The Oral History Archives at Columbia (OHAC) collections are located in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 6th Floor, Butler Library.
Please contact OHAC for a reference consultation to confirm availability of materials.
Informational advice in this FAQ are downloadable from the OHAC Research Guide's "How do I...?" tab.
SPECIAL NOTE: ACCESSING THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
The Obama Presidency Oral History Project at the Oral History Archives at Columbia interview audio and transcripts will be available in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s (RBML) reading rooms and to order for electronic delivery in mid - late 2024.
Please visit the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics’ dedicated website for access to a selection of early releases from the project. You can also sign up for notifications of interview releases at the bottom of the page.
The opening of the official archive in the libraries will be announced on the RBML news website where you can also subscribe to notifications about archive access in 2024.
I would like to search your oral histories
Start by researching oral history content in Columbia University Libraries' online catalog, CLIO. You can search by keyword, name, organization, or subject by adding "oral history." For example, "civil rights oral history" yields thousands of results to browse.
When you have found an oral history interview that interests you, click the title/name link to view the item's full informational record.
The CLIO record will include information about restrictions and whether the interview is open to researchers.
I would like to access interviews that are open for research
To protect narrators' privacy while also ensuring that their oral history be preserved for the historical record, some oral history interviews in our collections may be restricted i.e. closed for an agreed-upon number of years, or for their lifetime, or they may require written permission from the narrator of interviewer before allowing a researcher to see or hear an interview.
The vast majority of the interviews in the Oral History Archives at Columbia are open for research. If you would like to view a closed interview, please contact us, as the restrictions may have expired or you may be able to contact the copright holder directly for access.
If the catalog record says that an interview you would like to see is either "Closed" or "Permission Required to See," please contact the archives.
If the CLIO record says...
Permission required to cite, quote, and reproduce. Contact repository for information.
Copyright by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1972. Permission required to cite, quote, and reproduce. Contact repository for information.
...you have permission to read the transcript in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's Reading Room. We no longer require permission to cite or quote from our collections.
If the CLIO record says...
Access: Written permission required from interviewer.
Access: Written permission required from interviewee.
...please contact us in advance of your visit. We can check whether the restrictions have expired or direct you to the copyright holder for permission to access.
I would like to listen to oral history interviews
The Oral History Archives at Columbia typically provides transcripts for research use.
You may be able to order scanned transcripts for electronic delivery, visit our reading room to review materials, or read/listen to interviews online in our digital collections, depending on the status of the interview or collection.
When visiting the RBML reading rooms, researchers can order up to five items per visit. Each interview must be added to your Special Researcher Account. Please see the RBML's appointment FAQ, as well as the OHAC guide to adding materials to your account for assistance.
The easiest way to find out about the accessibility of transcripts, audio, or video is to contact us directly.
I cannot make it to the physical archive and would like to order digital materials
Digital Reproduction Policies
The ability of the archives to reproduce transcripts for personal research varies across the collections on an interview-by-interview basis. Our ability to reproduce (e.g. scan, publish to the web) any specific interview is dependent on contractual obligations to narrators and copyright law. The archives will only provide a digital reproduction if Columbia holds copyright, holds a license to reproduce the interview, or if the interview is in public domain. We do not reproduce entire collections for remote research use.
Here is additional information on our reproduction policies:
Researcher requests are limited to three interviews per month for transcripts under 650 pages.
Accepted requests which meet our terms of service will be added to a queue to be processed in the order they are received with no guaranteed delivery timeframe, although most orders are delivered within 6-8 weeks once added to our processing queue.
The archives will provide transcripts under 650 pages as a .pdf attachment; larger files will be sent via a third-party service, WeTransfer.
Transcript requests over 650 pages are not available for reproduction and can be consulted onsite via a reading room appointment in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Additional instructions for requesting oral history materials for reading room appointments are available at this link.
Transcript scanning orders are submitted at the end of each month. We offer neither expedited nor "rush" services.
We have a number of newly digitized interviews in the Columbia University Libraries' Digital Library Collection.
I would like to access oral history interviews online
If permitted by ethical and legal agreements, oral history interviews are available in the Digital Library Collection. Columbia affiliates can use their UNI to log in to see available materials.
