What Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers Do
Archivists and curators oversee institutions’ collections, such as of historical items or of artwork. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore items in those collections.
Archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators work in museums, historical sites, governments, colleges and universities, corporations, and other institutions. Most work full time.
How to Become an Archivist, Curator, or Museum Worker
Archivists, curators, and conservators typically need a master’s degree in a field related to their position. Museum technicians typically have a bachelor’s degree. Experience gained through an internship or by volunteering in archives or museums is helpful.
The median annual wage for archivists, curators, and museum workers was $49,850 in May 2019.
Overall employment of archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators is projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. The need to store information in archives and the public’s interest in science, art, and history should continue to spur demand for archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators.
Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historical items and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.
Archivists typically do the following:
- Authenticate and appraise historical documents and archival materials
- Preserve and maintain documents and objects
- Create and manage a system to maintain and preserve electronic records
- Organize and classify archival materials
- Safeguard records by creating film and digital copies
- Direct workers to help arrange, exhibit, and maintain collections
- Set and administer policy guidelines concerning public access to materials
- Find and acquire new materials for their archives
Curators, museum technicians, and conservators typically do the following:
- Acquire, store, and exhibit collections
- Select the theme and design of exhibits
- Design, organize, and conduct tours and workshops for the public
- Attend meetings and civic events to promote their institution
- Clean objects such as ancient tools, coins, and statues
- Direct and supervise curatorial, technical, and student staff
- Plan and conduct special research projects
Archivists preserve important or historically significant documents and records. They coordinate educational and public outreach programs, such as tours, lectures, and classes. They also may work with researchers on topics and items relevant to their collections.
Some archivists specialize in a particular era of history so that they can have a better understanding of the records from that period. Archivists typically work with specific forms of documentation, such as manuscripts, electronic records, websites, photographs, maps, motion pictures, or sound recordings.
Curators, who also may be museum directors, lead the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections. They negotiate and authorize the purchase, sale, exchange, and loan of collections. They also may research, authenticate, evaluate, and categorize the items in a collection.
Curators often perform administrative tasks and help manage their institution’s research projects and related educational programs. They may represent their institution in the media, at public events, and at professional conferences.
In large institutions, some curators may specialize in a particular field, such as botany, art, or history. For example, a large natural history museum might employ separate curators for its collections of birds, fish, and mammals.
In small institutions, one curator may be responsible for many tasks, from taking care of collections to directing the affairs of the museum.
Museum technicians, who may be known as preparators, registrars, or collections specialists, care for and safeguard objects in museum collections and exhibitions.
Preparators focus on readying items in museum collections for display or storage. For example, they might make frames and mats for artwork or fit mounts to support objects. They also help to create exhibits, such as by building exhibit cases, installing items, and ensuring proper lighting. And they transport items and prepare them for shipping.
Registrars and collections specialists oversee the logistics of acquisitions, insurance policies, risk management, and loaning of objects to and from the museum for exhibition or research. They keep detailed records of the conditions and locations of the objects that are on display, in storage, or being transported to another museum. They also maintain and store any documentation associated with the objects.
These workers also may answer questions from the public and help curators and outside scholars use the museum’s collections.
Conservators handle, preserve, treat, and keep records of artifacts, specimens, and works of art. They may perform substantial historical, scientific, and archeological research. They document their findings and treat items in order to minimize deterioration or restore them to their original state. Conservators usually specialize in a particular material or group of objects, such as documents and books, paintings, or textiles.
Some conservators use x rays, chemical testing, microscopes, special lights, and other laboratory equipment and techniques to examine objects, determine their condition, and decide on the best way to preserve them. They also may participate in outreach programs, research topics in their specialty, and write articles for scholarly journals.
Archivists, curators, and museum workers held about 37,500 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up archivists, curators, and museum workers was distributed as follows:
|Museum technicians and conservators||14,800|
The largest employers of archivists, curators, and museum workers were as follows:
|Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions||40%|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||17|
Depending on the size of the institution and the position archivists, curators, and museum workers hold, these workers may spend time either at a desk or with the public, providing reference assistance and educational services. Museum workers who restore and set up exhibits or work with bulky, heavy record containers may have to lift objects, climb ladders and scaffolding, and stretch to reach items.
Most archivists, curators, museum technicians, and conservators work full time.
Archivists in government agencies and corporations generally work during regular business hours. Curators in large institutions may travel extensively to evaluate potential additions to the collection, organize exhibits, and conduct research. For curators in small institutions, however, travel may be rare. Museum technicians may need to work evenings and weekends if their institutions are open to the public during those times.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of archivists, curators, and museum workers.
For information about archivists and about schools offering courses in archival studies, visit
For more information about archivists and archivist certification, visit
For information about government archivists, visit
For information about museum technicians, registrars, or collections specialists, visit
For more information about museum careers, including schools offering museum studies and related programs, visit
For more information about careers and education programs in conservation and preservation for conservators, visit
For information about job openings as curators, museum technicians, and conservators with the federal government, visit
For a career video on archivists, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/curators-museum-technicians-and-conservators.htm (visited ).