Archivists And Curators
Archivists and curators search for, acquire, analyze, catalog, restore, exhibit, maintain, and store items of lasting value.
Most of us like to get, fix up, arrange, and show off collections of things we like. Archivists and curators do this for a living. They search for, acquire, analyze, catalog, restore, exhibit, maintain, and store items of lasting value. These may consist of historical documents, corporate records, art, coins, stamps, minerals, clothing, maps, live and preserved plants and animals, buildings, or historic sites.
Archivists determine what portion of the vast amount of information produced by government agencies, corporations, educational institutions, and other organizations should be made part of a historical record or put on exhibit. They classify information so it may be located easily and determine whether it should be stored as original documents, on microfilm, or as computer records.
Archives may be part of a library or museum or may be a separate unit. Most items in archives are documents, but photographs, blueprints, and other items also are stored. Archivists often specialize in an area of history or technology so they can properly determine what should become part of the archives. Archivists may also specialize by type of record--for example, computerized information, photographs, or ancient documents.
Curators manage collections in museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, and historic sites. They acquire items through purchases, gifts, field exploration, intermuseum loans, or, in the case of plants and animals, breeding. They often restore objects (such as works of art or historic items) to their original condition; this may require substantial historical and archeological research. Curators also plan and prepare attractive, interesting, and informative exhibits.
Some curators plan and conduct museum education programs. Most museums, zoos, botanic gardens, and historic sites offer tours conducted by instructors, guides, or docents (museum volunteers). Since many tours are composed of school groups, tours must be geared to the age of the students. Some museums conduct classes, workshops, or lectures for students or the general public which are conducted or arranged for by curators.
Most curators specialize in fields such as zoology, art, or history. Those working in large institutions may be highly specialized. A large natural history museum, for example, would have specialists in birds, fishes, mammals, and dinosaurs. Furthermore, in large institutions, most curators specialize in functions. Some restore or maintain the collection, while others perform administrative tasks, such as registrars, who are responsible for keeping track of and moving objects in the collection. In small institutions, with only one of a few curators, they are responsible for almost everything.
Archival work requires meticulous attention to detail. Many archivists work alone, generally in offices with only one or two other persons.
Curators also usually work in offices. However, working conditions vary depending upon the type and size of museum. Little physical activity is required of many curators, but those who restore and install exhibits may climb, stretch, or lift, and those in zoos, botanical gardens, and other outdoor museums or historic sites walk a lot.
Curators in large, heavily endowed museums may travel extensively to evaluate potential additions to the collection and to organize exhibitions. Those in museums with very limited budgets may travel only occasionally.
Archivists and curators held about 17,000 jobs in 1990. About one-fourth were employed in museums, botanical gardens, and zoos and one-fifth were in public and private education, particularly in college and university libraries. About 1 in 3 worked in federal, state and local government. Most federal archivists are employed in the National Archives and Records Administration; others manage military archives in the Department of Defense. Most federal government curators work at the Smithsonian Institution, in the military museums of the Department of Defense, and in archeological and other museums managed by the Department of Interior. All state governments have archival or historical records sections employing archivists. State and local governments have numerous
historical museums, parks, and zoos employing curators.
Some large corporations have archival or records centers, employing archivists to manage the growing volume of historical records required by law or necessary to the firms' operations. Religious and fraternal organizations, professional associations, and research firms also employ a few archivists and curators.
Employment as an archivist or curator generally requires graduate training and substantial practical or work experience. Many archivists and curators work in archives or museums while completing their formal education.
Archivists usually earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in history or related fields, with courses in archival or library science. Most archivists have a master's degree, and many have a doctorate or second master's degree in library science. More than 70 colleges and universities offer courses or practical training in archival science; about 30 offer master's degrees; and 10, doctorates.
Continuing education is very important. Meetings, conferences, and workshops sponsored by the Society of American archivists, the National Archives and Records Administration, and other archival associations enable archivists to keep up with developments in their field such as the use of computers to store and access information.
Archivists need good eyesight to analyze deteriorated or poor quality printed matter, handwritten manuscripts, or photographs and films. Archivists also must be able to organize large amounts of information and write clear instructions for its retrieval and use.
Many archival units are very small, with limited promotion opportunities. Advancement generally is through transferring to a larger unit with supervisory positions. Where an archive is part of a library or a museum, archivists many become librarians, manuscripts, curators, or managers of these organizations.
The minimum requirements for employment as a curator are a bachelor's degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum's specialty--for example, art, history, or archeology--and experience in museum work. In most museums, a master's degree in a related field is generally required, but employers prefer a doctorate. For some positions, an internship of full-time museum work supplemented by courses in museum practices in needed.
Many students interested in museum work take courses or obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in museum studies (museology). About 60 colleges and universities offer undergraduate courses in museum studies, nearly 40 grant the bachelor's degree, and over 90 grant the master's degree. However, many employers feel that, while museum studies are helpful, thorough knowledge of the museum's specialty is considered more important.
Curatorial positions often require knowledge in a number of fields. For historic and artistic conservation, courses in chemistry, physics, and in painting and crafts are desirable. Since curators--particularly those in small museums--may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, course in business administration and public relations also are recommended.
Curators must be flexible because of their wide variety of duties. They need an aesthetic sense to design and present exhibits, and in small museums manual dexterity is needed to erect exhibits or restore objects. Leadership ability is important for museum directors, while public relations skills are valuable in increasing museum attendance and fundraising.
Continuing education is also very important for curators; they attend conferences, meetings, and workshops sponsored by the American Association of Museums, other museum associations, and by large museums such as the Smithsonian Institution.
In large museums, curators may advance through several levels of responsibility, eventually to museum director. Curators in smaller museums often advance to larger ones. Individual research and publications are important for advancement.
Employment of archivists and curators is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Federal Government archival activities are expected to grow slowly, but those in other areas, such as educational services and state and local government, are expected to grow faster. Archival jobs will also become available as institutions put more emphasis on establishing archives and organizing records and information. Museums and botanical and zoological gardens, where curators are concentrated, are expected to grow in response to increased public interest in science, art, history, technology, and culture.
Despite the anticipated increase in the employment of curators, competition for jobs is expected to be keen. A job as a curator is attractive to many people, and many have the necessary subject knowledge, yet there are only a few openings. Consequently, candidates may have to work part time, or as an intern, or even as a volunteer assistant
curator or research associate after completing their formal education, and substantial work experience in collection management, exhibit design, or restoration will be necessary for permanent status.
Archivists can improve their job opportunities by taking course in library or information science. Some employment opportunities will arise in related fields such as librarian, records manager, collection manager, and public historian, and information scientist.
Job prospects will be better in small museums and archives, particularly those in cities or less desirable geographic locations.
Earnings of archivists and curators vary considerably by type and size of employer. Average salaries in the federal government, for example, are much higher than those in religious organizations. Salaries of curators in large, well-funded museums may be several times higher than those in small ones.
Archivists' and curators' interest in preservation and display are shared by anthropologists, arborists, archaeologists, artifacts conservators, botanists, ethnologists, folklorists, genealogists, historians, horticulturists, information specialists, librarians, paintings restorers, records managers, and zoologists.