Columbia University does not provide temporary login privileges. Some materials are available on the open web without a Columbia login. Other restricted materials, can be accessed by ordering transcripts or audio (where available) for personal use or making an appointment in the RBML reading room.
I would like to listen to or watch analog recordings (reels, audio cassettes, video cassettes, etc.)
Analog media cannot be accessed until it has been digitized for preservation.
Columbia's Preservation and Digital Conversion Division handles the audio conversion process.
If you are interested in ordering audio or video of an interview, please complete and sign these forms:
- the General Conditions of Service Form (PDF) and
- Audio/Video Reformatting Form (PDF, Word).
Email your completed forms to OHAC Reference Staff.
A staff member will contact you with a quote for digital conversion based on the whether the material is already in digital format, number of media items (e.g. two cassettes, one reel), or number of digital files and further instructions for payment.
Digital conversion is completed through an outside vendor and may take up to 8 weeks to complete. We do not have "rush" or "urgent" status nor do we put patrons in contact with our external vendor. Please plan accordingly.
When digital conversion is complete, the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division will contact you. Files are .mp3 format by default and are shared via electronic delivery.
I would like to cite or quote an oral history
The Oral History Archives welcomes personal, educational, and non-commercial use that qualifies as fair use to unrestricted interview materials in the collection.
The catalog record for many oral histories says “Permission required to cite and quote.” However, permission is not required for non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use.
Scholarship is non-commerical use.
Researchers must cite and give proper credit to the Oral History Archives at Columbia according to your discipline's citation guidelines.
Suggested standard oral history transcript citation
Oral History interview with _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reminiscences of _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Oral History interview with David Norman Dinkins (2014), Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reminiscences of Frances Perkins (1955), pages 44 - 64, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reminiscences of Rex G. White (1951), pages 17 - 19, Radio Pioneers Project, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
APA Style Guide
King, Susan. 2011, December 13 and 2013, August 30. Interview by Mary Marshall Clark. Digital recording. Carnegie Digital Past and Future Project. Oral History Archives at Columbia. Columbia University in the City of New York.
Chicago Manual of Style
King, Susan. Interview by Mary Marshall Clark. December 13, 2013 and August 30, 2013. Carnegie Digital Past and Future Project. Oral History Archives at Columbia, Columbia University in the City of New York.
MLA Style Guide
King, Susan. Oral history interview. By Mary Marshall Clark. December 13, 2013 and August 30, 2013.
FOR MEDIA, ARCHIVAL PRODUCTIONS, DOCUMENTARY FILMS, PODCAST PRODUCTIONS, ETC.
Note that often "library time" often doesn't match up with media or reporters' tight deadlines or short turnaround time. We offer neither "rush" nor "expedited" services. Please plan accordingly. Reformatting from analog to digital format is completed through an outside vendor and may take up to 8 weeks to complete. For materials already in digital format, delivery may take up to 2 weeks.
For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, quotation, publication, and broadcast in any medium, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, please see our Media Permissions and Licensing information sheet and application.
The Oral History Archives at Columbia (OHAC) offers, for a fee, a non-exclusive license for oral history interview audio for which Columbia University holds the copyright. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials.
Fees apply to the entire interview, in perpetuity.
OHAC provides neither research nor editing services.
Audio is delivered in .mp3 format.
Transcripts are delivered in .pdf format.
Video is delivered in .mp4 format.
Licensing fees are separate from reproduction fees (e.g. duplication, transfer, etc.).
Our fee schedule is as follows:
Scholarly use: no fees for audio, video or transcript use.
Non-profit use (e.g. radio, podcasting and TV): $25 for transcript use, $75 for audio use, and $150 for video use.
Commercial use (e.g. radio, podcasting and TV): $50 for transcript use, $175 for audio use, and $300 for video use.
I need help with transcription
Neither Columbia University Libraries nor its IT services provide transcription software for interviews.
There are a number of different online tools to assist with transcription, as well as commercial services searchable online. We do not recommend a particular commerical or for-profit service, though oTranscribe is an open-source tool to explore.
You can read more about the transcription process from Linda Shopes' article, "Transcribing Oral History in the Digital Age."
I want to learn more about oral history
Check out our research guide which includes advice for using the collections and conducting oral history interviews.