Interview

17 Archivist Interview Questions and Answers

Learn what skills and qualities interviewers are looking for from an archivist, what questions you can expect, and how you should go about answering them.

An archivist helps individuals, organizations, and governments preserve their history. They work with a variety of materials, including paper documents, photographs, audio and video recordings, and digital files.

Answering archivist interview questions can be daunting, but if you come prepared with thoughtful answers, you’ll be one step closer to landing the job. In this guide, you’ll find common interview questions and answers for archivists. You’ll also learn what employers are looking for in candidates and what skills you need to succeed in this career.

Common Archivist Interview Questions

Are you comfortable working with a wide variety of media, including paper, digital, audio, video and more?

An archivist needs to be able to organize and store a variety of media, including paper documents, digital files, audio recordings and video footage. An interviewer may ask this question to learn more about your experience working with these different types of media. If you have relevant experience, share it in your answer. If not, consider discussing how comfortable you are learning new things and picking up new skills.

Example: “I am very comfortable working with all kinds of media. In my last role, I was responsible for organizing the entire archive, which included both physical and digital records. I also regularly worked with audio and video recordings, so I’m quite familiar with those formats.”

What are some of the most important qualities for an archivist to have?

This question can help the interviewer determine if you have the necessary skills and abilities to be successful in this role. When answering, it can be helpful to mention a few of your strongest qualities that make you qualified for this position.

Example: “I believe some of the most important qualities an archivist should have are organization, attention to detail and communication skills. These skills allow me to organize information so it’s easy to find later, ensure I’m recording details accurately and communicate with others about what I’m doing. In my previous role as an archivist, these were three skills I used every day.”

How do you organize and store materials to ensure they’re properly preserved for future use?

This question can help the interviewer assess your organizational skills and how you apply them to archival work. Use examples from past experience to show that you’re organized, detail-oriented and able to follow procedures for organizing materials.

Example: “I use a system of color coding and labeling to organize files by type and subject matter. I also create metadata tags within each file so that they can be easily searched later. This helps me ensure that all documents are properly preserved and available when needed. For example, in my last role as an archivist at a local museum, I helped preserve thousands of historical photographs that were donated to the museum. Using these methods, we were able to sort through and organize the photos into folders based on date and location. We then tagged each photo with keywords so that researchers could find specific images more quickly.”

What is the proper protocol for handling confidential or private information in historical records?

This question can help interviewers assess your ability to handle confidential information and how you would apply the proper protocol when working with sensitive data. Use examples from past experience in which you handled private or confidential information, such as:

Example: “I have worked with many historical records that contain private information, including medical records, financial documents and personal correspondences. In my previous role, I was responsible for organizing a large collection of these types of records. When handling these records, I always made sure to use gloves and keep them in separate boxes so they were not mixed with other records. This helped me ensure that no one could access any private information without permission.”

Provide an example of a time when you had to provide research assistance to a historian or researcher.

Interviewers may ask this question to learn more about your research skills and how you apply them in the workplace. When answering, consider describing a time when you helped someone find information or resources that they needed for their project.

Example: “In my previous role as an archivist, I often assisted other historians with finding important documents and records. One day, one of our researchers was looking for information on a specific person who lived during the Civil War era. They were having trouble locating any information on him because he didn’t have many public records. However, I knew that we had some private records from his family that might contain more information. After searching through those records, I found what the researcher was looking for.”

If you had the opportunity to create an entirely new archive, what types of materials would you include?

This question can help interviewers understand your knowledge of the archiving process and how you would apply it to a new archive. Use examples from previous projects or describe what types of materials you would include in an archive if you were creating one from scratch.

Example: “I would definitely include digital records, as they are becoming more prevalent in our society. I would also include social media accounts, which have become important sources for historical information. I would also include personal documents like emails and text messages because they provide insight into people’s lives that we don’t often get access to.”

What would you do if you discovered that a valuable historical record had become damaged or degraded over time?

This question can help interviewers assess your problem-solving skills and ability to adapt to unexpected situations. In your answer, describe a time you encountered this situation in the past and how you handled it.

Example: “In my previous role as an archivist, I discovered that one of our most important historical documents had become damaged over time. The document was written on parchment paper, which is very fragile. When I first noticed the damage, I immediately consulted with other archivists who have more experience than me. Together, we decided to take the document out of its display case so we could restore it. We used special chemicals and equipment to clean the document and repair any tears or holes.”

How well do you perform under pressure when dealing with multiple projects and deadlines?

This question can help the interviewer determine how well you perform under pressure and whether you are able to meet deadlines. Your answer should highlight your ability to multitask, prioritize tasks and manage time effectively.

