic documents. 

A museum archivist studies the purpose these records hold and assess which should be valued. They then categorize and manage the material, typically following guidelines from the Society of American Archivists. They may also follow archiving programs that their job or organization dictates they must use. 

In addition to the above-listed job duties, some of the job responsibilities of a museum archivist may include:

  • Work with donors or staff to acquire new collections
  • Collect, organize, maintain control over information that is important to be preserved
  • Describe collections and write finding aids
  • Assist researchers in using collections
  • Saving these records using a variety of media, including but not limited to film, paper, audiotape, videotape, computer, disk, and electronic
  • Copy records into other formats to protect the original and make the records more accessible to researchers
  • Helping to set up museum exhibits and events showcasing collections
  • Interpreting documents and records and explaining their historical context
  • Ensuring that records are available to scientists and researchers who must examine these records for reference in performing their jobs
  • Thorough knowledge of internet technology in order to create searchable databases
  • Public outreach and teaching as required

What Skills and Traits Should a Museum Archivist Have?

Important traits and skills a good museum archivist will have include:

  • Strong proficiency in research
  • Excellent communication skills (both orally and in writing)
  • Technological proficiency to run archiving programs and be in the know about the latest trends in electronic information storage
  • Excellent at working independently or as part of a team
  • Attention to detail
  • Excellent creative problem-solving and analytical skills
  • Display a natural curiosity about the world around them
  • Strong background in computer skills

Where Do Museum Archivists Work?

Museum archivists may work wherever there are important records to be collated, organized, handled, and stored. Settings may include all types of museums (art, history, maritime, science, medical, legal, etc.). These museums may be indoor or outdoor, and may be run by the federal government, state, local government agencies, private entities, organizations, corporations, colleges and universities, historical societies, zoos, botanical gardens, or individuals. 

What Education Does a Museum Archivist Need?

Museum archivists can most benefit from a graduate degree in library science (MLS or MLIS). Other graduate degrees that are helpful to museum archivists are in history, art history, museum studies, and archival management. It may be in your best interest to find a MLIS program that offers an archival management concentration, such as:

  • Simmons University – MLIS with Archival Management
  • University of Wisconsin Milwaukee- MLIS with Archives Concentration
  • University of Washington – MLIS with Archiving, Special Collections, Records Management Concentration
  • Dominican University – MLIS with concentration in Archives and Cultural Heritage Resources and Services
  • North Carolina Central University – MLS with concentration in Archives and Records Management

Additionally, if you want to work in a specialized area of history or technology, you may wish to take more courses within this area. 

Is There Certification for Museum Archivists?

Certification does exist for museum archivists, but not all museum archivist jobs require certification. If you do choose to become certified, look into The Academy of Certified Archivists for their certification process, requiring a master’s degree and at least a year of work experience. Fulfilling their requirements will earn you the credential of Certified Archivist. 

What Are Some Examples of Jobs for Museum Archivists?

Examining the internet, one can find the following jobs for museum archivists:

  • Digital Archivist–National Museum of American Diplomacy, Washington, DC; salary $87,198 to $113,362 annually
  • Museum Archivist and Personal Papers Support – Far Government, Inc., Parris Island, SC; salary $2800 per month
  • Archivist – Berks History Center, Reading, PA; salary $45,000 to $50,000 annually
  • Archivist I – National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK; salary $38,000 to $42,000 annually
  • Garden Archivist – Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Inc., Santa Barbara, CA; salary $22 to $26 per hour
  • University Archivist – University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO; salary $48,500 annually
  • Archivist – Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA; salary not specified
  • Museum Archivist – San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego, CA; salary $20 to $24 per hour

Resources for Aspiring Museum Archivists