How to Use the Archives


To locate interviews in the collections of the Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOH), please consult listings either through the Oral History Portal, our online collection search tool, or the manual card catalog at the Center. Interviews in the Collection are catalogued in two divisions: biographical (i.e., individual), and those which are part of a larger project. If you are coming from a great distance, please call or email CCOH in advance to confirm that the interview you wish to see is available.

Preparing to Visit

If you wish to view the collections in person, you are encouraged to register for a Special Collections Research Account before your visit. Through the account you will be able to research interviews and create requests. Upon arrival you will be asked to provide government issued photo identification, or Columbia ID, along with a current address, telephone number, and other contact information. 

If you do not have a Columbia identification card, for library access first visit the Library Information Office (LIO), located immediately to the left of the security desk inside the front door of Butler Library. Present a government issued photo ID, tell LIO staff that you are coming to use the Columbia Oral History collections in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML), and give them an estimate of the number of days you plan to use the library. LIO will then issue you a temporary pass.

Oral History collections are available for your research in the RBML reading room. When you have passed the Butler Library security guard desk, follow the hallway left and take the elevator to the 6th floor. The entrance to the RBML is through the glass doors at the end of the hallway, to your right. Lockers for coats, jackets, bags, and other personal items are located just outside the entrance; keys are available at the RBML reference desk.

To register for a Special Collections Research Account, please follow the steps described below:


Register as a Researcher

1. Open a web browser to the log on page for our Special Collections Research Account

2. Click the Login button under the Non-Columbia University Patrons heading.

[Alternately, if you are Columbia affiliated, you may create an account by entering your UNI upon choosing the Columbia University Patrons option and following similar steps].

3. Click on link for First Time Users

4. After reading the policies and procedures page, click on the I Accept button

5. Fill in the registration form, noting which fields are required, and click the Submit Information button at the bottom of the page


To Place Requests

6. Click on the New Requests link from the left-hand menu

7. Click on the Columbia Center for Oral History Interview Portal link under the New Requests for Oral History Interview tab.

8. Search for an oral history in the collection by interviewee, project, or subject, and click on the record.

9. Click on the Full CLIO record button.

10. Click on Request: Special Collections on the right side bar.

11. Choose Columbia University Patrons or Non-Columbia University Patrons once more.

12. Review the request information and select a preferred date from the Schedule Retrieval toggle.

13. Click on the Submit Request button


Determining Permission Status

Once you have located a desired interview, you must determine its permission status.

As indicated in our search portal and CLIO, interviews marked "Permission Required to Cite or Quote" (PRCQ) or Open, are available for reading and subsequently citation/quotation.

Interviews marked "Permission Required to See" (PRTS or PR) require written permission from the interviewee or other designated person.

Interviews may also be marked Closed, indicating that they are not currently available for research.  

If an interview is marked anything other than PRCQ or Open, ask RBML staff to check the current status of the interview. 


Reproduction Services

Photocopies of oral history transcripts are available to our patrons for a fee as long as it is determined the transcript can be copied. Please see the links below for a copy of our photocopy order form and information about fees and payment methods.

Due to legal restrictions on Oral History collections, we do not currently allow digital photography of the transcripts on-site or digital distribution of our collections by email. However, our most recent projects can be accessed on the Our Archives section of our website.


Permission to Cite or Quote

If you plan to use an interview in a published work or commercial production, you must secure our permission to cite or quote. In most cases your publisher will ask you to secure such permissions. In order to do so, please tell us which interviews you are quoting from, so we can confirm that there are no restriction on such use and issue a letter of permission. This procedure may take two to three weeks.

The suggested form of citation is: Reminiscences of _______________ (date of the interview), on pages ________ in the Columbia Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.


Access to Audio

In addition to transcripts, we have audio on file for roughly three-fourths of the Collection. If you are interested in listening to audio for a specific interview, please let us know in advance.

Portions of audio from the Collection have been digitized and may be accessed. However if the audio for the interview is in an outmoded or fragile format (i.e. cassette, 7" reel), it will first have to be converted to a digital format by an audio specialist who will bill you directly.  Please consult RBML staff about specific forms and procedures related to audio reformatting.

In cases where the tape and the transcript differ, the tape is provided for background use only. All citations must come from the transcript. Commercial use of tapes is governed by additional restrictions. Please ask the advice of RBML staff if you have questions concerning these procedures.


Media Use Policy

Media will be made available for listening/viewing subject to restrictions imposed by the interviewee or sponsoring institution. If an interview (the work) is closed or requires permission to consult, the complete work (transcripts and media) is subject to that restriction.

When an interview is open or opened (when a restriction lapses) and the interviewee or sponsoring institution has retained literary rights, including copyright, media will be made available for listening only with the permission of the copyright holder subject to any restrictions the copyright holder may impose.

When an interview is open and the literary rights, including copyright, held by Columbia University, media will be made available for listening with the following restrictions:

  • In cases where interviewee editing of the transcript has been minimal (style editing, for instance) media will be made available for listening in order to clear up any ambiguities of meaning in the written text or for background purposes. All citation and quotation must, however, be made from the transcript, the document of record.
  • In cases where interviewee editing has been substantial and substantive, media will be made available for listening only with permission of the interviewee.
  • Upon death of the interviewee, media will be made available for listening at the discretion of the Director of the Columbia Center for Oral History. All citation or quotation is limited to the transcript.
  • Upon the death of the interviewee, reproduction will be done only with the permission of the copyright holder (the sponsoring institution, the Columbia Center for Oral History, or in some cases heirs or assigns of the interviewee) subject to any restrictions imposed by the copyright holder.