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In-Depth Jobs


Issue No 33, 13-19 November 2021

Career As An Archivist

Nidhi Prasad

What is an archive?

An archive is a collection of documents or records which have been selected for permanent preservation owing to their value as evidence or as a source of information for cultural, historical and other research. The word 'archive' is derived from the Greek word ‘arkheion’ meaning public office or town hall in which important official state documents were filed and interpreted under the authority of the Archon (ruler or lord, frequently used as the title of a specific public office). The study and practice of organizing, preserving, and providing access to information and materials in archives is called archival science or archival administration.

Who is an archivist?

Archivists acquire, manage and maintain documents and other materials that have long-term value for individuals and institutions. They work with paper documents, computer records as well as audio-visual materials. They are responsible for preserving a body of records along with descriptions. In doing so, they have to combine scholastic research with the aggregation, preservation, and cataloguing of records and objects of historical value. Museums, government agencies, educational institutions, and organizations that require keeping permanent records have positions for archivists.

Responsibilities of an archivist:

·         Facilitating the acquisition, preservation, access, and arrangement of records

·          Appraising the materials to determine preservation issues and resolving those issues • Organization and description of archived collections

·          Maintaining and updating archival database

·          Negotiating the acquisition of new collections

·          Supervising supporting staff and budgets

·          Creating exhibits and engaging in outreach campaigns and activities Common profiles

·          Manuscript Archivist

·          Digital Archivist

·          Film Archivist

·          Photograph Archivist

Required skills:

·          Analytical skills: An archivist needs to analyze materials such as maps, films, documents and paintings; checking their authenticity, physical condition and historical content. By analyzing materials an archivist is able to spodefects and determine if the material can be included in collections. An archivist should have a methodical approach to work with a knack for accuracy.

·         Preserving skills: An archivist should have the knowledge about storing and conservation techniques from various time periods. Certain material needs specific environmental conditions, so an archivist monitors the storage space and security arrangements required for long-term protection of the materials.

·          Customer service skills: An archivist makes material available to the public through scans and copies. Generally, they will help persons who want to access the archives to retrieve information or do research.

·          Communication skills and event management: Archivists encourage the public to visit the archives through presentations, lectures, workshops, displays, exhibits or tours.

·          Computer Skills: Working knowledge of computers and similar gadgets

How to become an archivist?

Other than a degree in archival science, a person holding a degree in subjects like history, political science, library science, public administration are considered for the position of an archivist. The minimum qualification to get a bachelor’s degree in the aforementioned subjects is 10+2. Students having science and medical background can also pursue reprography – a specialized discipline related to archival science.

On completing a bachelor’s degree in archival science or related disciplines, one can further enrol in MA, M.Phil, and PhD programs in the same subject. Certain institutions offer other courses, such as PG Certificate in Archives, PG Diploma in Archive-Keeping, PG Diploma in Archives, Documentation and Management, PG Diploma in Archival Science and Manuscriptology, and PG Diploma in Archival Studies. Some short-term certificate courses in servicing, and repair of records, reprography, and archives management are also conducted. The basic idea behind enrolling in such courses is to gain knowledge of basic archival theory, methods, and/or practice of appraisal, including records management, aspects of library and information science management, and historical and research methods.

 The School of Archival Studies, formerly known as the Institute of Archival Training set up in 1976 by National Archives of India is one of the most prestigious institutes in India for archival studies. Other reputed institutions offering Certificate and Diploma courses in Archival Science and related disciplines include:

·         National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology, Delhi–nmi. gov.in

·          School of Archival Studies, National Archives of India, Delhi–nationalarchives.nic.in

·          Delhi Institute of Heritage Research & Managementdihrm.delhigovt.nic.in

·          Osmania University, Hyderabad- osmania.ac.in

·          Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi-bhu.ac.in

Why are archives important?

 Archives have value to nations and regions, organisations, communities, and individual people. They provide evidence of activities which occurred in the past, they tell stories, document people and identity and are valuable sources of information for research. They are our recorded memory and form an important part of our community, cultural, official and unofficial history. Archive collections are usually unique, which is why it is so important to take proper care of them. They need to be carefully stored and managed to protect and preserve them for current and future use. Archives are also kept by other institutions, including museums and libraries. Sometimes archival collections are kept in other locations such as religious organisations, universities, schools, businesses, charities, arts organisations and community groups that often hold their own institutional records. The National Archives of India (NAI) is the official custodian of all non-current records of the Government of India and its predecessor bodies. These records are preserved in any type of document forms like books, papers, letters, written manuscripts, maps, plans, diaries, electronic records, photographs, clippings, video and sound recordings, and films drawings, photocopied and microfilmed material and so on. Nowadays, historians, scholars, genealogists, lawyers, biographers, independent writers, documentary filmmakers, demographers, students, analysts and also administrative departments take advantage of archival sources.

Today, almost every field needs an archivist to store its valuable records and documents in a professional manner. Out of the enormous distinct opportunities available to make a flourishing career in, one can opt for archival science and become a successful archivist.

The terms-museums, archives and libraries may be confusing. All these are cultural institutions, concerned with the collection and preservation of cultural heritage that holds a unique position in any modern state. The three fields work together to document all flavours and varieties of history with a single purpose, but each has its own discipline, own programs of training, and bodies of literature. While Museums focus on historical artefacts and objects; Libraries specializes in managing published materials likes books, magazines etc, and Archives focuses on historical records. Although archival collections can often be found within library buildings, they are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization.

The term archives can mean different things and can be defined in three ways namely;

·         Historical record collections: These are groups of records like papers, documents, files, photographs and other similar materials collected and preserved by an individual or organization.

·          Repositories (Physical facilities): Here archives refer to a physical location or facility like a building or part of a building where archival records are located

·          Organizations: Archives may also mean an organization, program or agency that is responsible for managing and preserving historical records

Though archives are found in many different contexts, all archival programs have the same fundamental goal; i.e., preservation of records about history and cultural heritage.

Career Prospects

Archivists can find openings in various organizations such as:

·         Museums

·         Government agencies

·         Colleges and universities

·         Industrial and commercial firms

·         Hospitals

·         Historical societies

·         Corporations and any institution whose records may potentially be valuable to researchers, exhibitors, genealogists, or others

·         National Archives of India, an attached office of the Ministry of Culture, which manages all the important documents and archives of the nation offer various job opportunities to qualified candidates in its various units.

·         Indian Council for Historical Research appoints candidates to various posts including Archivists, Assistant Archivists, Director of Archives, Assistant Director of Archives for Records and Publication and Keeper of Records.

Employment of archivists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for archivists is expected to increase, as public and private organizations require that more volumes of records and information be organized and made accessible.

(The author is a counselling psychologist & career consultant. She can be reached at nidhiprasadcs@ gmail.com).

 Views expressed are personal

 Image Courtesy: Shutter Stock