Archivists, Curators, Conservators, and Museum and Archives Technicians

Individuals in the field of archiving, curating, conserving, and museum technology have one common goal: to preserve important records and artifacts for the current generation and for the future. Archivists, curators, conservators, and museum and archives technicians may work in the private sector or for government entities. They may work at museums, historical sites, cultural centers, colleges and universities, and in many other places.

This article outlines the job description for each of these professions and provides information about necessary education and other requirements. The 10-year employment outlook and expected yearly earnings for individuals in these professions are also discussed.

Job Descriptions

  • Archivists: Archivists oversee the care, display, cataloguing, and analyzing of artifacts and important documents. Archivists may also play a part in communicating with the public about these artifacts and documents through tours, workshops, lectures, and classes.
  • Curators: Curators generally have many of the same job responsibilities as archivists, but they specialize in the preservation and display of objects such as tools, weapons, sculptures, pottery, and other works of art. They may work in museums and at historic sites, as well as at zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and nature centers.
  • Conservators: Conservators do the more hands-on work of preserving, treating, and restoring works of art, artifacts, and other objects. They may use X-rays, chemical testing, microscopes, specially designed lights, and other laboratory equipment and techniques to examine objects, determine their condition, and decide the best way to preserve them. A conservator will often work within a chosen specialty such as paintings, pottery, or stone tools.
  • Museum and Archives Technicians: Museum technicians, also known as registrars, primarily assist the curators. Museum technicians help with cataloguing and maintaining museum items, as well as with answering public inquiries and assisting other professionals with use of the institution’s collections. Archives technicians are similar to museum technicians, although their focus is on assisting archivists in organizing, maintaining, and providing access to historical documents and materials.

Education and Other Requirements

A master’s degree in history or library science with courses in archival science is ideal for anyone wishing to work as an archivist, curator, conservator, or museum or archives technician. However, some lower-level positions may be available to individuals holding only an undergraduate degree. Seeking highly specialized training, or completing a double major in library science and the individual’s chosen area, greatly increases his or her desirability on the job market.

  • Archivists: At least a master’s degree is almost always necessary to become an archivist. Similar to the curator, the archivist will benefit from holding a degree with a concentration in his or her chosen area, such as ancient Nordic maps or early samples of photography.
  • Curators: A curator will need to have educational training in history or library science, as well as a degree in his or her chosen field, such as ancient Roman culture, 20th-century paintings, or 12th-century warfare.
  • Conservators: A master’s degree in conservation or a closely related field is required to become a conservator. Chemistry, archaeology, studio art, and art history are all great fields for a conservator to study in order to qualify for most conservation programs. A good amount of related work experience is usually needed to be hired as a conservator.
  • Museum and archives technicians: These two positions are the exception to the rule, as applicants often only need a bachelor’s degree, rather than a master’s degree, to be hired for most jobs. Archives technicians will do best with a degree in library science or history, and relevant work experience is preferred. Museum technicians fare best if they hold a degree in the field related to the museum’s specialty, such as an art history degree for an art museum. Training in museum studies as well as previous experience working in museums, especially with exhibit design, can be just as essential for museum and archives technicians to finding work as a relevant degree.

10-Year Employment Outlook
The good news is that employment is expected to grow at a much higher-than-average rate for all of these fields. The bad news is that the number of qualified applicants is still expected to exceed the number of jobs available over the next 10 years. Competition for jobs in these fields continues to be high. However, for well-trained candidates with appropriate work experience and education, more and more jobs will be available.

The need for workers in these fields is expected to continue at a steady pace. With the continuous proliferation of information coming to us from the Internet, jobs for archivists are expected to increase in the public and private sectors. On the whole, museums and other related institutions are doing well, and the need for curators, conservators, and museum and archives technicians is expected to continue.

Below are the expected annual earnings for each profession, listed with the median and the range for individuals working in the field:

  • Archivists: The median annual wage is $45,020. Earnings range from less than $26,500 to more than $76,000.
  • Curators: The median annual wage is $47,000. The range is from $26,000 to $83,000.
  • Conservators, Museum Technicians, and Archives Technicians: The median annual wage is $36,500. The range is from $22,000 to $66,000.