Archivists appraise, organize, look after and provide access to historically valuable documents, records and information. They also provide advice and assistance about archives to individuals and organizations. 

Archivists are also known as appraisal archivists and manuscript librarians. They are responsible for the care and preservation of valuable materials including documents, maps, photographs, microfilm, films, videotapes, and sound recordings.

Since many of the materials in an archivist’s care are irreplaceable, proper preservation of them is probably the most important part of the job. Archivists are required to keep abreast of the latest techniques for filing, indexing and storing materials so that they are easily accessible to researchers and conserved for future generations.

Record management, control of material kept, and regular evaluation of the material to determine whether it is of temporary or permanent significance is also part of archival work.

Archivists study records and documents that are no longer regularly used and provide advice on which records have archival value. They sometimes make decisions about which materials are to be kept and which are to be destroyed. They are involved with the storage and repair of archive materials.

Some archivists develop new information management systems to control and access archives. They advise on and provide a suitable environment and storage for materials.

They help people find information and guide them to areas that help their research, and answer written and telephone enquiries. They might organise displays, guide tours around archival displays or exhibitions and be involved in public speaking engagements in the community.

Another aspect of the job involves the publication or dissemination of information to scholars and other potential researchers in order to familiarise them with the archives in the archivist’s custody.

Archivists should know about different record-keeping methods, information systems, and methods of organising, storing and finding information in archives. They need to keep up to date with information on archives and records management. It is important that they know about different kinds of databases and how to use the Internet.

They need to know the historical value and the potential research value of materials to be archived. They may need knowledge of the country’s history and the cultures of various population groups and possibly government departments.

Archivists use computers, filing systems, documents and materials, microfilm scanners, videos, film equipment and special document storage cabinets or shelves. They work in national archives, libraries, museums, national and local government departments, businesses and private organisations.

They may work independently or in teams. They interact with a wide range of customers such as school students and teachers, family researchers, community representatives and other professionals such as historians, authors, publishers, film and documentary makers, art and document conservators and restorers.

Personal Requirements

  • keen interest in history and research
  • sound analytical and research skills
  • ability to organise large amounts of information
  • good communication and people skills
  • problem-solving skills and organisational /administrative ability
  • an eye for detail
  • well-organised and methodical worker
  • ability to keep information private
  • ability to work well under pressure
  • ability to read other languages is useful

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass or a Diploma pass.

Compulsory Subjects: None 
Recommended Subjects: Languages, History

In addition, check the university admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.

What to Study

Degree: For an appointment as an archivist in the government service, a BA degree with at least one of the following subjects is required: History, History of Art, Anthropology, Archaeology, Latin, Languages, Library and Information Science, Public Administration, Political Science, Law, Geography or Economics. It is also advisable to gain a postgraduate qualification with an archives, museum studies or library component. Degree offered at all universities. Other companies require a three-year diploma. A Bachelor of Library and Information Science -BLIS is offered at some universities, namely UWC and UZ. 

Diploma: A N.Dip. in any field can be followed at any university of technology.

After archivists have been appointed, they are expected to obtain the N.H.Dip. Archival Science at UNISA, offered on a correspondence basis.


  • national archives (there are depots in all the major centres)
  • private archives
  • museums
  • universities and universities of technology
  • private sector (e.g. banking, mining and insurance)

Further Information

The National Archivist
National Archives of South Africa
24 Hamilton Street
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 441-3200

Ditsong Museums of SA
GaMohle Building,
70 WF Nkomo (Church) Street West,
Tel: (012) 492-5744

Getting Started

  • historical work, research work or work as an archives assistant is useful experience
  • library and museum work are relevant to this area
  • experience in information management or working in a government department may be helpful, and any work that involves dealing with people such as customer services or teaching

Programmes by Study Institutions


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