Employment as an archivist, conservator, or curator usually
requires graduate education and related work experience. While
completing their formal education, many archivists and curators work in
archives or museums to gain the “hands-on” experience that many
Although most archivists have a variety of undergraduate degrees, a graduate degree in history or library science, with courses in archival science, is preferred by most employers. Some
positions may require knowledge of the discipline related to the
collection, such as business or medicine. Currently, no programs offer
bachelor’s or master’s degrees in archival science. However,
approximately 65 colleges and universities offer courses or practical
training in archival science as part of their history, library science,
or other curriculum. The Academy of Certified Archivists offers
voluntary certification for archivists. The designation “Certified
Archivist” is obtained by those with at least a master’s degree and a
year of appropriate archival experience. The certification process
requires candidates to pass a written examination, and they must renew
their certification periodically.
Archivists need research and analytical ability to understand the content of documents and the
context in which they were created and to decipher deteriorated or
poor-quality printed matter, handwritten manuscripts, or photographs
and films. A background in preservation management is often required of
archivists because they are responsible for taking proper care of their
records. Archivists also must be able to organize large amounts of
information and write clear instructions for its retrieval and use. In
addition, computer skills and the ability to work with electronic
records and databases are becoming increasingly important.
Many archives, including one-person shops, are very small and have limited
opportunities for promotion. Archivists typically advance by
transferring to a larger unit with supervisory positions. A doctorate
in history, library science, or a related field may be needed for some
advanced positions, such as director of a State archive.
For employment as a curator, most museums require a master’s degree in an
appropriate discipline of the museum’s specialty—art, history, or
archaeology—or museum studies. Many employers prefer a doctoral degree,
particularly for curators in natural history or science museums.
Earning two graduate degrees—in museum studies (museology) and a
specialized subject—gives a candidate a distinct advantage in this
competitive job market. In small museums, curatorial positions may be
available to individuals with a bachelor’s degree. For some positions,
an internship of full-time museum work supplemented by courses in
museum practices is needed.
Curatorial positions often require knowledge in a number of fields. For historic and artistic
conservation, courses in chemistry, physics, and art are desirable.
Since curators—particularly those in small museums—may have
administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business
administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising also are
recommended. Like archivists, curators need computer skills and the
ability to work with electronic databases. Many curators are
responsible for posting information on the Internet, so they also need
to be familiar with digital imaging, scanning technology, and copyright
Curators must be flexible because of their wide variety of
duties, among which are the design and presentation of exhibits. In
small museums, curators need manual dexterity, to build exhibits or
restore objects. Leadership ability and business skills are important
for museum directors, while marketing skills are valuable in increasing
museum attendance and fundraising.
In large museums, curators may advance through several levels of responsibility, eventually becoming the museum director. Curators in smaller museums often advance to
larger ones. Individual research and publications are important for
advancement in larger institutions.
When hiring conservators, employers look for a master’s degree in conservation or in a closely
related field, together with substantial experience. There are only a
few graduate programs in museum conservation techniques in the United
States. Competition for entry to these programs is keen; to qualify, a
student must have a background in chemistry, archaeology or studio art,
and art history, as well as work experience. For some programs,
knowledge of a foreign language is also helpful. Conservation
apprenticeships or internships as an undergraduate can enhance one’s
admission prospects. Graduate programs last 2 to 4 years, the latter
years of which include internship training. A few individuals enter
conservation through apprenticeships with museums, nonprofit
organizations, and conservators in private practice. Apprenticeships
should be supplemented with courses in chemistry, studio art, and
history. Apprenticeship training, although accepted, usually is a more
difficult route into the conservation profession.
Museum technicians usually need a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate
discipline of the museum’s specialty, training in museum studies, or
previous experience working in museums, particularly in the design of
exhibits. Similarly, archives technicians usually need a bachelor’s
degree in library science or history, or relevant work experience.
Technician positions often serve as a steppingstone for individuals
interested in archival and curatorial work. Except in small museums, a
master’s degree is needed for advancement.
Relatively few schools grant a bachelor’s degree in museum studies. More common are
undergraduate minors or tracks of study that are part of an
undergraduate degree in a related field, such as art history, history,
or archaeology. Students interested in further study may obtain a
master’s degree in museum studies, offered in colleges and universities
throughout the country. However, many employers feel that, while museum
studies are helpful, a thorough knowledge of the museum’s specialty and
museum work experience are more important.
Continuing education, which enables archivists, curators, and museum technicians to keep up
with developments in the field, is available through meetings,
conferences, and workshops sponsored by archival, historical, and
museum associations. Some larger organizations, such as the National
Archives, offer such training in-house.