Careers FAQ

This FAQ answers questions about career development in the special collections profession. 

It is maintained by the Membership and Professional Development Committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

Positions in this field may include:

  • Special Collections Librarians – generally work with a variety of original primary source materials, including rare books, manuscripts, archives, and photographs that require specialized storage and services.
  • Rare Book Librarians – typically work with published materials from both the hand press and machine press periods. Although rare books are not easy to define, the criteria used to identify them is usually based on age, financial value, number of copies extant, and provenance. See “Your Old Books” for more information on classifying books as rare.
  • Archivists – responsible for establishing and maintaining control, both physical and intellectual, over records and papers of enduring value created by individuals, families, and institutions. See the Society of American Archivist’s ’“So You Want to be an Archivist: An Overview of the Profession” for further information.
  • Conservators – responsible for the long- term preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts. They do this by analyzing and assessing the condition of cultural property, understanding processes and evidence of deterioration, planning collections care or site management strategies that prevent damage, carrying out conservation treatments, and conducting research in all of the areas previously indicated. Conservation is an interdisciplinary field involving studio practices, sciences, and the humanities.  See the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Careers in Conservations and the Canadian Association for Conservation for more information.
  • Curators – often specialist archivists or librarians that focus solely on a specific format such as textual materials (manuscript curators) or photograph curators. See the Society of American Archivists Glossary for more information.



Job Resources

Involvement in RBMS and Conferences

Other Resources