An archivist is an administrative professional who deals with the organising, storage, archival, retrieval and dissemination of electronic and hard copy materials. Clubs, organisations, learning centres, theatres, libraries and other public organisations are often in possession of a large volume of printed and electronic data. Some of this information is required regularly by service users, whilst some is referred to only occasionally. Effective storage, record management and usable retrieval systems are required in order for this information to be kept readily available and at the same time, secure.
The archivist is responsible for managing this stored information. They respond to requests from service users to have access to material, and must store it in a usable and logical way. Some archivists work purely in new media formats in the case of electronic storage systems, such as with Intranet, CD-ROM or photographic content stored on hard disk drive. Those working for more venerable organisations, such as in the case of a theatre or public resource, must physically move documents in and out of storage, and store them in a way which enables their effective retrieval.
According to Prospects.ac.uk, a Government information resource, archivists can expect to earn in the region of £21,000 to £30,000 at more senior positions in the industry, or in certain sectors. On a more local level, something more relevant to new applicants, the candidate may expect to earn only minimum wage. In the UK, this is £6.19 an hour for adult workers aged over 21, £4.98 an hour for 18-20 year olds, and £3.68 an hour for those aged 16 or 17. Apprentices of any age fall under a different category, with minimum wage capped at £2.65 an hour. Rates are effective and correct from October 2012 onwards, and usually rise each year in line with inflation.
- Create or have an understanding of the index system to be used
- Facilitate access for users to stored digital data, in the case of electronic systems
- Physically move hard copy records into and out of storage
- Assist service users in being able to access relevant information
- Store all data in a logical, ordered and secure way
There are no formal requirements necessary to enter the field of archiving, although candidates looking to work in the public sector will usually need to be able to demonstrate experience of a previous administrative type role. A qualification in administration may be effective in enabling previously unskilled workers find work in this type of role.
- Be highly organised and self-motivated
- Have a desire to work in the industry in which the candidate is engaged
- Be able to work as part of a team, or assist others as part of a large transfer of data on request
- Possess good communication skills and a desire to help service users
- Be physically able to move large files where necessary
Often the work of an archivist will take place in a public space or utility, such as in a library, theatre or information office. This puts the candidate into regular contact with the public, so it is necessary that the archivist is willing and able to assist with requests. It is also important to note that where information is stored in hard copy format, regular lifting and use of ladders or stools may be necessary.
There is usually a minimum requirement of around 3-4 years’ experience in an administrative role for candidates looking to work in the public sector. Those starting work in simple electronic data retrieval environments will typically be subject to a lower entry standard. Many of the lower paid archivist jobs require no experience at all, as on-the-job training will often be provided, and the work is not difficult to understand.
The largest employer of archivists, collectively, is the public sector in the UK. All councils and many of their associated public services must manage, store and make accessible a very large amount of information for service users, and it is the archivist, or team of archiving staff, who facilitate this.
Career progression depends entirely on the organisation within which the archivist works. In the case of an NHS hospital, for example, there are many career paths open to candidates who demonstrate their commitment over a number of years. It is possible, in this instance, that the archivist could move into a data management or data analysis role. In small organisations such as in theatres and small libraries, opportunities for progression are more limited, although some candidates find this rewarding as they effectively become indispensable to the organisation’s effective operation.
Irene Keene is a voluntary archivist at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, and Scherer Library of Musical Theatre, an affiliate venue and organisation.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
In the 1980s and ‘90s I was an entertainment publicist and, later, an editor at different entertainment magazines. Once my family and I moved to Connecticut in 2001, I was no longer involved in the entertainment community. Fast forward to the summer of 2011, it dawned on me that the Goodspeed Opera House, the home of the American Musical Theatre (located in East Haddam, Connecticut in the US), might be in need of volunteers, as I wanted to work in the entertainment sector. I went onto their web site, and voila! I found a link to the Goodspeed Guild, the volunteer organisation that helps with the productions, and also with day-to-day administrative needs.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
Not really. Since I’m a volunteer, I make my own hours. Those working as full time or part time archivists will be subject to the terms of their employment contract, and that is down to yourself.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
We are often asked to help with “office rescue”, which typically means stuffing envelopes, attaching mailing labels to the envelopes, etc., in order to get an urgent production completed. When a production at the Goodspeed – three per year at both the main stage (the Opera House in East Haddam, CT), and at the Goodspeed’s sister stage, the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT – is extended by a week, we are asked to affix labels with the new date on the “heralds” (one-page brochures). I am also an archivist at the Scherer Library of Musical Theatre, which is an affiliation of Goodspeed Musicals. I assist the head librarian/education director and his staff. This could be anything from returning books to shelves, to archiving photographs and documents that pertain to musical theatre, or to the history of the opera house itself.
What do you like most about the job?
Being back in a “show biz” environment - the knowledge that even in a small way, I am contributing to the preservation of the arts; that’s really what keeps me engaged in archiving.
What do you like least about the job?
Nothing! It’s the reason I choose to give my time voluntarily for the organisations I am committed to.
What are the key responsibilities?
Being organised. This is crucial with all admin roles, and a key part of doing this job.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
As a volunteer, this is a non-issue. I did study Television and Radio Communications at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in 1981.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
This does not apply to my specific roles as I choose to do them voluntarily.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Breaking into anything to do with the entertainment industry can be very challenging, as it’s obviously highly competitive. This also means that even those candidates who wish to give their time voluntarily will come up against a large number of other applicants. I would suggest internships. For someone who is already in the work force, or retired, volunteering is a wonderful thing.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
In the case of where I volunteer, a love of musical theatre, and an interest in cultural arts preservation.