Example: “I am a highly organized individual who is used to working on multiple projects at once. In my previous role as an archivist, I often had several projects due within the same week or month. While this was challenging at times, I always managed to complete all of my work by the deadline. My experience with managing multiple projects has helped me develop strong organizational skills that allow me to stay focused and productive.”

Do you have experience working with digital archives or databases?

This question can help the interviewer determine if your experience is relevant to the position. If you have previous experience working with digital archives, highlight those skills in your answer. If you do not have any experience working with digital archives, explain how you would adapt to this type of work environment.

Example: “I worked as a records manager for a small business where I was responsible for organizing and storing paper documents. However, I also implemented an electronic document management system that allowed me to create databases and organize files digitally. This helped me save time by searching through digital files instead of physical ones.”

When organizing materials, do you prefer to work in batches or continuously throughout the day?

This question can help the interviewer understand how you approach your work and whether you prefer to focus on one task or multitask. Your answer should reflect your ability to organize materials in a timely manner while also demonstrating your attention to detail.

Example: “I find that I am most productive when working continuously throughout the day, rather than in batches. This allows me to stay focused on my work and complete it more quickly. However, if there is a large volume of materials to be organized, I will break up the project into smaller tasks so I can still maintain my productivity.”

We want to make our archives more accessible to the public. How would you promote our facility on social media and other platforms?

An employer may ask this question to see how you would promote their archives and the work that you do. In your answer, try to show that you have experience with social media marketing or public relations. Explain what steps you would take to increase awareness of the archive’s resources and services.

Example: “I think it is important for archives to be active on social media because it allows us to reach a wider audience. I would create accounts on all major platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Then, I would use these accounts to share interesting facts about our facility and its collections. For example, I could post photos of items from our collection and write short captions explaining why they are significant. I would also encourage visitors to tag themselves in our posts so we can build up our online presence.”

Describe your process for preserving materials.

This question is an opportunity to show your knowledge of archival processes. You can answer this question by describing the steps you take when preserving materials, such as how you organize and label files or what types of storage methods you use.

Example: “I start by organizing all incoming materials into folders based on their type. Then I create a database for each folder that includes information about the item’s creator, date created, location and any other relevant details. After creating the database, I place the physical items in acid-free boxes with desiccant packets to protect them from moisture damage. Finally, I store these boxes in climate-controlled areas.”

What makes you the best candidate for this archivist position?

Employers ask this question to learn more about your qualifications and how you can contribute to their organization. Before your interview, make a list of all the skills and experiences that make you an ideal candidate for this role. Focus on highlighting your most relevant experience and soft skills.

Example: “I am passionate about preserving historical documents and records. I have been working as a freelance archivist for several years now, and my clients rave about my attention to detail and ability to organize large collections. In fact, many of them continue to hire me because they know I will do an excellent job every time.”

Which types of historical records do you enjoy working with the most?

This question can help the interviewer determine if you have a passion for archiving and which types of records you are most comfortable working with. You should answer honestly, but also try to highlight your skills in all areas of archival work.

Example: “I enjoy working with digital records because I find them interesting and challenging. However, I am equally passionate about paper records because they provide an important historical perspective. I love learning more about how people used to live their lives and what was important to them.”

What do you think is the most important role that archivists play in preserving history?

This question is a great way to show your passion for the field. It also allows you to explain how archivists help people learn about history and preserve important documents, photos and other items that might otherwise be lost forever.

Example: “I think the most important role that archivists play in preserving history is making sure that we don’t lose any of our past. I have always been passionate about learning about history, so this profession was an obvious choice for me. Archivists are responsible for collecting, organizing and storing historical records, which means we can make sure they’re available to anyone who wants to learn more about them.”

How often should archivists update their preservation techniques to stay current with best practices?

Interviewers may ask this question to gauge your knowledge of archival best practices and how often they change. They want to know that you are aware of the latest developments in the field and can adapt accordingly. In your answer, explain that there is no set schedule for updating preservation techniques because it depends on the materials being preserved. However, you should always be open to new methods and willing to learn them if necessary.

Example: “There is no set schedule for updating preservation techniques because it depends on the materials being preserved. For example, I recently worked with a collection of photographs from the 1960s. At that time, photographers used different chemicals than they do now, so we had to find ways to remove those chemicals without damaging the photos. We also have to consider the environment when deciding whether or not to update our techniques.”

There is a lot of disagreement in the community about how to organize certain materials. How would you handle this as an archivist?

An interviewer may ask you this question to learn how you would handle a challenging situation. They want to know that you can work with others and collaborate on projects. In your answer, explain that you would try to understand the other person’s perspective and find a compromise or solution that works for everyone.

Example: “I think it is important to listen to all sides of an argument before making any decisions about how to organize materials. I would take notes during our discussion so I could remember everyone’s opinions. Then, I would look at the organization methods we currently use and see if there are any changes we can make to accommodate both parties.”

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