[Ask an Archivist] Q: Where should I work before graduate school?

Ask an Archivist Question:

I want to go into the archiving profession but I do not want to go straight into graduate school after I graduate next May. What are some career paths/jobs I should look into after graduation that would put me in the direction of becoming an archivist? How soon should I start applying to jobs?


Ask an Archivist Answers:

Not going directly into graduate school for learning the archival enterprise can be a good thing. Jobs to look at are many and varied. At this time, I would recommend anything in the computer area. Cyber security, learning/writing  software, or anything with data management will give you experience that you can use with digital records (the future of archives).

Another thing that will always help is bookkeeping or accounting. You can be the one who understands business records, because most of us come from a history or English literature background. Plus, knowing how to read a general ledger helps when you become the boss of the department and have to manage the money. Project management is another skill – learning how to get the job done on time, with few resources is really important. Finally, any job where you are interacting with co-workers or the public gives you skills with people and how they think and ask questions. This will help with reference.  Good luck!

– Gerrianne Schaad

I don’t think there’s a single path that would best prepare you for archival work. I worked for a couple of years in college athletic media relations before starting graduate school. I doubt anyone would list this as a “preferred” path towards archival work. But I learned effective outreach, PR and media relations techniques. I learned how to write concisely and persuasively. And I learned how to work as part of a team. These skills are invaluable in archival work today. And having previous professional experience where these skills were clearly demonstrated and honed helped me stand out from the crowd when I was looking for my first archival professional job.

Regardless of what jobs you hold before (or during) grad school, think about the transferable skills you’re learning, and, when you’re interviewing, clearly state how these experiences help you be a better archivist. Remember that many people will have a graduate education that (at least on the surface) is identical to yours. Your experiences outside of class and your ability to clearly state how those experiences help you be a better archivist differentiate you from everyone else.

– Erin Lawrimore

I find having experience working with a filing system helpful. I’ve worked with archivists who have little experience in office work, creating or maintaining a filing system, and they seemed to have a bad grasp on hierarchy and order of business records and how to apply that to personal papers. So, an everyday office job can be profitable in this regard.

– Michala Biondi

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