The Oral History Archives at Columbia (OHAC) is located in the the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 6th Floor, Butler Library
Reading Room Access
The RBML reading room will be closed in August to accommodate our relocation back to our original space in Butler Library as we prepare to expand our services in the fall.
The reading room will reopen to Columbia affiliates on September 1, 2021.
A decision from the University for when alumni and other visitors will be permitted by appointment is pending and depends on State and local COVID conditions. Specific access instructions for visitors will be posted on the RBML homepage as soon as these details are finalized.
We have a number of newly digitized interviews in the Columbia University Libraries' Digital Library Collection. OHAC reference staff will be able to inform you about the availability of specific interviews or collections.
You can download any of the informational advice in this FAQ from
the OHAC Research Guide's "How do I...?" tab.
How do I search or browse the oral history archives?
Please begin by exploring the Oral History Portal.
When you have found an oral history interview that interests you, click the link to view the Full CLIO record.
The CLIO record will include information about Restrictions and whether or not this interview is open to researchers.
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.
Which interviews are open for research?
The vast majority of the interviews in OHAC are open for research.
If the CLIO record says Restrictions are...
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 and you do not need to contact us in advance of your visit.
If the CLIO record says Restrictions are...
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 give you contact information for the copyright holder to request access permission.
How do I listen to or view interviews?
The Oral History Archives at Columbia typically provides transcripts for research use. At this time we are unable to offer listening stations in our ad hoc reading room space. OHAC reference staff can advise on the status of listening stations as the RBML's Fall 2021 reopen plans are finalized.
We work with the Libraries' Preservation and Digital Library & Scholarly Technologies Departments to provide greater access to the audio/video in our digital collections.
We appreciate your patience as we undertake digitizing many of the thousands of interviews from their original analog formats (reels, audio cassettes, etc.) and as we improve catalog information to indicate when digital audio/video is available.
In this time of transition, the easiest way to find out about the accessibility of audio/video is to contact us directly.
How do I order an interview transcript .pdf?
Digital Reproduction Policies
As responsible stewards of decades of oral histories and narrators’ life stories, we are bound by legal, contractual and ethical obligations spanning the seventy-year history of the oral history archive. Many, but not all, materials are publishable online or available for reproduction.
- Requests are limited to:
- up to three interviews for transcripts.
- transcripts under 650 pages. Transcripts over that limit are unavailable for reproduction at this time. Columbia affiliates can consult the archives about a reading room appointment for transcripts over 650 pages in length.
- Transcripts fees are $30 flat rate per each full transcript up to 650 pages or $15 for previously-scanned transcripts.
- Transcript(s) will be delivered electronically. If you require a paper transcript, you will need to order a digital transcript from us and print the paper transcript via your home, work or commercial printer.
The archive will only provide a digital reproduction if the interview the interview has no access restrictions ("Access: Open" in catalog) and meets one of four criteria:
- Columbia holds copyright,
- Columbia holds a license to reproduce the interview,
- the interview is in public domain,
- or the interview pre-dates 1978.
Interviews not meeting these criteria are only available in the reading room to Columbia affiliates, by appointment at this time. We are unable to reproduce entire collections for off-site or remote access. Again, we have a number of newly digitized interviews in the Columbia University Libraries' Digital Library Collection.
How do I listen to or watch analog recordings (reels, audio cassettes, video cassettes, etc.)?
Analog media cannot be accessed until it has been digitized for preservation.
The Preservation and Digital Conversion Division handles the audio conversion process. Please note that fees are collected in advance.
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 mp3s by default and are shared via electronic delivery.
Which oral history collections are available online?
If permitted by ethical and legal agreements, oral history interviews are available in the Digital Library Collection.
Do I need permission to cite or quote an oral history?
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 Columbia Center for Oral History Archives.
How do I cite an oral history?
Suggested generic 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, DOCUMENTARY, PODCAST PRODUCTIONS, ETC.
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 contact the Curator for the Oral History Archives at Columbia regarding permissions and licensing fees.
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 .wav 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.
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.
Does Columbia provide transcription software or services?
Neither Columbia University Libraries nor its IT services provide transcription software for interviews.
There are a number of different online tools that will 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."
How can I learn more about oral history?
Check out our research guide which includes advise for using the collections and conducting oral history interviews.