An archivist is a professional who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains control over, and provides access to information determined to have long-term value. The information maintained by an archivist can be any form of media (photographs, video or sound recordings, letters, documents, electronic records, etc.). As Richard Pearce-Moses wrote, "Archivists keep records that have enduring value as reliable memories of the past, and they help people find and understand the information they need in those records."
Determining what records have enduring value can be challenging. Archivists must also select records valuable enough to justify the costs of storage and preservation, plus the labor intensive expenses of arrangement, description, and reference service. The theory and scholarly work underpinning archives practices is called archival science.
Archivists' duties include acquiring and appraising new collections, arranging and describing records, providing reference service, and preserving materials. In arranging records, archivists apply two important principles: provenance and original order, sometimes referred to as respect des fonds. Provenance refers to the origin of records, essentially who created them. The idea of respect des fonds is applied by keeping records in their original order as established and maintained by the creator(s). This also means that records from one corporate body should not be mixed with records from another. Original order is not always the best way to maintain some collections though, and archivists must use their own experience and current best practices to determine the correct way to keep collections of mixed media or those lacking a clear original arrangement.
American archivists are also guided in their work by a code of ethics. Alongside their work behind the scenes arranging and caring for collections, archivists assist users in interpreting collections and answering inquiries. This reference work can be just part of an archivist's job in a smaller organization, or consist of most of their occupation in a larger archive where specific roles (such as processing archivist and reference archivist) may be delineated.
Archivists work for a variety of organizations, including government agencies, local authorities, museums, hospitals, historical societies, businesses, charities, corporations, colleges and universities, and any institution whose records may potentially be valuable to researchers, exhibitors, genealogists, or others. Alternatively, they could also work on the collections of a large family or even of an individual. Applicants for archives jobs usually outnumber positions available.
Archivists are often educators as well; it is not unusual for an archivist employed at a university or college to lecture in a subject related to their collection. Archivists employed at cultural institutions or for local government frequently design educational or outreach programs to further the ability of archive users to understand and access information in their collections. This might include such varied activities as exhibitions, promotional events or even media coverage.
The advent of Encoded Archival Description, along with increasing demand for materials to be made available online, has required archivists to become more tech-savvy in the past decade. Many archivists are now acquiring basic XML skills in order to make their finding aids available to researchers online.
Because of the varied nature of the job and organisations and work environment, archivists need to have a wide range of skills:
The educational preparation for archivists varies from country to country.
Graduates of this program have founded the Colombian College of Archivists - CCA, and the Colombian Society of Archivists - SCA; comprising the Alumni Association of Librarian and Archival Science (Asociación de Egresados de Bibliotecología y Archivística de la Universidad de La Salle - ASEBIAR); are officials of the General Archives of the Nation, the Archives of Bogota and the most prestigious public and private companies.
Other institutions that offers a degree in Archival Science are:
Some institutions, tech colleges and universities offers assignatures about Archival Science, but don't offers title of Archivist.
In Ireland, the University College Dublin School of History and Archives offers a Masters of Arts degree in Archival Studies, recognised by the Society of Archivists.
In the United Kingdom, there are currently five full- or part-time postgraduate courses in archives administration or management which are recognised by the Society of Archivists. Students are expected to have relevant paid or voluntary work experience before obtaining a place on the UK courses; many undertake a year's traineeship. Also, professional certification (after qualifying) can be pursued via the Registration Scheme offered by the Society of Archivists.
According to the most recent professional census of American Archivists published, most of those in the United States have earned a Masters degree. However, the exact type of degree can vary; the most common sorts of advanced degrees held by archivists are in archival science, history, library science, or library and information science. It is also possible for archivists to earn a doctorate in library, or library and information, science. Archivists with a Ph. D. often work as teaching faculty or deans and directors of archival programs. In 2002, the Society of American Archivists published Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies.
Also in the United States, the Academy of Certified Archivists offers supplemental archival training by means of a certification program. Critics of ACA certification object to its yearly membership fees, the theoretical versus practical nature of its tests, and the need for members to re-certify every five years. Many positions in government archives require certification from the ACA, but due to its controversial nature, the ACA is not required by all employers in the United States.
Many archivists belong to a professional organization, such as the Society of American Archivists, the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Society of Archivists (UK/Ireland), the Colombian College of Archivists - CCA and the Australian Society of Archivists, as well as any number of local or regional associations. These organizations often provide ongoing educational opportunities to their members and other interested practitioners. In addition to formal degrees and or apprenticeships, many archivists take part in continuing education opportunities as available through professional associations and library school programs. New discoveries in the fields of media preservation and emerging technologies require continuing education as part of an archivist's job in order to stay current in the profession.
In 1898 three Dutch archivists, Samuel Muller, Johan Feith, and Robert Fruin, published the first Western text on archival theory entitled "Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives". Produced for the Dutch Association of Archivists, it set out one hundred rules for archivists to base their work around. Notably within these rules the principle of preserving provenance and original order was first argued for as an essential trait of archival arrangement and description.
The next major text was written in 1922 by Sir Hilary Jenkinson, the then Deputy Keeper of the British Public Records Office, entitled "Manual of Archive Administration". In this work Jenkinson states that archives are evidence and that the moral and physical defence of this evidential value is the central tenet of archival work. He further outlines his ideas of what an Archive should be and how it should operate.
In 1956, T. R. Schellenberg, who is known as the "Father of American Archival Appraisal", published "Modern Archives". Schellenberg's work was intended to be an academic textbook defining archival methodology and giving archivists specific technical instruction on workflow and arrangement. Moving away from Jenkinson's organic and passive approach to archival acquisition, where the administrator decided what was kept and what was destroyed, Schellenberg argued for a more active approach by archivists to appraisal. His primary (administrative) and secondary (research) value model for the management and appraisal of records and archives allowed government archivists greater control over the influx of material that they faced after the Second World War. As a result of the widespread adoption of Schellenberg's methods, especially in the United States of America, modern Records Management as a separate but related discipline was born.
In 1972, Ernst Posner published "Archives in the Ancient World". Posner's work emphasized that archives were not new inventions, but had existed in many different societies throughout recorded history.
In 1975, essays by Margaret Cross Norton were collected under the title of "Norton on Archives: The Writings of Margaret Cross Norton on Archival and Records Management". Norton was one of the founders of the Society of American Archivists, and wrote essays based on her decades of experience working in the Illinois State Archives.