[Ask an Archivist] Q: How important is an advanced degree (in addition to an MLIS) to work at a university archives?

Ask an Archivist Question:

How important is an advanced degree (in addition to an MLIS) for an archivist wishing to work at a university archives?

Ask an Archivist Answers:

I think the need for an advanced degree depends upon the position itself. What would be more important to me would be how the candidate’s experience matches the needs of the job. A subject-specialty degree could come in handy for certain positions, but I don’t believe it is 100% necessary and again depends on the job. For example, I work at a theological library in a project archivist position and I do not have a background in religious studies or theology. The majority of the project was to process collections, and I had the experience.

It is possible that a higher level position would be more likely to require an advanced degree in addition to the MLIS. It may factor in to promotion as well, depending on the faculty status of the archivist position.

– Brigette C. Kamsler

A second master’s degree is specified as “required” in a fairly small percentage of university job ads, mostly at really large institutions or those that have faculty status for librarians and archivists (NYU is an example). Some curatorial positions that require deep knowledge in a specific discipline or subject area also require it–or even a Ph.D. The other thing to realize, however, is that when you’re in a highly competitive candidate pool (which I believe is the case for a large percentage of university positions), you may be up against other candidates who have a second master’s even though it’s not explicitly required. In the initial evaluation of applications, only the required skills and experience generally are taken into consideration, but when they move on to identifying finalists, all the other desirable skills/knowledge/attributes come into play.

Also, the second master’s is a signal that the person has strong experience doing research, which one can’t assume from an undergrad or professional degree, the relevance of which is the importance for archivists of understanding the research process so we can properly assist users with their work. The bottom line: for most archival positions out there a second master’s isn’t required, but, depending on the nature of the job, it could give you an edge.

– Jackie Dooley

I like Jackie’s answer. But I’d clarify that while faculty status may–in some institutions–mean a research component to the position, it also may not. And while some faculty positions may require second degrees, some may not and that may or may not relate to a research component in the workload in either case. I feel like I’m starting to draw up a matrix or possibly a venn diagram, sorry! At any rate, I’d say that faculty status is sometimes a clue that could be helpful, but I’d be hesitant to say anything that could be read by our audience to mean a direct correlation. The determined applicant can still find jobs in academia that do not require nor reward a second degree. If a second degree is not listed in the requirements or preferreds, many universities have strong enough HR rules that–at least prior to an initial interview–they might not be able to prioritize candidates with second degrees during the initial screening process. I’d advise the questioner to take a look at job ads for jobs and institutions she or he finds most attractive and determine from there whether the additional cost and time for a second degree is worth the advantage it will bring in a search.

And of course then there’s the warning I’d make based on my experience of people with advanced degrees in other topics: at no point in the application should you give me the impression that an archives job or your archives degree is of secondary interest to you. I’ve seen a number of potentially qualified candidates get knocked out of pools for focusing on their MA/PhD in [name the subject] in their application materials instead of focusing on what they could bring the institution as an archivist.

– Arlene Schmuland

When I was in University setting (3 years ago) I was at small to medium generalist universities and a second masters was not needed. Subject liaison assignment was based on undergraduate degrees. Maybe it is important at the big research heavy universities.

– Gerri Schaad


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