How to Become an Archivist, Curator, or Museum Worker
Prior experience through an internship or by volunteering in archives and museums is helpful in getting a position as an archivist, curator, museum technician, or conservator.
Archivist, curator, and conservator positions typically require a master’s degree related to the position’s field. Museum technicians typically have a bachelor’s degree. Prior experience through an internship or by volunteering in archives and museums is helpful in getting a position as an archivist or a curator, museum technician, or conservator.
Archivists. Archivists typically need a master’s degree in history, library science, archival science, political science, or public administration. Although many colleges and universities have history, library science, or other similar programs, only a few institutions offer master’s degrees in archival studies. Students may gain valuable archiving experience through volunteer or internship opportunities.
Curators. Curators typically need a master’s degree in art history, history, archaeology, or museum studies. Students with internship experience may have an advantage in the competitive job market.
In small museums, curator positions may be available to applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Because curators have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising are recommended.
Museum technicians. Museum technicians, commonly known as registrars, typically need a bachelor’s degree. Few schools offer a bachelor’s degree in museum studies, so it is common for registrars to obtain an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as art history, history, or archaeology. Some jobs may require candidates to have a master’s degree in museum studies. Museums may prefer candidates with knowledge of the museum’s specialty, training in museum studies, or previous experience working in museums.
Conservators. Conservators typically need a master’s degree in conservation or in a closely related field. Graduate programs last 2 to 4 years, the latter years of which include an internship. Only a few graduate programs in museum conservation techniques are offered in the United States. To qualify for entry into these programs, a student must have a background in chemistry, archaeology, studio art, or art history. Completing a conservation internship as an undergraduate can enhance one’s prospects for admission.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although most employers do not require certification, some archivists may choose to earn voluntary certification because it allows them to demonstrate expertise in a particular area.
The Academy of Certified Archivists offers the Certified Archivist credential. To earn certification, candidates must have a master’s degree, have professional archival experience, and pass an exam. They must renew their certification periodically by retaking the exam or fulfilling continuing education credits.
To gain marketable experience, candidates may have to work part time, as an intern or as a volunteer, during or after completing their education. Substantial experience in collection management, research, exhibit design, or restoration, as well as database management skills, is necessary for full-time positions.
Continuing education is available through meetings, conferences, and workshops sponsored by archival, historical, and museum associations. Some large organizations, such as the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, offer in-house training.
Top museum positions are highly sought after and are competitive. Performing unique research and producing published work are important for advancement in large institutions. In addition, a doctoral degree may be needed for some advanced positions.
Museum workers employed in small institutions may have limited opportunities for promotion. They typically advance by transferring to a larger institution that has supervisory positions.
Analytical skills. Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators need excellent analytical skills to determine the origin, history, and importance of many of the objects they work with.
Computer skills. Archivists and museum technicians should have good computer skills because they use and develop complex databases related to the materials they store and access.
Customer-service skills. Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators work with the general public on a regular basis. They must be courteous, friendly, and able to help users find materials.
Organizational skills. Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators store and easily retrieve records and documents. They must also develop logical systems of storage for the public to use.
Technical skills. Many historical objects need to be analyzed and preserved. Conservators must use the appropriate chemicals and techniques to preserve different objects, such as documents, paintings, fabrics, and pottery.