ABCs About Archives
What’s an Archivist?
The records in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) outnumber the employees millions to one. Only about 3,000 full- and part-time employees work in the 36 NARA facilities across the United States. Each brings his or her own education and experience to the job.
National Archives employees preserve the records of the U.S. Government and make them available to the public. They do this in different ways, but mostly as archivists, archives technicians, conservators, and records managers.
Archivists are specially trained in preserving the original material and helping people obtain it. Archivists work with paper documents, photographs, maps, films, and computer records. Many begin their careers as historians and then attend classes to learn from experienced archivists. Archivists possess broad, deep knowledge about records and are involved in many, if not all, phases of the records life cycle. Their extensive research and analysis skills help in serving records to the public.
National Archives Top Job
The Archivist of the United States is the head of the agency and is appointed by the President of the United States.
Archives specialists assist archivists by applying specialized knowledge about certain subjects to records they serve. They often work on projects describing or preserving a body of records. They also work directly with the public when records within their expertise are requested.
Archives technicians assist archivists. The technicians go into the “stacks”—large rooms where boxes of documents are kept—and locate records. They also work with conservators to clean, repair, and preserve older and more fragile pieces of history.
More than Archivists Work at an Archives
Conservators are specialists who preserve documents, photographs, and other historical records. They spend many hours slowly and carefully cleaning and repairing damaged and delicate materials. Conservators are especially knowledgeable about chemicals, tools, and methods used during conservation treatment. Find out more about the work of conservators.
Records managers work with Federal Government entities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the U.S. Army to make sure they are creating records that reflect the work they do. The volume of paper and electronic files created by the Federal Government, which employs more than two million people, is tremendous. Records managers also make sure that agencies are storing their records properly and are bringing the most important ones safely to the National Archives to be attended to by archivists and conservators.
Accountants, photographers, librarians, educators, curators, store clerks, editors, chemists, graphics designers, and others also work for the National Archives. Recently, as electronic files have become part of the National Archives’ holdings, new job titles have appeared. These include dynamic media preservation specialists, digital imaging specialists, computer specialists, and optical instrument repairers.
Some NARA employees spend many years in school preparing for their work in the National Archives, while others learn on the job. Almost all of the workers at the National Archives graduated from high school, and close to half graduated from college. More than twenty percent of NARA’s employees have advanced degrees. Many have personal or professional interests in history and government.
Another important group of people at the National Archives is our volunteers. A love of American history and the United States encourages hundreds of people to give of their time at the National Archives. Some assist archivists, conservators, and archives technicians; others give tours.