Historians as Information Managers
Experience with new technologies will be useful also in the field of information management--the acquisition, organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of information. Traditionally many aspects of information management--archival and records management, for instance--have been related to the practice of history. More recently, however, information management has become more specialized, and some areas of information management now require the skills of a computer specialist as well. Nevertheless, students of history are still important as archivists and can use their history education as a valuable supplement to courses in library science or database management.
Archivists constitute an important segment of the information management community. Archives are repositories for noncurrent records (in a variety of media) generated by individuals, institutions, groups, and governments and that are preserved because they contain information of historical value. Archivists are responsible for the establishment and maintenance of physical and intellectual control over the records in their care. As part of their work, they appraise documentation to determine its value, arrange and describe the material, refer for repair and preservation of the records as needed, and make the material available for users.
Archivists can be found in government offices; educational, cultural and religious institutions; businesses; labor unions; hospitals; and community organizations. Each state has some type of official archives. In addition to the well-known National Archives, many federal agencies maintain archives for their own use.
Entry-level positions generally require at least a B.A., more often an M.A. in history or a related social science, and a basic knowledge of archival skills.
Records management is distinct from archival management. Records managers are concerned with the economical and efficient creation, use, and maintenance of the records of organizations as well as the disposition of these records.
Some entry-level positions (such as records clerks) may be available to high-school graduates, but most require at least a BA and the more advanced positions will need a master's degree in library science or other field with specialized coursework in records management.
Librarians comprise perhaps the most visible component of the information management community. They can be found in educational institutions, public libraries, historical societies, museums, state government, and business. In their different positions, librarians catalog and classify the different materials that enter the library; maintain a catalog (electronic or paper); prepare finding aids for the collection such as checklists and bibliographies; and generally assist users. Almost without exception, professional library positions demand a Master of Library Science degree (M.L.S.) from an institution accredited by the American Library Association. But several organizations and libraries do recruit persons holding high school diplomas and college degrees as library assistants and aides. A historical society, history museum, or research library undergraduate or graduate degree in history holds no particular advantage without an M.L.S. For those interested in both history and the library profession, a few graduate schools offer students the opportunity to complete both an M.A. and an M.L.S. degree.
Historians can make a significant contribution in this area, particularly when the information is historical. They can create and manage databases, verify documents, edit and publish, oversee public information, and undertake document research. The various positions in this field include: Library systems analysts who focus their attention on the development of both manual and mechanized library systems. Documentation specialists who are concerned with the flow of information, data field definitions, and the preparation of narrative descriptions for materials associated with databases. Business analysts who evaluate information systems with financial applications, develop appropriate systems, and focus on user needs and services. Online search specialists who concentrate primarily on user needs. Information researchers who conduct research in the field of information science and analyze the generation, storage, and transference of information. Such positions will require at the minimum a BA and some experience with automated library facilities.