Archives are unique collections of original historical records and documents which provide a permanent record of the past.
Some archives relate to a particular person, place or organisation, showing how people lived and what they did.
Archives are more than just papers. They can include material in a variety of media:
- paper-based, including books, plans, maps and files
- computer records
- digital or audio recordings
- photographs and film.
The work of an archive assistant
A professionally qualified archivist is in charge of an archive. Archive assistants help maintain the contents of the archive and assist with the day to day running of it. They are sometimes known as para-professionals.
Working with the contents of an archive may involve:
- cataloguing and indexing archive items
- inputting information onto databases
- making records available to users in various formats, such as photocopies, microfiche and computer-based tools
- developing and maintaining digital resources, such as scanning, sorting and formatting
- other clerical or administrative work needed to run the archive.
Archive assistants need a good knowledge of the contents of the archive so they can help with enquiries. Your work may involve helping others to access the archive, such as:
- responding to enquiries from researchers and members of the public who want to use the archive material. The requests may be in writing or by phone or email
- helping users who visit the archive to use the material
- helping to organise presentations, displays and exhibitions
- giving talks.
You need a good knowledge of the contents of the archive, so you can help with enquiries.
Some administrative jobs include archiving alongside other duties.
Archive assistants may be employed by local authorities, national archives and museums, large businesses, universities, religious foundations, charities or private collections.
Archive assistants are based in an archive building. They spend time with their archive material which may be stored in dusty, cramped conditions. The records themselves may be heavy and could be mouldy or dirty.
Becoming an archive assistant
There are no specified qualifications for archives assistants. Employers will expect a good standard of literacy and numeracy (and possibly qualifications to support this). In a specialised archive, employers may ask for knowledge of or interest in that specialism.
Most employers will expect good IT skills as most archives use digital storage for their material nowadays, although new staff will be trained in the use of specialist software.
Some employers ask for a driving licence, especially if the archive collection is spread over several sites.
In practice, many archive assistants may have a degree and may be working towards a career as a fully-qualified archivist.
There are Apprenticeships in Libraries, Archives Records and Information Services at level 2 (intermediate) or level 3 (advanced).
Building a career in archives
Archive assistants can join the Archives and Records Association. The Association organises short courses, seminars and workshops.
To become a fully qualified archivist, assistants would need to study for a degree and a postgraduate qualification. It is possible to do this part-time or by distance learning.