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.
You can download any of the informational advice in this FAQ 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 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.
How do I search or browse the oral history archives?
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.
Which interviews 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.
How do I listen to or view 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.
How do I order a scanned interview transcript for electronic delivery?
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.
To begin a reproduction request, please fill out this form.
- Requests are limited to:
- up to three interviews for transcripts per patron.
- 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.
- up to three interviews for transcripts per patron.
- Transcripts fees are $30 flat rate per each full transcript up to 650 pages or $15 for previously-scanned transcripts. We do not scan specific pages; transcripts are delivered in their entirety.
- 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).
We do not reproduce entire collections for off-site or remote access.
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.
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 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.
How do I cite an oral history?
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.
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 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."
How can I learn more about oral history?
Check out our research guide which includes advice for using the collections and conducting oral history interviews.