Careers in Archives and Heritage
An archivist is someone who acquires, manages and maintains documents and materials of historical and cultural importance. The range of tasks an archivist might perform include: cataloguing collections; records management; answering enquiries; managing a reading room; digitisation; managing copyright and data protection; organising exhibitions and other outreach events; managing volunteers. Large organisations might employ people who specialise in each of these areas while a smaller organisation might employ a single archivist who covers all aspects of archival work.
The typical route to becoming an archivist is to do one of the following accredited post graduate courses:
- Aberystwyth UniversityLink opens in a new window (including distance learning options)
- University College DublinLink opens in a new window
- University of DundeeLink opens in a new window (distance learning)
- University of GlasgowLink opens in a new window
- University of LiverpoolLink opens in a new window
- University College LondonLink opens in a new window
Entry on to the course will normally require a good first degree (in any subject) as well as relevant work experience. The Archives and Records Association (ARA) is also currently developing a Level 7 (post grad) Archivist and Records Manager apprenticeship.
More information on becoming an archivist can be found on the ARA websiteLink opens in a new window including the section for new professionals Off the Record Link opens in a new windowand information on volunteeringLink opens in a new window. Another useful source of information is The National ArchivesLink opens in a new window, including Find an ArchiveLink opens in a new window for contact details of archives local to you.
Where to look for jobs:
- Archives-NRA mailing listLink opens in a new window
- Leicester University Jobs DeskLink opens in a new window
- ARA websiteLink opens in a new window (members only)
Example job descriptions:
A records manager is responsible for the management of an organisation's records in all forms, from their creation to their eventual disposal. Typical areas of work include: managing a records retention schedule; organising the secure disposal of records; information security; ensuring compliance with data protection and freedom of information legislation; selecting records for archival preservation. To become a records manager you can do a relevant postgraduate qualification or gain experience on the job. More information and job opportunities can be found on the Information and Records Managers Society (IRMS) websiteLink opens in a new window or RECORDS-MANAGEMENT-UKLink opens in a new window mailing list.
A digital archivist specialises in acquiring, managing and maintaining electronic documents and ‘born digital’ material of historical and cultural importance. The range of tasks a digital archivist might do include: implementing a digital preservation strategy; preparing technical metadata; cataloguing digital records; migrating data from obsolete formats; provide training on digital preservation.
Entry to the profession may be through a postgraduate qualification or relevant work experience.
More information can be found on the Digital Preservation Coalition websiteLink opens in a new window and the DIGITAL_PRESERVATION mailing listLink opens in a new window.
Archive conservators are responsible for the preservation and conservation of historic documents. These include a range of materials and formats such as manuscript documents and books, parchment deeds and maps, seals as well as modern media including photographic material. A high level of manual dexterity is needed, combined with aesthetic flair, patience and sympathy for the materials they are working with. Knowledge of paper and parchment history and chemical processes is also required. More information and job opportunities can be found on the Institute of Conservation (ICON) careers page.Link opens in a new window
Education and Outreach
Outreach is a vital component of any archive service and involves carrying out activities to extend the reach of the archive to a broad range of audiences. This might include school and higher education workshops, exhibitions, public talks, and community events. An archivist will be expected to manage outreach activities as part of their role, however larger organisations may also employ a specialist to manage outreach activities either on a permanent basis or as part of project funding. Similar roles are frequently advertised in museums, libraries and heritage buildings. Roles which are particularly focused on schools may require a teaching qualification.
Data management is the practice of collecting, keeping, and using data securely, efficiently, and cost-effectively. The goal of data management is to help people and organisations optimize the use of data within the bounds of policy and regulation. Data management is becoming more important than ever as organisations increasingly rely on intangible assets to create value. More information can be found on the DAMALink opens in a new window website.
Librarians acquire, organise and provide access to a range of information and reading resources to meet the needs of a community. Librarians work in a variety of settings including schools, higher education, local communities, healthcare and prisons.
To become a librarian you can do an accredited qualification Link opens in a new windowan apprenticeshipLink opens in a new window or gain on the job training through volunteering, internship or graduate traineeship.
More information can be found on the Library and Information Society (CILIP) website Link opens in a new windowincluding how to find a job.Link opens in a new window
You can also choose to specialise in rare books and special collections. For more information see the CILIP GroupLink opens in a new window, Historic Libraries Forum Link opens in a new windowor LIS-RAREBOOKSLink opens in a new window mailing list.
There are a wide variety of roles within the museum sector including curatorship, visitor experience, exhibitions, collection management, education and conservation. There are also job opportunities in historic houses and heritage sites.
To work in museums you can do an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification or gain experience on the job through volunteering or internships. Specialising in an academic subject relevant to a museum may also provide a route in. More information can be found on the Museum Association websiteLink opens in a new window.
The Arts Council's list of accredited museumsLink opens in a new window may be a useful starting point for volunteering opportunities local to you.
Job opportunities can be found at:
- National Museum Directors' CouncilLink opens in a new window
- Leicester Jobs DeskLink opens in a new window
- Museum JobsLink opens in a new window
- Museum AssociationLink opens in a new window (members only)
- Subject Specialist NetworksLink opens in a new window
- English HeritageLink opens in a new window
- National TrustLink opens in a new window
- Historic HousesLink opens in a new window