An Update: What Skills Does a Digital Archivist or Librarian Need?

Help Wanted..., by Thewmatt, on Flickr

Help Wanted…, by Thewmatt, on Flickr

If you are looking for a job associated in some way with preserving/curating/stewarding digital information for ongoing use into the future, you want the right mix of skill and experience to attract the right attention from an employer.

I presented my own ideas on this subject a while back, talking from my practical experience as someone who has hired several digital archivists over the years. A premiere talent, I said, was “an ability to understand and adapt to new ways of using technology” because the work we do is rapidly changing. I praised the ability to bridge two social camps: the highly technical and the highly not-technical.

I also extolled an ability to explain what archivists and librarians do and why they do it, declaring that “today, saying something good in a 140 word Twitter message is as important for a library as for a celebrity or car company.”

Some important new findings are presented in Digital Curation in the Academic Job Market (PDF). The article outlines an analysis of 110 job advertisements from 2011 to 2012 that referenced relevant keywords. Some of the findings:

  • An ALA-accredited Masters degree was required or preferred in 85 percent of the postings; 31 percent preferred or required a Masters in other disciplines in addition to or instead of an LIS degree.
  • 66 percent of the ads expected certain work experience, often in connection with a library or archive setting.
  • 58 percent sought candidates with “an ability to work in an information technology intensive environment.”
  • 55 percent referenced technical, organizational and procedural standards, such as Dublin Core, METS and MODS.
  • 45 percent called for project management skills.

There were also a smattering of references to areas such as personal and interpersonal skills, liaison and support and curation knowledge.

This is all useful information, but it must be considered in perspective. Job ads are meant to cast a wide net while also doing their best to zero in on examples of tangible aspects associated with the position. Tangible in this case often means standards and specifications. While an employer who says “skill applying standards such as x, y and z” may mean exactly that, I’ll bet many are rather more interested in an adaptable person who can be expected to pick it up on the job.

With Good News: Librarian Job Growth Exploding!, there will be lots of opportunity to market oneself for a position associated with digital preservation. A savvy job seeker will do their best to get a broad-based idea about the practical skills needed right now.

11/26: Fixed broken link.
11/28: Fixed another broken link.


  1. Sharad Shah
    November 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Either when being supervised or supervising others, I think that, aside from the education and experience (which was and is essential), my mentor and I were both drawn to employees and interns who could make connections. For instance, if they had an appreciation of history and intellectual curiosity, then they seemed eager to learn and pick up the tricks of the trade–and the enthusiasm they brought to the job made work all the more enjoyable.

  2. Bill LeFurgy
    November 27, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Sharad: You are exactly right. Enthusiasm–properly channeled!–is essential.

  3. Jessica Haskell
    November 29, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Thank you very much for this blog post. I am currently in school for information studies/LIS, and this provided great insight for me, while also confirming things I have heard here and there. Now I will definitely be taking the Project Management class my school offers!

  4. Bill LeFurgy
    November 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Jessica: Thanks for your comment. PM will serve you well!

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