How Do I Become a Photo Archivist?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 07 August 2019
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There are many different paths that you can take to become a photo archivist, but the best way to get started in the field is usually through education. A bachelor’s degree is almost always required, and many employers prefer master’s or even doctoral degrees, often dictated by the complexity of the work. Depending on where you are, it can be very difficult to find degree programs dedicated wholly to photo archiving. More often, you will need to start with a background in history, library sciences, or business records and administration, then tailor your experience and academic focus to the photographic realm.

In many respects, the photo archivist career is one that is self-made. Without a specific degree track, students must take the initiative themselves to focus their learning on visual archiving. Sometimes this is as easy as choosing electives on photo classification and organization, but often also involves seeking out extracurricular work, volunteer experience, or independent study that centers on the classification and sorting of image-related media.


Education is almost always the first step needed to become a photo archivist, but the lack of firm entry requirements means that many different college degree programs can prepare a student to enter the field. It is still usually a good idea to choose an area of study that somehow relates to archiving. History and library sciences are usually the most popular undergraduate majors for a student hoping to become a photo archivist, though more nuanced fields like biology or foreign languages can nonetheless be helpful, depending on the venue. Life sciences museums may find an archivist with a biology background very competitive, for instance, and a researcher focused on the people and culture of some foreign country may find language expertise desirable.

A person hoping to become a photo archivist as a long-term career would also be wise to consider graduate-level education. Advanced programs in a range of fields allow students more control over their research agendas and often provide space for more specialized education. Graduate students are often able to focus the majority of their academic energy on archiving tasks. This often involves independent research, as well as arranged work study and sponsored internships with photograph archivist departments in a range of different organizations.

Work experience is also another good way to break into the field and become a photo archivist. Most of the time, an organization has far fewer photo archivist jobs than it does archivist jobs more generally. Accepting a general archiving position is often a good way to transition into the more specific field of photograph work, particularly if you express an early interest. Take any opportunities to work with photos that come your way, even if they may not be your dream tasks. Spending time sorting historic photos can help lead to a career in modern photographs, and vice versa.

It is sometimes also possible to get experience working with photos on a volunteer basis. Many different historical societies and nonprofit groups have photo documentation that needs to be organized, but they often lack the funding to hire a professional. Volunteering can be a great way to get your hands in the field, as well as making connections and gaining references for later job applications.

Once you have some tangible evidence of your skills, build a portfolio of your work. This can help you become a photo archivist by giving potential employers a clear idea of your strengths, your experience, and the expertise you will bring to the job. A portfolio of documented work can sometimes outweigh other resume deficiencies, particularly where advanced education is concerned.



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