As long as there is recorded history, companies, government agencies, libraries, and museums archivists will always be needed to organize, store, preserve, hold accountable, and improve access to historical documents through improved technology. I interviewed Jim Riley of the Idaho State Archives to get a better understanding of what archivists do and the different skills needed to do the job.
Jim Riley originally went through the history program for both his undergraduate and graduate studies at Boise State and did an internship at the Idaho State Archives. Jim also worked with people at the Idaho Military History Museum working on Spanish American War, which was his area of study for his master’s thesis. Jim also worked on the Adjutant General’s collection at the Idaho State Archives, gathering information on active duty troops back to the Nez Perce War. Jim ended up getting a job with the Idaho State Archives due to his internship. Jim also helped digitizing old photos at the archives, and is currently working at the Idaho State Archives and teaching at Boise State in history.
The usual work that Jim does at the archives is processing public record requests for people, which he says takes half of his time, the other half is working on projects finding information for the legislature, needed on a piece of legislation or local projects. The people that Jim works with on a regular basis vary depending on the project. Sometimes, Jim works with legislature, local law enforcement, and the public. Jim can, at times, choose projects occasionally but most of his time is responding to requests or assigned projects, needed by the local community or legislature.
A history degree or a master’s in history is needed for most entry level positions. Jim says that if you are looking to work in most university libraries, one needs a master’s degree in Library Information Science. Jim expected when he started that he would be doing a lot more in collections instead, he is doing more in legislative work and public requests, but that always changes and he finds interesting things when doing research or researching requests for the public or legislature. The salary normally stays the same and depends on the budget by the legislature. Normally cost of living increases are given each year. Jim says he makes, as a state archivist, $33,000 a year.
Positions in the archive field working for the state are funded by legislature and the state budget. Some states have better funding so more archivists can be hired. Job opportunities also vary in some places depending on specific fields. Jim says that this is typical for most state jobs but can change when working for private companies. Jim mentioned that one archivist left and got a job at company, which would pay substantially more. Jim says that the education needed for entry-level and mid-level is at least as master’s degree. The specific degrees needed are history, public administration, and library information science. The most favored degree would be the Library Information Science Degree, but it depends on what kind of work you want to do in archive field. In order to progress into the upper levels of employment more education is needed. A PhD is a typical requirement when progressing into the upper levels of employment as an archivist. In order to make more pay, most archivists end up taking a test to get the Digital Archive Specialist Certificate and the Arrangement and Description Certificate. This allows helps with getting new jobs or progressing in their current job. These certificates are similar to what an accountant would get in order to become a CPA.
I have talked with Jim prior to this interview, and it always fascinating to hear about all the different information and projects he works on at any given time. I have noticed that Jim’s demeanor changes when I ask him about his job and the excitement in his voice when he explains some of his current and past projects. Jim really enjoys his job and has been a huge influence on me, in pursuing a career as an archivist. Jim’s best advice for getting a job in archives is to get an internship because that is the best way to experience in the field. The majority of people that do internships get jobs with archives because they are already known and have experience working in that particular archive and with the staff already.