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Archivist vs. Curator: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

If you’re interested in working with historical artifacts and documents, you may be wondering whether you should pursue a career as an archivist or a curator. Both of these professions involve preserving and organizing items of historical significance, but there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between archivists and curators, and we provide information on what you can expect from each profession.

What is an Archivist?

An Archivist is responsible for the appraising, processing, organizing, storing and retrieving of historical records and documents. They work with a variety of materials, including paper documents, photographs, audio and video recordings, and electronic records. Archivists typically work in libraries, museums or historical societies, but may also work in corporate or government settings. They develop systems to control and access the materials in their care, and may create finding aids or other tools to help users locate and understand the records. Archivists also work to preserve the materials in their care, using a variety of methods to ensure the long-term preservation of the items.

What is a Curator?

A Curator is a museum professional responsible for the acquisition, care, research and display of a museum’s collections. Curators typically specialize in a particular area, such as art, history or natural science. They work with other museum professionals, such as conservators and educators, to develop exhibitions and public programming. Curators also write and edit catalogues, books and articles related to the museum’s collections. They may also give lectures or lead tours related to their area of expertise.

Archivist vs. Curator

Here are the main differences between an archivist and a curator.

Job Duties

Archivists and curators share some job duties, such as researching artifacts to learn about them and the people who created them. They may also both organize artifacts into collections that visitors can access and appreciate. However, archivists’ primary duty is to preserve artifacts for future generations to discover and appreciate. This means they ensure artifacts remain safely stored and cared for in their archives.

Curators work to make sure visitors have a positive experience when they visit an art museum or historical institution. While archivists rarely interact with visitors, curators often provide tours, answer questions and offer educational programs to help visitors understand the meaning of the artifacts on display. Additionally, while archivists typically work behind the scenes, curators are usually responsible for designing exhibits that helps visitors better understand the artifacts they see.

Job Requirements

Archivists and curators typically need a master’s degree in library science, information science, history or a related field. Some archivists and curators also pursue a PhD to qualify for more advanced positions. Many programs offer internships that give students the opportunity to gain practical experience working with archives and collections.

Work Environment

Both archivists and curators work in museums, libraries or other institutions that house historical records. They may also work for private collectors who have a large collection of artifacts they want to preserve. Archivists typically work in offices where they organize and store documents. Curators often travel to different locations to research their collections and attend events related to the subject matter.


Both archivists and curators are responsible for organizing and preserving collections of historical artifacts and documents. However, their specific duties can differ depending on the type of institution they work for. Archivists typically work for libraries or government agencies, while curators typically work for museums.

Both archivists and curators need to have excellent research skills to be able to locate and evaluate the items in their collections. They also both need to have strong writing skills to prepare reports and documentation about the items in their care. In addition, both archivists and curators need to have good communication skills to be able to interact with colleagues, donors and the public.

Archivists also need to have strong organizational skills to be able to effectively manage the large volumes of data and materials they work with. They also need to be familiar with digital technologies so they can properly preserve and store electronic records. Curators, on the other hand, need to have an eye for detail so they can arrange exhibits in an aesthetically pleasing way that also tells a story. They also need to be familiar with art history and the different styles of art so they can make informed decisions about which pieces to include in an exhibit.


The average salary for an archivist is $58,134 per year, while the average salary for a curator is $64,253 per year. Both of these salaries may vary depending on the type of museum or archive you work for, your level of experience and your location.


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